11/23/2018

A Salute To Head-Scratching Science

44:18 minutes

When you go to the zoo, maybe you imitate the chimps, copying their faces, their gestures, or their walk. But it turns out the chimps imitate you just about as often—and as well, according to scientists. Other researchers have found that a trained nose can detect the odor of a single fly floating in a glass of wine. And that sometimes, a trip to the amusement park may be an effective treatment to aid in the passage of kidney stones.  

These projects are among the 10 selected by the editors of the Annals of Improbable Research to be honored at this year’s 28th first annual Ig Nobel Prize ceremonies. The prizes, awarded in September at Harvard’s Sanders Theatre, salute work that “first makes you laugh, and then, makes you think.”

Take a look at the winners and celebrations of the 2018 ceremony below.

a man in a lab coat holds medical equipment and sits in a chair with an anguished face. two other men are on stage listening to him
Akira Horiuchi wins the Ig Nobel for medical education. His report was “Colonoscopy in the Sitting Position: Lessons Learned From Self-Colonoscopy.” Credit: Alexey Eliseev
three women in lab coats doing a demonstration on stage
Three Boston-based professors (from Harvard, Tufts, and Boston University) do their own personal onstage tribute of the Reproductive Medicine prize, which used postage stamps to determine whether the male sexual organ is functioning properly. Credit: Alexey Eliseev
an older man receives an award and makes a speech at a podium while holding up a little vodoo doll.
The Economics Prize went to researchers who investigated whether it is effective for employees to use Voodoo dolls to retaliate against abusive bosses. Credit: Alexey Eliseev
An operatic act. Credit: Alexey Eliseev
a man in a top hat holds an award made of a cutout heart with a stethoscope around it, that reads "ig nobel"
Marc Abrahams, editor and co-founder of Annals of Improbable Research, presents the 2018 Ig Nobel Prize. Credit: Howard Cannon
an audience in a theater toss paper planes
Ah… the long-standing tradition of throwing paper planes onto the stage. Credit: Mike Benveniste

*Correction 11/23/2018: A previous version of this page incorrectly identified the three Boston-based scientists conducting a demo of the Reproductice Medicine prize. We apologize for the error.


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See the full list of the 2018 Ig Nobel winners.

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Segment Guests

Marc Abrahams

Marc Abrahams is the editor and co-founder of Annals of Improbable Research and the founder and master of ceremonies for the Ig Nobel Awards Ceremony in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Segment Transcript

IRA FLATOW: This is Science Friday. I’m Ira Flatow. We hope you’ve had a peaceful and Happy Thanksgiving. And we’re glad you’re with us today because here at Science Friday, you know the day after Thanksgiving is our own kind of holiday tradition– highlights from the year’s Ig Nobel Awards Ceremony. 

Now, the awards are handed out each year by the editors of the science humor magazine, the Annals of Improbable Research, for work in science that first makes you laugh and then makes you think. It’s stuff that might make you say, hm, I wonder– especially late at night after a few fine beverages. 

(CHUCKLING) This year’s celebration is the 28th First Annual Awards. This year’s ceremonies featured a mini opera about building, breaking, and trying to mend a broken heart and prizes handed out by genuine, regular Nobel laureates. 

Just to explain a few things, there are a few traditions at the ceremonies like a massive throwing of paper airplanes, which are then swept up by genuine Nobel laureates. There’s a V-Chip Monitor who will sound his alarm if things threaten to get too raunchy. And then, there’s Miss Sweetie Poo, a little girl who starts to whine whenever the speakers go on too long. I’m sure we’ll hear some of her. 

The theme for this year was the heart. You’ll hear the audience cheer whenever that word is mentioned and special lectures on cardiology and other heart-related topics. 

So if that all makes your heart beat a little faster, you should grab a comfy chair and let us take you back to earlier this year at Harvard’s Sanders Theater, where the dignitaries and ignitaries are taking the stage. 

[PIANO MUSIC PLAYING] 

[MUSIC SWELLS] 

[APPLAUSE] 

KAREN HOPKIN: Ladies and gentleman– 

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE] 

–cardiologists, and those who aid a heart– 

[SCATTERED CHEERING] 

Thank you– hearty breakfast this morning. 

[SCATTERED CHEERING] 

(CHUCKLING) Welcome to the 28th First Annual Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony. 

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE] 

And now, Professor Jean Berko Gleason will deliver the traditional Ig Nobel “Welcome, Welcome” speech. 

JEAN BERKO GLEASON: [SPEAKING GERMAN] 

[LAUGHTER] 

[CONTINUES SPEAKING GERMAN] 

[LAUGHTER] 

AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] 

JEAN BERKO GLEASON: Wrong speech. OK. 

[LAUGHTER] 

[APPLAUSE] 

Welcome. 

[LAUGHTER] 

Welcome! 

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE] 

KAREN HOPKIN: And now, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, literati, glitterati, pseudo-intellectuals, quasi-pseudo-intellectuals, pseudo-quasi-intellectuals, and the rest of you, may I introduce our master of ceremonies, the editor of The Annals of Improbable Research, Chief Airhead Marc Abrahams. 

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE] 

MARC ABRAHAMS: Welcome. Only one welcome. We are gathered tonight to honor some remarkable individuals and groups. Every winner has done something that makes people laugh and then makes them think. 

AUDIENCE: Think. 

MARC ABRAHAMS: The Ig Nobel Prize ceremony is produced by the science humor magazine, The Annals Of Improbable Research, and proudly co-sponsored by the Harvard Radcliffe Society of Physics Students and the Harvard Radcliffe Science-Fiction Association. 

