Somewhat Silly Science Earns Ig Nobel Prizes

47:47 minutes

Physiology-Entomology winners Justin Schmidt & Michael Smith with all the Miss Sweetie Poos. Photo by Alexey Eliseev
Physiology-Entomology winners Justin Schmidt and Michael Smith with all the Miss Sweetie Poos. Photo by Alexey Eliseev

If a scientist told you that he was studying how a chicken would walk with a plunger strapped to its back, you might laugh. You might also chuckle if another researcher told you that her work included analyzing whether an ancient Moroccan emperor could in fact have fathered more than 800 children. The Ig Nobel Prizes, awarded each year by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research, honor just such work—that is, science that first makes you laugh, then makes you think. In this special holiday edition of Science Friday, we’re bringing you highlights from the 2015 prize ceremony, the 25th First Annual Ig Nobel Prizes. Hear about pee-time duration, how speed bumps can aid medical diagnostics, the most painful places to receive a bee sting, and more.

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 all at a peaceful and thanks-filled holiday. We’re glad you’re with us today. And just as the end of November means family get-togethers, crazy sales, and the changeover from pumpkin spice season to peppermint and gingerbread season, it also means a Science Friday tradition– highlights from this year’s Ig Nobel awards ceremony.

KAREN HOPKIN: The ceremony has not officially started yet. It starts when I say. And I’m not saying it yet. I will count down from five to zero. Get set. T minus five, four, three, two, oh, wait. Oh, I’m sorry. I forgot. Welcome to the 25th First Annual Ig Nobel Prize ceremony.

IRA FLATOW: The awards are handed at 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 it makes you think. So grab a bit a leftover pie if there is any, and let us a whisk you away through the magic of sound to Harvard’s Sanders Theatre, where the dignitaries and ignitaries are taking the stage.

KAREN HOPKIN: Ladies and gentlemen–


and other life forms, welcome to the 25th First Annual Ig Nobel Prize ceremony. And now, Professor Jean Berko-Gleason and Dr. William Hoston will deliver the traditional Ig Nobel welcome, welcome speech.





KAREN HOPKIN: Now, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, literati, glitterati, pseudointellectuals, quasi-pseudointellectuals, and the rest of you, may I introduce our Master of Ceremonies, the editor of The Annals of Improbable Research, chief airhead, Marc Abrahams.

MARC ABRAHAMS: Good evening. We are gathered here tonight to honor some remarkable individuals and groups. Every winner has done something that first makes people laugh, and then think.

The Ig Nobel Prize ceremony is produced by the science humor magazine The Annals of Improbable Research, and probably co-sponsored by the Harvard Radcliffe Society of Physics Students and the Harvard Radcliffe Science Fiction Association, and by the book, This is Improbable Too, ISBN 9781780743615. The editors of The Annals of Improbable Research have chosen the theme for this year’s ceremony. That theme is life.


Tonight, 10 prizes will be given. The achievements speak for themselves all too clearly. The prizes will be physically presented to the winners by Nobel laureates. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the Nobel laureates.


In 1986, Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, Dudley Herschbach, 2007 Nobel Laureate in Economics, Eric Maskin, 2009 Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine, Carol Greider, 2009 Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine, Jack Szostak, 2004 Nobel Laureate in Physics, Frank Wilczek.

1990 Nobel Laureate in Physics, Jerome Friedman, as usual was prevented from joining us. He appears now via the magic of video.

JEROME FRIEDMAN: Congratulations. I hope you are enjoying this as much as I am.

MARC ABRAHAMS: Thank you, Professor Friedman.

IRA FLATOW: The awards feature a bunch of officials, to make sure things run smoothly. You can hear them sometimes, like an official referee and timer, a special V chip monitor designed to block offensive content. And of course, there is Miss Sweetie Poo, an eight-year-old girl who ever so sweetly interrupts when speeches run on too long. I’m sure you will hear her.

And this year, for the Ig Nobel 25th First Annual awards, an anniversary reunion of Miss Sweetie Poos.

