Ritual enema ceremonies depicted in pottery. Synchronizing the heart rate of the new lovers. Constipation with scorpion. Why the words in your iPhone’s “Terms of Agreement” are so complicated. Elks crash.
Research on all these hot topics and more was honored yesterday at the 2022 Ig Nobel Prize ceremony. Now in its 32nd year, the good ole Nobel Prize parody recognizes the most unique, silly and downright bizarre research that “first makes people laugh and then makes them think”. The Annals of Improbable Research awards less than a month before the actual Nobel Prizes are awarded in Stockholm, Sweden.
The ceremony is usually held at Harvard University, but has been online since 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to tradition, the prizes were handed out by Nobel laureates. The winners received a virtually worthless $10 trillion Zimbabwean dollar bill.
And the winners are…
Art History: Ancient Maya Enemas
Peter de Smet and Nicholas Hellmuth wrote “A Multidisciplinary Approach to Ritual Enema Scenes on Ancient Maya Pottery” in a 1986 paper, but it stands the test of time. The paper was adapted from de Smet’s PhD thesis and focuses on polychrome pottery of the Late Classic Maya period (AD 600–900). Palace scenes, ball games, hunting parties and dances associated with human sacrifice (by beheading) are usually painted on this type of pottery, but 55 years ago scientists discovered a Maya jar showing the administration of a enemas. Other discoveries of fine fecal art followed.
Applied Cardiology: Synchronize Hearts with Passion
Eliska Prochazkova, Elio Sjak-Shie, Friederike Behrens, Daniel Lindh and Mariska Kret found evidence that when two new romantic partners meet for the first time and feel attraction, their pulses synchronize, publishing their findings in November 2021. Prochazkova said she had no trouble finding matches on dating apps, but often didn’t feel that spark when they met in real life. She set people up on blind dates in real social settings and measured their physiological reactions, and found that the pairs’ heart rates synced up with their actual chemistry. So, has the team discovered ‘love at first sight’? “It really depends on how you define love,” Prochazkova, a researcher at Leiden University in the Netherlands, said in an email to Associated Press. “What we found in our research was that people were able to decide whether they wanted to meet their partner very quickly. Within the first two seconds of the encounter, the participants formed a very complex idea about the man standing in front of them.”
Literature: The terms of the agreement are too complicated
Eric Martínez, Francis Mollica and Edward Gibson have done what is long overdue, looking at what makes legal documents unnecessarily difficult to understand. Taking a closer look at any Terms of Agreement for a new software or device is enough to make you want to avoid any new technology forever. Martínez, Mollica and Gibson were frustrated by all this legal jargon. Their analysis focused on some key psycholinguistic features: nonstandard capitalization (those written with noisy capitals), frequency of SAT words (above mentioned, above, ie, etc.) that rarely occur in everyday speech, word choice , the use of passive voice versus active voice, central embedding, where lawyers incorporate legal jargon into complicated syntax. “Ultimately, there’s a kind of hope that lawyers will think a little more with the reader in mind,” Martínez told the AP. “Clarity benefits not only the layman, but lawyers as well.”
Biology: scorpion constipation
Solimary García-Hernández and Glauco Machado did the tedious work of investigating constipation affecting the mating prospects of scorpions. Scorpions are better known for their deadly venom and creepy pincers, not so much for their pooping habits. In a process called autonomy, scorpions can detach a body part to escape a predator. However, they also lose the last portion of their digestive tract when they do so. This can lead to constipation and eventually death, and the long-term decline in “locomotor performance of autotomized males may impair mate search,” they wrote.
[Related: Cockatoos are pillaging trashcans in Australia, and humans can’t seem to stop them.]
Medicine: ice cream as cancer therapy
A team of scientists from the University of Warsaw in Poland showed in their 2021 study that when patients undergo toxic forms of chemotherapy, they suffer fewer harmful side effects when ice cream replaces a traditional component of the procedure. This sweet study looked at cryotherapy, where cancer patients often suck on ice chips to prevent oral mucositis (which causes sores in the mouth, gums and tongue, increased mucus and saliva, and difficulty swallowing). But this can get awkward very quickly. This now award-winning study found that only 28.85% of patients who used ice cream cryotherapy developed oral mucositis, compared to 59% who did not receive Ben and Jerry’s approved cryotherapy.
Engineering: turning the knob technique
Gen Matsuzaki, Kazuo Ohuchi, Masaru Uehara, Yoshiyuki Ueno and Goro Imura discovered the most efficient way people use their fingers when turning a knob. The 1999 study emphasized the importance of good universal knob design, particularly for “rotary control instruments”, particularly in older people who might find rotary knobs and faucet handles easier to use than a lever. Subjects in the study were asked to turn a series of knobs of various sizes clockwise with their right hand. They found that the index fingers and thumb were used most frequently, and additional fingers were used as the buttons became wider.
Physics: Keep your ducks in a row
Frank Fish, Zhi-Ming Yuan, Minglu Chen, Laibing Jia, Chunyan Ji and Atilla Incecik dived into the world of understanding how ducklings manage to swim in formation. Getting your ducks in a row seems to be all about conserving energy. They found that the ducklings instinctively tended to “ride the waves”, generated by the mother duck to significantly reduce drag. Then they use a technique called drafting, just like cyclists and runners do in a race to reduce drag. “It all has to do with the flow that’s going on behind that leading body and how that movement in formation can actually be an energetic benefit,” Fish told the AP.
Related: 8 Animals Are Naturally Hilarious.]
Pace: The Gossip Conundrum
An international group of scientists, from Beijing to Ontario, has developed an algorithm to help gossipers decide when to tell the truth and when to lie. Essentially, their work can help determine when people are more likely to be honest or dishonest in their gossip, based on behavioral signaling theory models. “Signals are adaptations shaped by the marginal costs and marginal benefits of different behaviors, and the ultimate function of the signaler’s behavior is to maximize their fitness,” the authors wrote. The gossiper may be willing to pay some personal cost (being labeled a gossip or losing trust) to provide a benefit to the receiver. That’s because the gossip might get a secondary benefit as a result of the receiver getting juicy new information.
Economy: It pays to be lucky
Alessandro Pluchino, Alessio Emanuele Biondo and Andrea Rapisarda used mathematics to explain why success often does not go to the most talented people, but instead to the luckiest. The 2018 paper noted that the qualities most often associated as leading to success follow a normal Gaussian distribution around a mean. For example, the average IQ is 100, but no one boasts an IQ of 1,000 or 10,000. “The same is true for efforts, measured in hours worked,” the authors wrote. “Some work more hours than the average and some less, but no one works a billion times more hours than anyone else.” However, the distribution of wealth follows a power law, where there are many more poor people than the few very rich billionaires. The study suggests that simple, random luck is the missing ingredient, based on the agent-based model developed by the authors.
Safety Engineering: Moose Tracks
Magnus Gens has developed a moose test dummy, and shockingly, it’s actually useful information. Sweden’s highways are the scene of frequent collisions between large mammals and cars, which can result in injury or death to both moose and humans. This crash test dummy will allow car manufacturers to use animal crashes in their safety tests. Gens tested the dummy at the Saab facility using a modern Saab and an old Volvo traveling at about 45 mph and a second Saab at 57 mph. Fortunately for car manufacturers, the dummy is robust and can be reused for several crash tests before needing to be replaced.