[SCATTERED CHEERING] 

The editors of The Annals of Improbable Research have chosen a theme for this year’s ceremony. And that theme is “the heart.” 

[CHEERING] 

Tonight, 10 prizes will be given. The achievements speak for themselves, all too eloquently. The prizes will be physically presented to the winners by Nobel laureates. 

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the Nobel laureates. A 2007 Nobel laureate in economics, Eric Maskin. 

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE] 

[MUSIC PLAYING] 

A 2001 Nobel laureate in physics, Wolfgang Ketterle. 

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE] 

[MUSIC PLAYING] 

[APPLAUSE CONTINUES] 

A 2017 Nobel laureate in physiology or medicine, Michael Rosbash. 

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE] 

[MUSIC PLAYING] 

[APPLAUSE CONTINUES] 

A 2016 Nobel laureate in economics, Oliver Hart. 

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE] 

[CHEERFUL PIANO MUSIC PLAYS] 

[APPLAUSE CONTINUES] 

Some of the Ig Nobel Prize winners from previous years like to come back to our stage. We always encourage them to do that, to take a bow and to help honor the new winners. We have two of them with us tonight. 

The 2008 Ig Nobel chemistry prize was awarded to one research team for showing that Coca Cola is an effective spermicide. 

[LAUGHTER] 

That prize was shared with another team who showed that it is not. 

[LAUGHTER] 

Please welcome the leader of one of those teams and the inspiration for this whole series of experiments, Dr. Deborah Anderson. 

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE] 

The 2002 Ig Nobel economics prize was awarded to the executive corporate directors and auditors of Enron, Gazprom– 

[LAUGHTER] 

–Lernout & Hauspie, and 25 other corporations for helping to adapt the mathematical concept of imaginary numbers for use in the business world. Please welcome a former director of one of those companies, David Karpook. 

[APPLAUSE] 

And now we move on to some sad news about a past winner. If you were here at the Ig Nobel Ceremony 20 years ago, you met Troy Hurtubise. Troy was awarded the 1998 Ig Nobel Prize in safety and engineering for developing and personally testing a suit of armor that is impervious– or hope to be impervious– to grizzly bears. 

Troy died recently in a traffic collision. And we want to honor him. We want to honor Troy tonight. First, we have some bits of video from that ceremony 20 years ago, and also from the National Film Board of Canada’s documentary film about Troy and his quest. The film is called Project Grizzly. 

[VIDEO PLAYBACK] 

– The safety engineering prize! 

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE] 

This year’s safety engineering prize goes to Troy Hurtubise of North Bay, Ontario. 

[CLUNKING] 

[LAUGHTER] 

[ANGELIC CHORUS] 

– And ever since that day, from that day forward, I’ve never figured out why it happened, in that the bear didn’t kill me. I’ve been on his trail ever since. 

[SURF MUSIC PLAYING] 

Perseverance and imagination and research. 

[DRUM-LINE MUSIC PLAYING] 

[APPLAUSE] 

[END PLAYBACK] 

MARC ABRAHAMS: We have a brief personal tribute to Troy from a fellow Canadian, who, like Troy, is famous for bold, fearless innovation. Please welcome Harvard physics professor, Melissa Franklin. 

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE] 

MELISSA FRANKLIN: I was asked to speak about Troy because we shared a certain Canadian-ness– 

[LAUGHTER] 

–and also a passion for extreme science. Although Troy was trained as a metalworker and my training was more particular, we shared an interest in things on the edge. Like some– more than a few– Canadians, Troy was an excellent linear combination of performance artist and extreme inventor. Of course, breakthroughs often follow time spent on the cusp of insanity. Troy was no stranger to this. 

[SOFT LAUGHTER] 

Alas, circumstances may not have been optimal for Troy success. It will be up to others to realize his many inventions. We lost him too early. Still, there’s the movie. 

[SOFT LAUGHTER] 

[APPLAUSE] 

MARC ABRAHAMS: Up to this point, the ceremony has been in one language– English. But this next portion of the ceremony will be simultaneously translated into multiple languages. So it will be simultaneously translated into Russian. 

INTERPRETER 1: [SPEAKING RUSSIAN] 

MARC ABRAHAMS: And simultaneously translated into Konkani. 

INTERPRETER 2: [SPEAKING KONKANI] 

INTERPRETER 1: [SPEAKING RUSSIAN] 

[LAUGHTER] 

MARC ABRAHAMS: And simultaneously translated into German. 

INTERPRETER 3: [SPEAKING GERMAN] 

INTERPRETER 2: [SPEAKING KONKANI] 

INTERPRETER 1: [SPEAKING RUSSIAN] 

[LAUGHTER] 

MARC ABRAHAMS: And simultaneously translated into Brazilian Portuguese. 

INTERPRETER 4: [SPEAKING PORTUGUESE] 

[INTERPOSING VOICES] 

[LAUGHTER] 

MARC ABRAHAMS: And simultaneously translated into cheese. 

INTERPRETER 5: Gouda Havarti Swiss mozzarella ricotta. 

[INTERPOSING VOICES] 

[LAUGHTER] 

[APPLAUSE] 

MARC ABRAHAMS: Thank you, translators. 

Thank you, translators. 

[INTERPOSING VOICES] 

INTERPRETER 5: Muenster Swiss blue. 

MARC ABRAHAMS: Now– 

[LAUGHTER] 

Now that this is clear, you may now translate the next portion of the ceremony. 

[INTERPOSING VOICES] 

INTERPRETER 5: Feta Havarti Gorgonzola. 

[LAUGHTER] 

NICOLE SHARP: The second paper airplane deluge is about to commence. 