MARC ABRAHAMS: A bit of history about that– Miss Sweetie Poo was invented in 1999. Since then, the role of Miss Sweetie Poo has been performed by a succession of tough-minded, really cute eight-year-old girls. Most of the past Miss Sweetie Poos have been kind enough to join us for this 25th First Annual Ig Nobel Prize ceremony. Please welcome the very first Miss Sweetie Poo. It’s my honor to welcome back Natasha Rosenberg.


NATASHA ROSENBERG: Good evening. I’m Natasha Rosenberg, your very first Miss Sweetie Poo. Those three years were the absolute highlight of my life. It’s all been downhill from there. Sometimes, when I’m at a patient’s bedside or hiking mountains, I think back on those halcyon years of yore. And I rejoice that I had the opportunity to be so rude to–


NATASHA ROSENBERG: –to all of those brilliant people.


NATASHA ROSENBERG: Just get in there and just–


NATASHA ROSENBERG: I guess is my cue to go–


Hello. My name is Sylvia. I am the second Miss Sweetie Poo. The first was actually my sister. Family tradition, right? Funny story– it actually skipped our middle sister, because she was as tall as the oldest. Natasha. And so I actually inherited it. And she never got to–

TABATHA BOHMBACH: Please stop, I’m bored. Please stop. I’m bored.



TABATHA BOHMBACH: So I’m Tabatha. I wasn’t really the third, but I’m the third here– Miss Sweetie Poo. And I was Miss Sweetie Poo in 2007 and 2008. I never realized how annoying it really was.

ISABEL KADEL-GARCIA: Please stop. I’m bored.

TABATHA BOHMBACH: –until looking back at it now, how annoying I really was.

ISABEL KADEL-GARCIA: Hello. My name’s Isabel and I’m the fourth Miss Sweetie Poo in here. And so I was there in 2009 and 2010. And I was involved with the stuffed cow, if anyone remembers.

LIRAZ BRAND: Please stop. I’m bored.

ISABEL KADEL-GARCIA: As you can see, I was very frustrating.

LIRAZ BRAND: I’m bored.


LIRAZ BRAND: Hi, I’m Liraz. I was the fifth Miss Sweetie Poo that is here tonight. I was there back in 2011. And as you can imagine–


LIRAZ BRAND: It was fun for an eight something year old to express her annoyingness.

SHARADA SUNDARAM-SENDERS: Hi, my name’s Sharada. I was Miss Sweetie Poo in 2012–




SHARADA SUNDARAM-SENDERS: And I got two stuffed plush–

JASPER MILSTEIN: Please stop. I’m bored.


MARC ABRAHAMS: Thank you, Miss Sweetie Poos. Thank you. In 1996, Don Featherstone was awarded an Ig Nobel Prize for creating the plastic pink flamingo. This photo shows Don in a characteristic moment. There’s some very sad news. Several months ago, Don Featherstone died after a long illness. Don and his wife Nancy loved returning here to the Ig Nobel ceremony almost every year. Nancy Featherstone has kindly joined us tonight. Nancy?


Some other Ig Nobel winners from previous years have returned to join us. They’re all still full of life.


And they’re going to take a bow. And they’re also here to help honor the new Ig Nobel Prize winners. Would you please welcome a 2008 Ig Nobel Chemistry prizewinner who tested whether Coca-Cola is an effective spermicide– Dr. Deborah Anderson.


Please welcome back a 2007 Ig Nobel Medicine prizewinner who coauthored the British Medical Journal study, “Sword Swallowing and its Side Effects,” Dan Meyer.


And please welcome the winner of the 2005 Ig Nobel Prize for Nutrition, a man who was photographed and retrospectively analyzed every meal he has consumed during the past 44 years and counting– Dr. Nakamats.


As you may know, this is a bittersweet moment. Dr. Nakamats has been diagnosed with an illness, a form of cancer. His doctors predict that Dr. Nakamats has only a few months left of life. That’s an odd response there. Dr. Nakamats, being Dr. Nakamats, has written a special song. He will sing for you his swan song. Please welcome possibly the greatest human on earth, Dr. Nakamats.



IRA FLATOW: Coming up, more highlights from this year 25th First Annual Ig Nobel Awards. Stay with us.


