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Polyester pants dampen rats' sex appeal: Ig Nobel prizes honor weird research

This year's awards celebrate goofy scientific studies involving itches and rocks with personalities. There's even a dig at the Volkswagen scandal.

Gael Cooper
CNET editor Gael Fashingbauer Cooper, a journalist and pop-culture junkie, is co-author of "Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops? The Lost Toys, Tastes and Trends of the '70s and '80s," as well as "The Totally Sweet '90s." She's been a journalist since 1989, working at Mpls.St.Paul Magazine, Twin Cities Sidewalk, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and NBC News Digital. She's Gen X in birthdate, word and deed. If Marathon candy bars ever come back, she'll be first in line.
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  • Co-author of two Gen X pop-culture encyclopedia for Penguin Books. Won "Headline Writer of the Year"​ award for 2017, 2014 and 2013 from the American Copy Editors Society. Won first place in headline writing from the 2013 Society for Features Journalism.
Gael Cooper
2 min read
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Really, we just wanted to share this drawing of a rat in pants.

Annals of Improbable Research

Hey, put some pants on that rat!

Nobel-winning scientists celebrated the year's strangest scientific research Thursday at Harvard by awarding the Ig Nobel prizes.

The annual awards (this year's was dubbed the "26th first annual") honor scientists and inventors who come up with the weirdest technological and scientific breakthroughs of the year.

One of the best (worst?) awards has to be the "Reproduction Prize," given to a study performed by the late Cairo University Professor Ahmed Shafik, who dressed rats in pants to see if the different materials would affect their sex drive. He found, to no modern fashionista's surprise, that rats with polyester in their pants (as opposed to cotton or wool), uh, got less hot rat action. He blamed the electrostatic charges created by the material. We say maybe it was a matter of taste.

A team of scientists from the UK and New Zealand won an Ig Nobel for studying whether rocks have personalities. They showed photos of different rocks to New Zealand students and had the student decide which descriptive factors should be associated with the rocks.

One was described as "a big New York-type businessman, rich, smooth, maybe a little shady" whose features include, "carries a black brief case, slick hair, quick thinker and quicker talker. Not a good dude though." Rock on, Kiwis.

One of the bizarre studies might be useful. A team of German researchers won for "discovering that if you have an itch on the left side of your body, you can relieve it by looking into a mirror and scratching the right side of your body (and vice versa)." Not sure why you wouldn't just scratch the part of your body that actually itches, but file this information away for the next time your kid has to wear a cast.

My favorite Ig Nobel went to Volkswagen, the automaker that's been in such trouble lately for what's being called "Dieselgate." The company got the Chemistry Ig Nobel for "solving the problem of excessive automobile pollution emissions by automatically, electromechanically producing fewer emissions whenever the cars are being tested." Hey, it's no pants for rats.

You can read the full list of Ig Nobel winners at the Annals of Improbable Research website.