[CHEERING] 

[INTERPOSING VOICES] 

INTERPRETER 5: Mozzarella Gruyere. 

[INTERPOSING VOICES] 

NICOLE SHARP: It will be 30 seconds in duration. 

[INTERPOSING VOICES] 

INTERPRETER 5: Mozzarella Gruyere Havarti. 

NICOLE SHARP: Please prepare your paper airplanes. 

[INTERPOSING VOICES] 

INTERPRETER 5: Cheddar. 

[INTERPOSING VOICES] 

NICOLE SHARP: Please aim for the designated target. 

[INTERPOSING VOICES] 

INTERPRETER 5: Ricotta Gruyere. 

[INTERPOSING VOICES] 

NICOLE SHARP: Safety first, everyone. 

[INTERPOSING VOICES] 

INTERPRETER 5: Gruyere muenster brie. 

NICOLE SHARP: The countdown begins 

[LAUGHTER] 

[INTERPOSING VOICES] 

INTERPRETER 5: Gorgonzola. 

NICOLE SHARP: T minus 7 seconds. 

[INTERPOSING VOICES] 

INTERPRETER 5: Brie. 

NICOLE SHARP: T minus 5. 

[INTERPOSING VOICES] 

INTERPRETER 5: Gouda. 

NICOLE SHARP: 4. 

[INTERPOSING VOICES] 

3. 

[INTERPOSING VOICES] 

INTERPRETER 5: Ricotta. 

NICOLE SHARP: 2. 

[INTERPOSING VOICES] 

1. 

INTERPRETER 5: Havarti. 

NICOLE SHARP: Commence paper airplane throwing. 

[INTERPOSING VOICES] 

INTERPRETER 5: Gruyere. 

[CHEERING] 

[CHEERFUL MUSIC PLAYING] 

IRA FLATOW: The awards are presented by the editors of the science humor magazine, Annals of Improbable Research. And you can find out more about them at improbable.com. 

NICOLE SHARP: Here’s another paper airplane. 

IRA FLATOW: We need to take a break. We’ll be right back with more from Sanders Theater in just a moment. Stay with us. 

NICOLE SHARP: And there’s one. 

[INTERPOSING VOICES] 

Here’s another plane. 

[INTERPOSING VOICES] 

Yeah. I think you guys have the idea. 

[MUSIC CONTINUES] 

IRA FLATOW: I’m Ira Flatow. And you’re listening to Science Friday from WNYC Studios. 

This is Science Friday. I’m Ira Flatow. And if you’re just joining us, we’re playing highlights from this year’s Ig Nobel Awards Ceremony– research that first makes you laugh and then makes you think. It was recorded in September of this year at Harvard’s Sanders Theater. Here’s Ig Nobel master of ceremonies, Marc Abrahams. 

MARC ABRAHAMS: Now, let’s get it over with. Ladies and gentlemen, the awarding of the 2018 Ig Nobel prizes. We are giving 10 prizes. The winners come from many nations. This year’s winners have truly earned their prizes. Karen, would you tell them what they’ve won? 

KAREN HOPKIN: Each winner will receive an Ig Nobel Prize. 

[CHEERING] 

MARC ABRAHAMS: Woo. 

[LAUGHTER] 

This– this is the vaunted Ig Nobel Prize. 

[LAUGHTER] 

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE] 

Mm-hmm. Uh, what else? 

KAREN HOPKIN: Um, a piece of paper saying they’ve won an Ig Nobel Prize. 

[LAUGHTER] 

[CHEERING] 

It’s signed by several Nobel laureates, oh. 

[CROWD MURMURING] 

MARC ABRAHAMS: Do they get any money? 

KAREN HOPKIN: $10 trillion. 

MARC ABRAHAMS: $10 trillion? 

[CHEERING] 

KAREN HOPKIN: $10 trillion! 

MARC ABRAHAMS: US dollars? 

KAREN HOPKIN: Zimbabwean dollars. 

MARC ABRAHAMS: Uh-huh. [LAUGHTER] 

KAREN HOPKIN: A Zimbabwean $10 trillion bill. 

MARC ABRAHAMS: What else? 

KAREN HOPKIN: Uh, they get a hearty handshake– 

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE] 

–from Oliver Hart. 

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE] 

AUDIENCE: (CHANTING) Hart! Hart! Hart! 

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE] 

KAREN HOPKIN: And now, please welcome our most special guests, the new Ig Nobel Prize winners. 

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE] 

[PIANO MUSIC PLAYING] 

MARC ABRAHAMS: The medicine prize. 

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE] 

The Ig Nobel Prize– 

[PIANO MUSIC PLAYS] 

[CHUCKLES] 

The Ig Nobel Prize for Medicine. The winners are from the United States of America. And the Ig Nobel Prize for Medicine this year is awarded to Marc Mitchell and David Wartinger for using roller coaster rides to try to hasten the passage of kidney stones. 

[LAUGHTER] 

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE] 

DAVID WARTINGER: On behalf of Dr. Mitchell and myself, thank you very much. We did, in fact, research riding on a roller coaster to help pass kidney stones. The real credit goes to one of my patients. 

[LAUGHTER] 

My patient went on spring break with his family to the Walt Disney World Resort to the Magic Kingdom and rode on a little roller coaster called the Big Thunder Mountain railroad roller coaster. 

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE] 

Now, he rode the ride, got off, and about two minutes later, passed a kidney stone. 

[LAUGHTER] 

He was so convinced that the ride had caused it, that he got back in line and rode it a second time. 

[LAUGHTER] 

Two minutes after his second ride, he gave birth the kidney stone number 2. 

[LAUGHTER] 

He’s feeling pretty cocky at this point, so he got back in line. 