IRA FLATOW: 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, then makes you think. It was recorded in September of this year at Harvard’s Sanders Theatre. Here’s Ig Nobel Master of Ceremonies Marc Abrahams.

MARC ABRAHAMS: OK, let’s get it over with. Ladies and gentlemen, the awarding of the 2015 Ig Nobel prizes. We’re giving out 10 prizes. The winners come from many nations on six continents. This year’s winners have truly earned their prizes. Karen, would you tell us what the winners have won?

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


KAREN HOPKIN: A piece of paper saying they’ve won an Ig Nobel Prize. It’s actually been signed by several Nobel laureates.

MARC ABRAHAMS: Do they get any money?

KAREN HOPKIN: 10 trillion dollars.

MARC ABRAHAMS: 10 trillion dollars?

KAREN HOPKIN: 10 trillion dollars.


KAREN HOPKIN: No, Zimbabwean dollars– a Zimbabwean $10 trillion bill.

MARC ABRAHAMS: That’s all?

KAREN HOPKIN: Yeah, that’s it.

MARC ABRAHAMS: How nice. Thank you, Karen. Ladies and gentleman, this is the coveted Ig Nobel Prize.


This year’s prize is a potted plant without the plant and with the atomic symbols for carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, and nitrogen. The chemistry prize– the Ig Nobel Prize for chemistry this year is awarded to Callum Ormonde and Colin Raston of Australia, and Tom Yuan, Stephan Kudlacek, Sameeran Kunche, Joshua N. Smith, William A. Brown, Kaitlin Pugliese, Tivoli Olsen, Mariam Iftikar, and Greg Weiss of the USA for inventing a chemical recipe to partially unboil an egg.


MALE SPEAKER: Thank you for this high honor and beautiful, attractive [INAUDIBLE] that I’m going to cherish in my office. So we have a large number of people to thank. And I also want to tell you just a little bit about what we did. Unfortunately, on the way over here, I mixed up my eggs. I had a raw egg and I had a boiled egg. But I poked around in the labs of Harvard and I found a high tech device that will allow us to distinguish the raw egg from the boiled egg. And so–


Here we go.


This one has folded protein, unfolded. Folded, unfolded. We invented a way of converting the unfolded protein over here to folded, using mechanical energy– not chemical energy, not thermal energy. And for this I’m really grateful for the inventor of the vortex fluid device, Colin Raston, and a team on two continents, whose names you’ve just heard so I won’t repeat them.

But we’re excited about applying this to lots of other proteins that come out looking like this, when they really should look beautiful, like this. Thank you so much again for this high honor.


MARC ABRAHAMS: The Physics prize– the Ig Nobel Prize for Physics is awarded to Patricia Yang of the USA and Taiwan, David Hu of the USA in Taiwan, and Jonathan Pham and Jerome Choo of the USA for testing the biological principle that nearly all mammals empty their bladders in about 21 seconds, plus or minus 13 seconds.


MALE SPEAKER: When you go to the bathroom, do you bring a stopwatch? When you see a small dog or a small child urinating, do you count the seconds? Have you ever seen a panda, a goat, or an elephant pee? If you had, you would learn that all animals in the world above about three kilograms urinate for about the same duration.

On average, animals urinate for 21 seconds. We call this is the law of urination.


How in the world can such a big animals urinate for the same duration as such tiny, small animals? The answer is gravity. All animals have a pee-pee pipe. Because of gravity, the taller the pipe, the faster the pee. So the next time you’re waiting too long for someone to finish using the bathroom, just simply knock on the door and gently remind them–

FEMALE VOICE: Please stop. I’m bored.

MALE SPEAKER: According to the law of urination–

FEMALE VOICE: Please stop. I’m bored.

MALE SPEAKER: You should be done in just 21 seconds. Thank you.

FEMALE VOICE: Please stop. I’m bored.

MARC ABRAHAMS: The literature prize– the Ig Nobel Prize for Literature is awarded to Mark Dingemanse of the Netherlands and the USA, Francisco Torreira of the Netherlands, Belgium, and the USA, and Nick J. Enfield of Australia and the Netherlands for discovering that the word “huh” or its equivalent seems to exist in every human language and for not being quite sure why.


