Ig Nobels honor study of horny beetles, why we sigh

Awards are given out to scientists studying a range of animal and human behavior in humorous research.

Winners of the Ig Nobel prize for biology studied why certain beetles try to mate with a certain kind of Australian beer bottle, as depicted in these images from the paper.
Winners of the Ig Nobel prize for biology studied why certain beetles try to mate with a certain kind of Australian beer bottle, as depicted in these images from the paper. David Rentz,Darryl Gwynne

Papers on sexually confused beetles, why people sigh, and a patent for a wasabi emergency alarm were among the scientific research projects receiving Ig Nobel prizes last night in a ceremony at Harvard University.

Presented by the science humor magazine "Annals of Improbable Research," the awards have been given out for the past two decades to honor achievements that "first make people laugh, and then make them think," according to a statement from the organizers.

The biology prize was given to a team or researchers for discovering that certain types of beetles try to mate with particular types of short, dark beer bottles in Australia called "stubbies," which they confuse for female beetles.

In a paper titled "Beetles on the Bottle: Male Buprestids Mistake Stubbies for Females" they write: "Lastly, a comment should be made about the fact that improperly disposed of beer bottles not only present a physical and 'visual' hazard in the environment, but also could potentially cause great interference with the mating system of a beetle species."

Japanese researchers who have applied for a patent for an odor-generation alarm based on the pungent sushi condiment wasabi received the chemistry prize. Another group of researchers got the medicine prize for demonstrating (PDF) something that most of us already know--that how badly one needs to urinate can affect decision-making and impulse control.

Other winners had research looking at why we sigh [hint: : ( ], whether yawning is contagious in the Red-Footed Tortoise, why discus throwers become dizzy and hammer throwers don't, and a topic that would be useful to many people: "How to Procrastinate and Still Get Things Done."

And of course there are the tongue-in-cheek awards, including the public safety prize for experiments in which someone tries to drive on a highway with the sun visor flapping down over his face, blinding him. The mayor of Vilnius, Lithuania, Arturas Zuokas, got the peace prize for "demonstrating that the problem of illegally parked luxury cars can be solved by running them over with an armored truck," according to the Ig Nobel statement.

Meanwhile, a handful of people whose end-of-the-world predictions have proved false--including Pat Robertson who called it for 1982--received the mathematics prize for "teaching the world to be careful when making mathematical assumptions and calculations."

 

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