[LAUGHTER] 

MISS SWEETIE POO: Please stop. 

[LAUGHTER] 

[INAUDIBLE] 

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE] 

Please stop. [INAUDIBLE] Please stop. [INAUDIBLE] 

MARC ABRAHAMS: Those of you in the audience, would you please help us recognize these researchers. If you– if you, yourself, have ever experienced a kidney stone, we invite you to stand up right now and make whatever sound you feel is appropriate. 

[LAUGHTER] 

[GROANING AND SCREAMING] 

[LAUGHTER] 

[APPLAUSE] 

DAVID WARTINGER: OK, thank you. 

MARC ABRAHAMS: (DRAMATICALLY) The anthropology prize. 

[PIANO MUSIC PLAYS] 

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE] 

The winners are from Sweden, Romania, Denmark, the Netherlands, Germany, the UK, Indonesia, and Italy. The Ig Nobel Prize for Anthropology is awarded to Tomas Persson, Gabriela-Alina Sauciuc, and Elainie Madsen for collecting evidence in a zoo that chimpanzees imitate humans about as often and about as well as humans imitate chimpanzees. 

[LAUGHTER] 

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE] 

GABRIELA-ALINA SAUCIUC: Thank you. Thank you. So as you already heard, the reason we stand here this evening is a study in which we observed spontaneous interactions between chimpanzees and visitors at Furuvik Zoo in Sweden. Our goal was to see if the two ape species aped each other. Well, they did. 

[LAUGHTER] 

At about 10% of all produced actions for each species, that is at a similar rate. But most importantly, we noticed that aping had the effect of prolonging cross-species interactions. So we concluded that it served a communicative purpose. 

TOMAS PERSSON: And this social form of imitation has been claimed to be exclusive to humans. It can be seen, for example, in how we play with very small children. 

But when it comes to animals, imitation has almost only been thought of as a way of learning new skills. Our results, however, suggest that instead of a mechanism for learning new actions, perhaps the ability to imitate evolved primarily as a form of communication, having a social function first. 

[LAUGHTER] 

MISS SWEETIE POO: Please stop! I’m bored. 

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE] 

MARC ABRAHAMS: [CHUCKLING] You can collect your $10 trillion bill from the laureates over there. (DRAMATICALLY) The biology prize. 

[PIANO MUSIC PLAYS] 

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE] 

The winners are from Sweden, Colombia, Germany, France, and Switzerland. The Ig Nobel Prize for biology is awarded to Paul Becher, Sebastien Lebreton, Erika Wallin, Erik Hedenstrom, Felipe Borrero-Echeverry, Marie Bengtsson, Volker Jorger, and Peter Witzgall for demonstrating that wine experts can reliably identify by smell the presence of a single fly in a glass of wine. 

[LAUGHTER] 

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE] 

PAUL BECHER: Thank you very much for awarding us. So since thousands of years, humans lived together with Drosophila fruit flies, which are attracted to our food and to our wine. 

[LAUGHTER] 

We found that females of Drosophila melanogaster, they produce a pheromone that attracts their mates. Humans are extremely sensitive to this compound. We smell it at really small amounts. So if a female fly is attracted to your glass of wine and drops in, that’s very sad for the fly because the fly will drown. 

[LAUGHTER] 

But it’s also sad for you because the pheromone will spoil your wine. Yet we do not know why our nose has detectors to sense a fly pheromone. But we assure it’s not to attract us to flies. Thank you. 

[LAUGHTER] 

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE] 

MARC ABRAHAMS: You can collect your $10 trillion from the Nobel laureates over there. (DRAMATICALLY) The chemistry prize. 

[PIANO MUSIC PLAYS] 

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE] 

The winners are from Portugal. The Ig Nobel Prize for Chemistry is awarded to Paula Romao, Adília Alarcao, and the late César Viana for measuring the degree to which human saliva is a good cleaning agent for dirty surfaces. 

[LAUGHTER] 

The winners were not able to attend tonight’s ceremony. But they sent this brief video acceptance speech. 

[VIDEO PLAYBACK] 

– On behalf of my mentor, Dr. Adília Alarcao and myself, I would like to think the I-G Nobel– 

[LAUGHTER] 

–board of governors for considering our work. And also, I know that it seems quite improbable, but human saliva is, indeed, an effective cleaning agent for surfaces like paintings, sculptures, or gilded. 

[LAUGHTER] 

But don’t try to use it in your kitchen counters. 

[LAUGHTER] 

Thank you, and have a nice evening. Bye. 

[END PLAYBACK] 

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE] 

MARC ABRAHAMS: Here with a special tribute to the winners is the research curator of the Harvard Art Museum’s Conservation and Technical Studies Program, Francesca Bewer. 

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE] 

FRANCESCA BEWER: Good evening. 

[LAUGHTER] 

Yes, conservators and restorers have and do use spit routinely for cleaning art works. And I will demonstrate this shortly. 

[LAUGHTER] 

The enzymes in saliva are readily available and free and environmentally friendly. 

[LAUGHTER] 

So this study is a wonderful example of scientific research used to validate longstanding, traditional practices. And I should say that I’ve often wondered whether what is in one’s meal might affect the effect of the– for example, if one is having a garlic-rich lunch. So maybe that’s the next step for research. Congratulations to the winners, and thank you. 

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE] 

MARC ABRAHAMS: (DRAMATICALLY) The medical education prize. 

[PIANO MUSIC PLAYS] 

The winner is from Japan. The Ig Nobel Prize for medical education is awarded to Akira Horiuchi for the medical report “Colonoscopy in the Sitting Position– 

[LAUGHTER] 

–Lessons Learned from Self-Colonoscopy.” 