MARC ABRAHAMS: The winners could not attend the ceremony. So they sent us this video acceptance speech.



MARC ABRAHAMS: That went by pretty quickly. Could you show that again, please, tech people?


MARC ABRAHAMS: Thank you. The management prize– the Ig Nobel Prize for Management is awarded to Gennaro Bernile of Italy, Singapore, and the USA, Vineet Bhagwat of the USA and P. Raghavendra Rau of the UK, India, France, Luxembourg, Germany, and Japan for discovering that many business leaders developed in childhood a fondness for risk-taking when they experienced natural disasters, such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis and wildfires that, for them, had no dire personal consequences.



MALE SPEAKER: So what’s our paper about? I want you to imagine yourself in the position of a child growing up in the Midwest. Tornado season goes around every year. Not a single one touches down near your town. No one’s hurt. No one’s injured. So you think, risk– not a big deal. So when you become a CEO, you take a lot of risk.

On the other hand, a kid in the same state, born in the same year, working for the same company, but in a different year, but the tornado touches down in that boy’s state or girl’s state. Turns out, he takes much less risk when they become a CEO relative to the first CEO. That’s pretty much the paper. It’s a long-term, non-linear relationship between early life traumatic experiences and later CEO behavior. It sounds complicated.

Bottom line, is what doesn’t kill you will make you more risk-loving. And put it another way, though. Follow-up question for you guys– does actually getting trauma make these guys more risk-loving– sorry, make these guys becoming CEOs? We don’t know. So parents, do not try this at home. Do not traumatize your children.

FEMALE VOICE: Please stop. I’m bored.


MARC ABRAHAMS: Now, get set for something special– the 24/7 lectures. We have invited several of the world’s top thinkers to tell us very briefly what they are 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: Gentlemen, keep it clean.

MARC ABRAHAMS: Now let’s have the first group of 24/7 lecturers. The first 24/7 lecture will be delivered by a professor of evolutionary and behavioral ecology at Tufts University. Author of the soon to be published book, Silent Sparks: The Wondrous World of Fireflies, Sara Lewis.


Her topic, firefly sex. First, a complete technical description of the subject in 24 seconds. On your mark, get set, go.

SARA LEWIS: Fireflies are beetles in the family Lampyridae that use bioluminescent signals to find males. Flying males broadcast signals as they search for females who respond to intraspecific variation in male flash timing. Females prefer longer flashes and faster flash rates. Firefly females met with multiple males, whose post-copulatory sexual selection has driven males to invest heavily in nuptial gifts. These are nutritious, sperm-containing spermatophores that females use to provision their eggs. Males with larger gifts benefit because they sire more offspring.



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

SARA LEWIS: Female fireflies favor fancy food-filled flashers.


MARC ABRAHAMS: The next 24/7 lecture will be delivered by the Herman Feshbach Professor of Physics at MIT, a 2004 Nobel Laureate in Physics and author of the book A Beautiful Question: Finding Nature’s Deep Design– Frank Wilczek–


–whose topic, beauty. First, a complete technical description of the subject in 24 seconds. On your mark, get set, go.

FRANK WILCZEK: Beauty is what we experience when the external world stimulates our reward system, causing a release of dopamine we feel as pleasure. Natural selection uses this device to encourage behavior that increases fitness. Sexual partners are beautiful. So are things that make sense.

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

FRANK WILCZEK: Beauty– we like it when we see it.


MARC ABRAHAMS: In 2001, we at Improbable Research created the Luxuriant, Flowing Hair Club for Scientists. Steven Pinker was the charter member. That club has grown. It now has more than 500 members around the world, and four branches. The four branches are the Luxuriant, Flowing Hair Club for Scientists, the LFHCFS, the Luxuriant Former Hair Club for Scientists, the LFHCFS, the Luxuriant Facial Hair for Scientists, the LFHCFS, and the Luxuriant, Flowing Former or Facial Hair Club for Social Scientists, or LFFFHCFSS. Please welcome, it is a great honor for us to have on our stage the Luxuriant, Flowing Hair Club for Scientists 2015 Woman of the Year Dr. Anne Madden and her hair.

