Prognosticators who predicted the end of the world and got it wrong, scientists who built a wasabi fire alarm and researchers who studied how the urge to urinate affects decision-making were among the winners of spoof Ig Nobel prizes on Thursday.
The annual prizes, meant to entertain and encourage scientific research, are awarded by the Journal of Improbable Research as a whimsical counterpart to the Nobel Prizes, which will be announced next week.
Ig Nobels also went to researchers who found that the male buprestid beetle likes to copulate with Australian beer bottles called stubbies, as well as researchers who showed why discus throwers often become dizzy whereas hammer throwers do not.
Former winners of the real Nobel prizes hand out the prizes at a ceremony held at Harvard University in Massachusetts.
A personal favorite of Marc Abrahams, editor of the Annals and architect of the Ig Nobels, is this year’s winner for the Public Safety Prize, which went to John Senders of the University of Toronto in Canada.
Senders and colleagues conducted experiments to see how distractions — in this case a helmet with a visor that repeatedly flaps over a person’s face — affects attention during highway driving.
“They put this on someone while this visor is flapping and blinding them,” Abrahams said.
Remarkably, the driver fared quite well, he said.
Peter Snyder, a professor of neurology at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, was part of two research teams who won the Medicine Prize for studying how the urge to urinate affects decision-making.
Snyder’s team set up an experiment in which volunteers did computer tests and then periodically drank 250 milliliters of water as the scientists measured the effects of the volunteers’ gradually swelling bladders on attention and working memory.
The aim was to see who could last the longest before bolting for the toilet.
The study found that attention and working memory suffer when you are so focused on having to pee.
“When you gotta go, you gotta go,” Snyder said.
Abrahams said Ig Nobel judges spent much of the year sifting through piles of nominations, and the selection process can become quite heated.
“We have a devil of a time picking them. I have to step in and remind them what prize it is we are arguing about,” he said.