[LAUGHTER] 

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE] 

AKIRA HORIUCHI: Thank you very much. I am very honored to receive this prize, though, first of all, I would like to appreciate Endoscope and the Japanese Endoscope company. May I show you my procedure? 

[LAUGHTER] 

OK. So I just did a self colonoscopy at the sitting position using a small caliber colonoscope. So using our left hand [INAUDIBLE] and the right hand put into a– 

[LAUGHTER] 

–colon. OK. I think this trial may be funny. But I learned many things too. 

MISS SWEETIE POO: Please stop. I’m bored. 

[LAUGHTER] 

Please stop. 

AKIRA HORIUCHI: Anyway, please– 

MISS SWEETIE POO: I’m bored. 

AKIRA HORIUCHI: –people, have a screening colonoscopy. 

MISS SWEETIE POO: Please stop. I’m bored. 

AKIRA HORIUCHI: So thank you very much. 

MISS SWEETIE POO: Please stop. 

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE] 

IRA FLATOW: I’m Ira Flatow. And you’re listening to Science Friday from WNYC Studios. 

MARC ABRAHAMS: Now, get set for something special, the 24/7 Lectures. We’ve invited several of the world’s top thinkers to tell us very briefly what they’re thinking about. 

Each 24/7 lecturer will explain her or his subject twice– first, a complete technical description in 24 seconds. And then, after a brief pause, a clear summary that anyone can understand in seven words. 

The 24 second time limit will be enforced by our referee, Mr. John Barrett. Mr. Barrett, do you have any advice for our 24/7 lecturers? 

JOHN BARRETT: Keep it clean. 

[LAUGHTER] 

MARC ABRAHAMS: OK, thank you, Mr. Barrett. The first group of 24/7 lecturers is in position. The first 24/7 Lecture will be delivered by the Brazilian neuroscientist who figured out how to figure out how many cells are in a brain, Suzana Herculano-Houzel. 

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE] 

Her topic– “The Brain.” First, a complete technical description of the subject in 24 seconds. On your mark, get set, go. 

SUZANA HERCULANO-HOUZEL: The sustained activity of excitable cerebral cells requires both discharged re-polarization against the membraned electrochemical gradient and demands energy influx that, absent photosynthesis, must be supplied by alimentation at a rate of 6 kilocalories per billion neurons a day, which exceeds the provisional capacity of unadulterated [INAUDIBLE] and curtails the provision that the evolutionary expansion of the encephalon, unless counteracted by technologies for preliminary extracorporeal digestion. 

[WHISTLE BLOWS] 

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE] 

MARC ABRAHAMS: Now, a clear summary that anyone can understand in seven words. On your mark, get set, go. 

SUZANA HERCULANO-HOUZEL: Brains are expensive. Cooking allows more neurons. 

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE] 

MARC ABRAHAMS: The next 24/7 Lecture will be delivered by a Harvard graduate student in evolutionary biology who discovered a previously unrecognized form of the color black in certain animals, Dakota McCoy. 

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE] 

Her topic– “Super Black in Animals.” First, a complete technical description of the subject in 24 seconds. On your mark, get set, go. 

DAKOTA MCCOY: Most colors in nature are produced by chemical pigments, whereby photons of a particular energy excite electrons within the pigment, causing a change in the color of reflected or transmitted light. But some animals evolved mechanisms in their integument that multiply scatter light between the three-dimensional micro-structures, leading to near-complete incremental absorption, broadband, featureless black. This is mechanistically analogous to man-made materials, such as silicon structured by femto laser blasting. 

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE] 

MARC ABRAHAMS: And now, a clear summary that anyone can understand in seven words. On your mark, get set, go. 

DAKOTA MCCOY: Some animals are very, very, very black. 

[LAUGHTER] 

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE] 

IRA FLATOW: We need to take a break. Here’s a taste of this year’s Ig Nobel mini opera, The Broken Heart Opera. 

[PIANO MUSIC PLAYING] 

[POLKA MUSIC PLAYING] 

CHORUS: (SINGING) Can you, can you mend a broken heart? 

Can you, can you mend a broken heart? What would it take? 

What would it take? 

First you have to find a heart to break. 

[MURMURS OF AGREEMENT] 

And I know a simple way to start. Build a heart and then take it apart! 

Feed my curiosity. Explain the heart to me! Till now, we’ve only guessed what happens in my chest. 

It’s something I’ve not seen, a marvelous machine! 

It squirms and makes a noise. It’s inside girls and boys. 

[INAUDIBLE] 

Hey! The heart is like a toy! [CHUCKLES] 

Oh! I know I would enjoy assembling a heart. 

It’s easy once you start. 

IRA FLATOW: I’m Ira Flatow. And you’re listening to Science Friday from WNYC Studios. 

SPEAKER 1: Science Friday is supported by 23andMe, a personal genetic service designed to help people understand their DNA. Learn more at 23andMe.com/WNYC. And from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, working to enhance public understanding of science, technology, and economics in the modern world. 

Support for Science Friday is provided by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation– more at templeton.org. Support for this program also comes from the Winston Foundation. 

Science Friday is produced by the Science Friday Initiative, a non-profit organization dedicated to increasing the public’s access to science and scientific information. Learn more about their work at sciencefriday.com. 

IRA FLATOW: This is Science Friday. I’m Ira Flatow. And now, we return to Harvard’s Sanders Theater for more highlights from this year’s Ig Nobel Awards Ceremony. Here’s master of ceremonies, Marc Abrahams, with more of the awards. 

MARC ABRAHAMS: (DRAMATICALLY) The literature prize. 