IRA FLATOW: I’m Ira Flatow, and you’re listening to Science Friday from PRI.


MARC ABRAHAMS: And a round of applause for Dr. Madden’s hair.


And now it’s time for the Win A Date With A Nobel Laureate Contest. Here’s Karen Hopkin to tell us about our laureate.

KAREN HOPKIN: Thank you, my chimichanga. This year, Win a Date has a special treat for you. Instead of getting one laureate, you’ll be taking home two. Carol Greider and Jack Szostak shared the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their work on telomeres, the structures that keep the tips of our chromosomes as long and luxurious as Dr. Anne Madden’s hair. These gorgeous specimens of humanity are powerhouses at work and at play. A former triathlete and proud person with dyslexia, Carol Greider enjoys practical jokes and getting calls from Stockholm while she’s folding the laundry at 5:00 AM.


And Jack Szostak, who works at MGH, one of the finest research institutes in downtown Boston–


–enjoys hiking and contemplating the origins of life


–while sipping single malt scotch. If you are looking forward to an evening that, like a supple young telomere, goes on and on, Jack and Carol are the duo for you. Please give a doubly warm, Win a Date welcome to Carol Greider and Jack Szostak.


MARC ABRAHAMS: All right, so you understand, it’s a package prize this year– a special deal for our 25th ceremony. Now let’s see, which lucky audience member will win a date with this pair of Nobel laureates? When you entered the hall, you were handed an attractive printed program. Pick up that printed program.

Turn to page seven. Turn your program to page seven. If your program contains a photo of DNA scientist James Watson putting his foot into his mouth, then you have one a date with this pair of Nobel laureates. Please come and claim your prize.

IRA FLATOW: The awards are presented by the editors of the science humor magazine, Annals of Improbable Research. This year, they’ve gone digital. You can find out about getting an e-subscription at improbable.com. We need to take a break. We’ll be right back with more from Sanders Theatre in just a moment. Stay with us.

This is Science Friday. I’m Ira Flatow, and we now return you to Harvard’s Sanders Theatre for more highlights from this year’s Ig Nobel awards ceremony.

MARC ABRAHAMS: And now it’s time for the second and final round of the 24/7 lectures. The next 24/7 lecture will be delivered by a professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School, a 2009 Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine who is researching how to make life from scratch, using basic chemical building blocks– Jack Szostak.


His topic– life.


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

JACK SZOSTAK: The first proto [INAUDIBLE] use nonenzymatic chemical processes to replicate ribonucleic acid templates by primer extension, using 2-methyl, five prime [INAUDIBLE] activated nucleotide monomers. To understand and improve this process, we look at monomer binding by nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, x-ray crystallography, and steady reaction kinetics using synthetic substrate analogs, kinetic isotope effects, quantum mechanical modeling, and molecular dynamics.

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

JACK SZOSTAK: Life from chemistry– how did it happen?


MARC ABRAHAMS: The final 24/7 lecture will be delivered by an assistant professor at the Indiana University Media School, who recently published a study about people who watch cat videos online. Jessica Gall Myrick. Her topic– internet cat videos. First, a complete technical description of the subject in 24 seconds. On your mark, get set, go.

JESSICA GALL MYRICK: My study, called “Emotion, Regulation, Procrastination: Watching Cat Videos Online, Who Watches Internet Cats, Why, and to What Effect?” published in the Journal of Computers and Human Behavior provided empirical data on predictors and effects of consuming audiovisual feline-focused media.

Mood management theory successfully predicted respondents’ reports that post-consumption emotions were more positive than pre-consumption. And the experience also left viewers feeling energized. A moderation mediation model demonstrated that guilt [WHISTLE] from using online felines to procrastinate could be overcome by the positive emotional payoff of [INAUDIBLE].

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

JESSICA GALL MYRICK: Grumpy cat can actually make us happy.

MARC ABRAHAMS: The Biology prize– which probably was supposed to have had a musical fanfare. The Biology prize–


–which may have had a musical fanfare. The Ig Nobel Biology Prize is awarded to Bruno Grossi, Omar Larach, Mauricio Canals and Rodrigo A. Vasques of Chile and Jose Iriarte-Diaz of Chile and the US for observing that when you attach a weighted stick to the rear end of a chicken, the chicken then walks in a manner similar to that in which dinosaurs are thought to have walked.


MALE SPEAKER: Well, now we know that if we put together a plunger with a chicken. we got a–


MALE SPEAKER: No, a dinosaur. Thank you very much.

MARC ABRAHAMS: The Diagnostic Medicine prize– the Ig Nobel Prize for Diagnostic Medicine is awarded to Diallah Karim of Canada and the UK, Anthony Harnden of New Zealand, the UK and the US, Nigel D’Souza of Bahrain, Belgium, Dubai, India, South Africa, the US, and the UK, Andrew Huang of China and the UK, Abdel Kader Allouni of Syria and the UK, and Helen Ashdown, Richard J. Stevens and Simon Kreckler of the UK for determining that acute appendicitis can be accurately diagnosed by the amount of pain evident when the patient is driven over speed bumps.


FEMALE SPEAKER: This– this is our proudest day. But first of all, we’d like to say we’d never have achieved this perk without the other authors’ work. And so that no one else is missed, we’ve brought along a thank you list. Our mums and dads, let’s not forget. I hope you’re watching on the net. And all our cats–


FEMALE SPEAKER: And Auntie Jane–

MALE SPEAKER: Dear God, I’ve got this awful pain. I feel like I’m about to die. Farewell, cruel world. I bid you goodbye.

FEMALE SPEAKER: [INAUDIBLE] don’t hang about. Come help us out. Just what the hell is wrong with him? Please tell us, is the outlook grim? Is it a heart attack, is it a brain disease, appendicitis– could it be?

MALE SPEAKER: It could be that. Now, let me see.

MALE SPEAKER: But how, without a CT or an ultrasound or an x-ray man?

FEMALE SPEAKER: Just read our paper. Then you’ll know that speed bumps are the way to show. Just drive him quickly up a hump. You know, the pain will make him. Jump Appendix cases that we sent were sensitive at 97%. It really is the simplest test, though specificity is not the best.


MARC ABRAHAMS: The medicine prize. The Ig Nobel Prize for Medicine this year is awarded jointly to two groups– to Hajime Kimata of Japan and China, and to Jaroslava Durdiakova of Slovakia, the US, and the UK, Peter Celec of Slovakia and Germany, Natalia Kamodyova, Tatiana Sedlackova, Gabriela Repiska, Barbara Sviezena, and Gabriel Minarik of Slovakia for experiments to study the biomedical benefits or biomedical consequences of intense kissing and other intimate interpersonal activities.



Please welcome the team from Slovakia.

MALE SPEAKER: Thank you, all. You could imagine, this was really, really hard work. In the past, we have shown that men have menstrual cycle. And children with a high IQ you have a very low testosterone, and that even drinking cola makes your glucose lower. But the jury has chosen our kissing experiment. It’s probably more exciting. We actually found out after kissing, in the female saliva, the male DNA can be found even up to after one hour.

FEMALE SPEAKER: And I must say that our first author, Natalia, she’s getting married on Saturday. So you can imagine, she activity participated in this experiment. So they ended up marrying each other. So perfect, I am happy that we connect people together, and we are expert in kissing. And also if you have any troubles, just ask us.

MALE SPEAKER: Live long and prosper.

MARC ABRAHAMS: The Physiology and Entomology prize– the Ig Nobel Physiology and Entomology prize is awarded jointly to two individuals, to Justin Schmidt of the USA and Canada, for painstakingly creating the Schmidt Sting Pain Index, which rates the relative pain that people feel when stung by various insects, and to Michael L. Smith of the USA, the UK, and the Netherlands for carefully arranging for honeybees to sting him repeatedly on 25 different locations on his body, to learn which locations are the least painful– the skull, the middle toe tip, and the upper arm– and which locations are the most painful– the nostril, the upper lip, and the penis shaft.


Here is Justin Schmidt.