[APPLAUSE] 

[PIANO MUSIC PLAYS] 

The winners are from Australia, El Salvador, and the UK. The Ig Nobel Prize for Literature is awarded to Thea Blackler, Rafael Gomez, Vesna Popovic, and M. Helen Thompson for documenting that most people who use complicated products do not read the instruction manual. 

[LAUGHTER] 

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE] 

THEA BLACKLER: Thank you. 

[APPLAUSE CONTINUES] 

We did survey studies– four them– and two longitudinal studies, and found that most people do not read manuals most of the time. And most people do not use all the features on many of their products. 

[LAUGHTER] 

Also, extraneous features have a negative effect on their experience with the product. And reading manuals or accessing online help was sometimes such a bad experience that people would avoid doing it, even when they knew they were using the product wrongly and reading a manual would probably help. 

[LAUGHTER] 

So life is too short to RTFM. 

[LAUGHTER] 

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE] 

You might say that’s not unexpected, and it makes you laugh, and we all knew that. But manufacturers and designers don’t appear to know that. They’ve been adding more and more features to everything from phones and ovens to software– 

MISS SWEETIE POO: Please stop. 

THEA BLACKLER: –to toys– 

MISS SWEETIE POO: I’m bored. 

THEA BLACKLER: –and continuing– 

MISS SWEETIE POO: Please stop. 

THEA BLACKLER: –to ship products with manuals– 

MISS SWEETIE POO: I’m bored. 

THEA BLACKLER: –or expecting us to access help online. 

MISS SWEETIE POO: Please stop. 

[LAUGHTER] 

I’m bored. 

THEA BLACKLER: So how can we fix it? You can read my book, and that will teach you how to fix it! [CHUCKLES] 

[APPLAUSE] 

Thank you to everybody! 

MISS SWEETIE POO: I’m bored. 

[APPLAUSE CONTINUES] 

MARC ABRAHAMS: Please follow the instructions for collecting your $10 trillion bill from the Nobel laureates. (DRAMATICALLY) The nutrition prize. 

[PIANO MUSIC PLAYS] 

The winner is from the United Kingdom. The Ig Nobel Prize for Nutrition is awarded to James Cole for calculating that the caloric intake from a human cannibalism diet is significantly lower than the caloric intake from most other traditional meat diets. 

[LAUGHTER] 

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE] 

JAMES COLE: Well, I have to find my speech now. Why don’t you chew on something while I find us some food for thought. 

[LAUGHTER] 

(LAUGHING) OK. And to continue the puns, I really like research I can get my teeth into. 

[GROANING] 

As with most scientific research, there’s always a kind of bigger picture behind what we’re trying to understand. And for me, I’m really trying to think about the behavior complexities of our human ancestors like the Neanderthals. 

So we know that in modern humans, there’s a whole range of motivations for cannibalism, from survival to warfare. But perhaps in others, there’s perhaps more than just meat for meat’s sake. It turns out, calorifically, we’re not that nutritious compared to a horse or a bison or a mammoth, which we know that we’ve successfully hunted in the past. 

And we know that Neanderthals are increasingly more complex. They produce art. They have symbolism, jewelry, language, and complex societies. 

So final food for thought is that perhaps we should consider that our ancestors had a greater complex attitude to cannibalism than the way that we do, because if we can gain greater understanding into them, we can gain greater understanding into ourselves. And isn’t that what science is about and why we’re all here? So thanks very much. 

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE] 

MARC ABRAHAMS: You can collect your $10 trillion bill. 

[APPLAUSE CONTINUES] 

In honor of this prize, we have a special nutritional treat for the Nobel laureates. 

[HORN BLOWS] 

[LAUGHTER] 

The Not Safe for Work indicator has called off this nutritional treat. 

[BOOING] 

[CLEARS THROAT] 

It’s time now for the second and final round of the 24/7 Lectures. The next 24/7 Lecture will be delivered by an economist who won a Nobel Prize for developing a practically complete theoretical understanding of incomplete contracts, Oliver Hart! 

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE] 

[SOFT MUSIC PLAYS] 

[APPLAUSE CONTINUES] 

First, a complete technical description in 24 seconds. On your mark, get set, go. 

OLIVER HART: Look at many contracts, and they will have gaps and ambiguities. Take my agreement with Marc Abrahams to give this lecture. The agreement doesn’t say what should happen if there is a hurricane– quite topical– or Sanders Theater burns down, heaven forbid. Lawyers and economists call such agreements incomplete. Incompleteness can explain why firms are sometimes superior– 

[WHISTLE BLOWS] 

–to markets. 

MARC ABRAHAMS: And now, a complete, clear summary that anyone can understand in seven words. On your mark, get set, go. 

OLIVER HART: Good contracts are remarkably difficult to write. 

[LAUGHTER] 

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE] 

MARC ABRAHAMS: The next 24/7 Lecture will be delivered by a cardiologist– a heart specialist. 

[CHEERING] 

Based at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and an instructor at Harvard Medical School, Dr. Natalia Berry. Her topic– “Cardiology.” 

[PIANO MUSIC PLAYS] 

[CHUCKLES] 

[LAUGHTER] 

Where’d that come from? First, a complete technical description of the subject in 24 seconds. On your mark, get set, go. 

NATALIA BERRY: Cardiology is the domain of medicine pertaining to the heart and blood vessels. 

[CHEERING] 

Cardiologists treat coronary disease, heart failure– 

[CHEERING] 

–valvular pathologies, vascular diseases, cardiac arrhythmias, congenital heart defects– 

[CHEERING] 

–and cardiomyopathies. Cardiologists listen to their patients’ stories, as well as their heart sounds– 

[CHEERING] 

–and use EKGs, echocardiograms, stress tests, cardiac catheterization, advanced imaging, electro-physiological studies, as well as a vast array of powerful drugs and other innovative– 

[WHISTLE BLOWS] 

–interventions to save and prolong life. 

[LAUGHTER] 

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE] 

MARC ABRAHAMS: (CHUCKLING) And now, a clear summary that anyone can understand in seven words. On your mark, get set, go. 

NATALIA BERRY: The heart– 

[CHEERING] 

–engine of life and love. 

[LAUGHTER] 

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE] 

MARC ABRAHAMS: The final 24/7 Lecture will be delivered by a Harvard professor of organismic and evolutionary biology and of immunology and infectious diseases, a pioneer in computational biology, Pardis Sabeti. 

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE] 

Her topic– “Viral Evolution.” First, a complete technical description of the subject in 24 seconds. On your mark, get set, go. 

PARDIS SABETI: The 2013 to 2016 West African Ebola outbreak led to over 28,000 confirmed cases, starting from a single entry into the human population. Over numerous rounds of human-to-human transmission, Ebola virus genome replication generated thousands of mutations, including an alanine-to-valine non-synonymous change in Ebola’s glycoprotein. Based on multiple in vitro studies, this mutation increases infectivity of Ebola in a variety of human and non-human primate cell types. 

[WHISTLE BLOWS] 

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE] 

[LAUGHS] 

MARC ABRAHAMS: Now a clear summary that anyone can understand in seven words. On your mark, get set– 

PARDIS SABETI: Viruses can change really fast. 

MARC ABRAHAMS: I didn’t say go. 

PARDIS SABETI: Oh! 

[LAUGHTER AND GROANING] 

MARC ABRAHAMS: On your mark, get set, go. 

PARDIS SABETI: Viruses can change very fast. They’re scary. 

[LAUGHTER] 

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE] 

MARC ABRAHAMS: (DRAMATICALLY) The peace prize. 

[APPLAUSE] 

The winners are from Spain and Colombia. The Ig Nobel Prize for Peace is awarded to Francisco Alonso, Cristina Esteban, Andrea Serge, Maria-Luisa Ballestar, Jaime Sanmartín, Constanza Calatayud, and Beatriz Alamar for measuring the frequency, motivation, and effects of shouting and cursing while driving an automobile. 

[LAUGHTER] 

FRANCISCO ALONSO: Thank you very much. According to the World Health Organization, 1.23 million people worldwide die each year because of a traffic accident. Let us consider that shouting and insulting, in addition to causing accidents, can constitute the first stage of a war, which may lead to physical aggression that could in some occasions have terrible consequences. 

Let’s also remember that people use cars to make love, as well. 

[LAUGHTER] 

Which is clearly better than eventually using them to get us killed. 

[SOFT LAUGHTER] 

And it happens, with this prize, we need to support love, lovers, because they are not compatible with certain negative emotional states. I’m for sure with they will lead us to peace. We need to be at peace with ourselves in order– 

MISS SWEETIE POO: Please stop. 

FRANCISCO ALONSO: –not to be at war with– 

MISS SWEETIE POO: I’m bored. 

FRANCISCO ALONSO: –everyone else. OK. 

MISS SWEETIE POO: Please stop. 

FRANCISCO ALONSO: OK. OK. 

MISS SWEETIE POO: I’m bored. 

[LAUGHTER] 

MARC ABRAHAMS: (DRAMATICALLY) The reproductive medicine prize. 

[PIANO MUSIC PLAYS] 

[APPLAUSE] 

The winners represent the USA, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, India, and Bangladesh. The Ig Nobel Prize for Reproductive Medicine is awarded to John Barry, Bruce Blank, and Michel Boileau for using postage stamps to test whether the male sexual organ is functioning properly, as described in their study, “Nocturnal Penile Tumescence Monitoring with Stamps.” 

[LAUGHTER] 

JOHN BARRY: We sought to answer Bugs Bunny’s recurrent question. 

[SCATTERED LAUGHTER] 

FRANCISCO ALONSO: What’s up, Doc? 

[LAUGHTER] 

JOHN BARRY: When physically normal men sleep and dream, they have complete erections one to five times a night. Physically impotent men don’t. In a hospital, mercury strain gauge penile plethysmography was the standard method to measure nocturnal penile tumescence in 1978. 

[SOFT LAUGHTER] 

We developed an inexpensive stamp test– 

[SOFT LAUGHTER] 

–to demonstrate the absence– 

[LAUGHTER] 

–of sleep erections. 

[LAUGHTER CONTINUES] 

And here we are, 40 years later, on the campus of “Hah-vahd” University– 

AUDIENCE: [CHEERS] 

JOHN BARRY: –telling you all about it. 

[LAUGHTER] 

By the way, the answer to Bugs Bunny’s question is– 

MICHEL BOILEAU: And what was the question? 

[SOFT LAUGHTER] 

BRUCE BLANK: What’s up, Doc? 

[SOFT LAUGHTER] 

MICHEL BOILEAU: Our time. 

[LAUGHTER] 

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE] 

IRA FLATOW: I’m Ira Flatow. And you’re listening to Science Friday from WNYC Studios. 

MARC ABRAHAMS: If you have any comments, please don’t make them. 

[LAUGHTER] 

And now, the final prize– the economics prize! 

[PIANO MUSIC PLAYS] 

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE] 

The winners are from Canada, China, Singapore, and the USA. The Ig Nobel Prize for Economics is awarded to Lindie Hanyu Liang, Douglas Brown, Huiwen Lian, Samuel Hanig, D. Lance Ferris, and Lisa Keeping for investigating whether it is effective for employees to use voodoo dolls– 

[LAUGHTER] 

–to retaliate against abusive bosses. 