JUSTIN SCHMIDT: I’ve spent much of my career studying stinging insects, looking for the evolution of sociality. OK, but is it really fun? Are these creatures really nice? I think they are. Just to convince you how wonderful stinging insects are, I wrote a little verse for you. I hope you enjoy this and it shows you just how nice they are.

Zing, zing, zing, what’s that thing? Thing, thing, thing, what’s that sting? Sting, sting, sting, what now? Now, now, now, it’s an ow. Ow, ow, ow, now we howl. Howl, howl, howl, but why? Why,why, why, to make us try. Try, try, try, to say hi.

FEMALE VOICE: Please stop. I’m bored. Please stop. I’m bored. Please stop.


MARC ABRAHAMS: That was Justin Schmidt, and here is Michael L. Smith.


MICHAEL SMITH: Hello. My name is Michael Smith. My research group, which is basically just me, was interested in how the painfulness of a honeybee sting would vary by body location. So we used one human subject, me, was subjected to stings from honeybees on 25 different body locations, with appropriate controls, internal standards, and replicates.

Now, you’ve already mentioned the three most in these painful places. I should incidentally thank two Cornell police officers for having not passed by at the right moment, because then they would have seen me in a little bit of an awkward situation. But all the different places that–

FEMALE VOICE: Please stop. I’m bored. Please stop. I’m bored.

MICHAEL SMITH: Sweetie Poo, I stung myself for you. I did this for you. Thank you.

IRA FLATOW: I’m Ira Flatow, and you’re listening to Science Friday from PRI.

MARC ABRAHAMS: Viruses– I said viruses. Here’s the question– are viruses a form of life?


Most biologists insist that no, viruses are not a form of life. Why? Why do most biologists insist that viruses are not a form of life?


Here are some of the world’s top biologists Speaking together– and I say speaking together– these biologists will tell us why, in their opinion, viruses are not a form of life.



MARC ABRAHAMS: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you. The Mathematics Prize– the Ig Nobel Prize for Mathematics is awarded to Elisabeth Obersaucher of Austria, Germany, and the UK, and Karl Grammer of Austria and Germany for trying to use mathematical techniques to determine whether and how Moulay Ismail the Bloodthirsty, the Sharifian emperor of Morocco, managed during the years from 1697 through 1727 to father 888 children.

ELISABETH OBERSAUCHER: When I talk about fertility, I talked to freshmen. I talked to fertility specialists. I like to ask what they think, how many populations are necessary to [INAUDIBLE] to new life.


And of course, this is a trick question because many factors play together. So we decided to approach the problem from a different angle and actually ask ourself, what is the effort a man has to put into siring 600 sons? Because that’s actually the number we have a confirmation for.

And it’s actually a lot of work, it turns out. So Moulay had to have had sex for once or twice a day, which you might actually regard a low number, but if you think that this would be every day, every single day, a whole entire life. This is quite a lot.

FEMALE VOICE: Please stop. I’m bored.


MARC ABRAHAMS: It’s time for the triumphal handshaking. Will all of the Ig Nobel Prize winners assembled behind there– they are going to emerge. All the winners will emerge, one by one, through the sacred curtain. They are to receive a token handshake from Nobel Laureate Dudley Herschbach. Let be emerging and the shaking begin.


And now on behalf of the Harvard Radcliffe Society of Physics Students and the Harvard Radcliffe Science Fiction Association and especially from all of us at the Annals of Improbable Research, please remember this final thought. If you didn’t win an Ig Nobel Prize tonight, and especially if you did, better luck next year. Good night.

IRA FLATOW: That about wraps it up for us. We’re going to leave you with a selection from this year’s Ig Nobel mini opera, “The Best Life.”


IRA FLATOW: Thanks to Marc Abrahams and everyone at the Annals of Improbable Research and to audio engineer Miles Smith for his help in reporting the ceremonies. And if you missed any part of this program or you’d like to hear it again, subscribe to our podcast. We have audio and video ones. We’ll point your tablet or smartphone to our website at sciencefriday.com. In New York, I’m Ira Flatow. Have a happy holiday.



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Meet the Producer

About Charles Bergquist

As Science Friday’s director and senior producer, 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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