[LAUGHTER] 

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE] 

LINDIE HANYU LIANG: Thank you. It’s a great honor to be here receiving this prestigious award– 

[SOFT LAUGHTER] 

–especially after our paper has been characterized by the press as bizarre and absurd. 

[SOFT LAUGHTER] 

So in our work, we wanted to understand why people keep retaliating against their abusive bosses. And we presented them with a voodoo doll. And to see whether stabbing a voodoo doll would make them feel they’ve retaliated. And people actually feel a lot better. To feel their sense of justice has been restored. 

[LAUGHTER] 

So I really want to take this opportunity to thank my former boss– 

[LAUGHTER] 

[LAUGHS] [INAUDIBLE] 

[LAUGHTER AND CHEERING] 

–for teaching me everything about how to deal with abusive bosses. 

[LAUGHTER] 

And I really want to acknowledge my cats, Caramel and Kit-Kat for providing me with– 

MISS SWEETIE POO: Please stop. 

LINDIE HANYU LIANG: –all the emotional support. 

MISS SWEETIE POO: I’m bored. 

[LAUGHTER] 

LINDIE HANYU LIANG: OK. 

MISS SWEETIE POO: Please stop. I’m bored. 

LINDIE HANYU LIANG: My cats don’t interest you? 

MISS SWEETIE POO: Please stop. 

MARC ABRAHAMS: Don’t forget to collect your $10 trillion– 

MISS SWEETIE POO: I’m bored. 

MARC ABRAHAMS: –from over there. Would the person who left their Ig Nobel Prize here– wouldn’t you really like to have this? 

[LAUGHTER] 

Just come on over or wave your hand. We’ll have someone bring it to you. No? No? Anyone out there forget– 

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE] 

And now, Professor Jean Berko Gleason will deliver the traditional Ig Nobel “Goodbye, Goodbye” speech. 

[SOFT APPLAUSE] 

JEAN BERKO GLEASON: Goodbye, goodbye. 

[LAUGHTER] 

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE] 

MARC ABRAHAMS: Nicely done. 

[APPLAUSE CONTINUES] 

Would everyone on stage please gather up at the front of the stage for a pointless photo opportunity? 

[LAUGHTER] 

Just move right on up to the front of the stage. OK. And please, everybody, whack your hands together and shower them with self-esteem. 

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE] 

On behalf of the Harvard Radcliffe Society of Physics Students at the Harvard Radcliffe Science-Fiction Association, and especially from all of us in The Annals of Improbable Research– 

[APPLAUSE CONTINUES] 

[SOFT, INDISTINCT SINGING] 

[CHUCKLES] –now, now, kids. Now, now kids. 

Now, now, kids. OK, kids. All right, kids. OK. Hold it down, kids. Just everybody– you calm? OK. Please remember, this final thought. If you did not win an Ig Nobel Prize this year, and especially if you did, better luck next year. 

[LAUGHTER] 

Thank you! Good night. 

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE] 

IRA FLATOW: That about wraps it up for us. Thanks to Marc Abrams and everyone at The Annals of Improbable Research, to audio engineers Miles Smith and Frank Cunningham for their help in recording the ceremonies, also to Sarah Fishman, [? Kevin ?] [? Wolff, ?] and Rich Kim for their technical assistance. 

And if you missed any part of the program or if you’d like to hear it again, you can subscribe to our podcast– audio and video. Point your tablet or your smartphone to our website at sciencefriday.com. We’re going to leave you with a selection from this year’s Ig Nobel mini opera, The Broken-Heart Opera. 

[MUSIC PLAYING] 

CHORUS: (SINGING) Set the pace, quick or slow. How fast should it go? 

What rhythm? What rhythm? What rhythm? Control. Control, control, control. Control. Control. Control. Control. Control. 

Don’t go too slow. Do not go too slow. 

No, no. 

Don’t go too slow because that invites– 

Danger! 

When it’s too slow, there’s a name for that. 

Bradycardia. 

Oh! 

When it’s too quick, there’s a name for that, naturally. 

[MUSIC FADES] 

IRA FLATOW: Have a great holiday weekend! In New York, I’m Ira Flatow. 

SPEAKER 1: Science Friday is supported by the Center for Inquiry, co-founded by Carl Sagan, Isaac Asimov, and Paul Kurtz, CFI advocates for a reason, science, and secular values. More information can be found at centerforinquiry.org. 

And from the Heising-Simons Foundation, unlocking knowledge, opportunity, and possibilities. More at HSfoundation.org. Org And from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, working to enhance public understanding of science, technology, and economics in the modern world. 

Science Friday is produced by the Science Friday initiative, a non-profit organization dedicated to increasing the public’s access to science and scientific information– sciencefriday.com. 

[WHOOSH] 

[MUSIC PLAYING] 

SPEAKER 2: Listener-supported– WNYC Studios.

Copyright © 2018 Science Friday Initiative. All rights reserved. Science Friday transcripts are produced on a tight deadline by 3Play Media. Fidelity to the original aired/published audio or video file might vary, and text might be updated or amended in the future. For the authoritative record of Science Friday’s programming, please visit the original aired/published recording. For terms of use and more information, visit our policies pages at http://www.sciencefriday.com/about/policies/

Meet the Producer

About Charles Bergquist

As Science Friday’s director, Charles Bergquist channels the chaos of a live production studio into something sounding like a radio program. Favorite topics include planetary sciences, chemistry, materials, and shiny things with blinking lights.

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