A rundown of this years prestigious and zany research
Each year there are two organizations who dive into the wide world of academics and published research and draw from the very wide and wooly world of research, nominate a number of people and teams, and then award prizes to most deserving people or teams of people. This year is no different. The best and strangest minds have been revealed by each committee, so let’s get started with the strange.
Founded in 1991 by editor Marc Abraham of Annals of Improbable Research, this magazine is dedicated to finding the humour and satire inherent in the world of science. Before the list of Ig Nobel winners is revealed, it must be stressed that not all winners are contributing useless science, sometimes, it is the route or the way that scientists uncover their data that is the laughable aspect. Indeed, at least one Ig Nobel prize winner would later go on to win their own Nobel Prize; first for levitating a frog, second for advances in graphene research.
Medicine - Marc Mitchell and David Wartinger for research on rollercoasters and passing kidney stones.
Anthropology - Tomas Persson, Gabriela-Alina Sauciuc, and Elainie Madsen for their research on how well zoo-housed chimpanzees imitate humans (conclusion: just as well as humans who imitate chimpanzees).
Biology - Paul Becher, Sebastien Lebreton, Erika Wallin, Erik Hedenstrom, Felipe Borrero-Echeverry, Marie Bengtsson, Volker Jorger, and Peter Witzgall for discovering that wine experts can accurately smell if a fly has fallen into their wine.
Chemistry - Paula Romão, Adília Alarcão and the late César Viana, after discovering how well human saliva works as a cleaning agent (conclusion, not too bad!).
Medical Education - Akira Horiuchi for researching the efficacy of sitting colonoscopies through self-colonoscopizing.
Literature - Thea Blackler, Rafael Gomez, Vesna Popovic and M. Helen Thompson for their discovery that for people who use complicated products “Life is too Short to RTFM…”
Nutrition - James Cole for discovering that a cannibalistic diet is calorically deficient compared to other meats.
Peace - Francisco Alonso, Cristina Esteban, Andrea Serge, Maria-Luisa Ballestar, Jaime Sanmartín, Constanza Calatayud, and Beatriz Alamar for their research on swearing while driving.
Reproductive Medicine - John Barry, Bruce Blank, and Michel Boileau for their committed work on measuring nocturnal penis function through the use of postage stamps.
Economics - Lindie Hanyu Liang, Douglas Brown, Huiwen Lian, Samuel Hanig, D. Lance Ferris, and Lisa Keeping for researching the efficacy of using voodoo dolls in the workplace to retaliate against bosses (conclusion: it might help the victim, but they don’t recommend it).
Further information on the Ig Nobel Prize can be found at www.improbable.com
The Nobel Prize, in contrast, was created by inventor of dynamite, who created the explosive after witnessing the disastrous effects of unstable explosives, like nitroglycerine, which killed some of his associates. Later in life, Alfred had the experience of reading his own obituary in the newspaper, in which he was labelled a “Merchant of Death,” for his work in armaments manufacture. Since 1900 the Nobel Foundation (split between Sweden and Norway) has awarded the prizes below (except the economics prize which was created in the 1960s, although with some controversy, perhaps most notable by a living relative of Alfred Nobel, and human rights lawyer, who claimed that the Nobel Prize in Economics is a “PR coup by economists to improve their reputation”).
Physics - Arthur Ashkin, Gérard Mourou, Donna Stickland for their inventions and groundbreaking work related to the use and study of lasers. While this may seem quite staid, Ashkin’s work allowed lasers to be used to precisely move and hold molecules and even small bacteria. While Mourou and Strickland discovered the method by a which high-frequency laser could pulse in extremely short pulses without destroying the materials that make a laser work. Combining these two discoveries unlocked the massive potential of lasers, so much so that they seem quite commonplace today.
Additionally, Strickland, a Canadian, is the first woman since 1963, and the third woman ever, to receive the Nobel Prize in Physics.
Chemistry - Awarded to Frances Arnold, George Smith, and Sir Gregory Winter. Arnold directed the evolution of enzymes to become better, more efficient catalysts in certain chemical reactions and has led to more environmentally friendly methods of generating biofuels. Smith and Sir Winter directed phages to evolve in new ways to develop new antibodies against different diseases, like rheumatoid arthritis and metastatic cancer.
Medicine - James Allison and Tasuku Honjo shared this year’s prize in medicine for their discovery in the ability to inhibit “negative-immune regulation,” which is a way which cancer cells stop certain white blood cells from attacking them. by inhibiting their “immune negative” abilities they open cancer up to be attacked like regular viruses or bacteria would be. It should be noted, however, that this therapy has only efficacy over some types of cancer and side effects can be severe. Regardless, their research is widely considered groundbreaking.
Literature - This Nobel Prize will not be awarded this year following a series of scandals, not the least of which includes, financial malfeasance, infighting, confidentiality leaks, resignations, and most seriously, accusations of sexual assault. The crisis stems from one of the members of the committee, Katrina Frostenson and her husband, Jean-Claude Arnault, being accused of leaking names of the nominees to friends and relatives in order to profit from placing bets. Furthermore, Arnault has been convicted of rape after 18 different women accused him of sexual misconduct in both France and Sweden, though he has appealed the verdict.
Peace - Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad have jointly won this year’s Nobel Peace Prize for their continued efforts to “end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflicts” around the world. Denis has used his position as a doctor to bring awareness to the terrible use of sexual violence in the conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo, condemning the DRC government as failing to do enough to put an end to the use of sexual violence in conflicts. His activism has put his family at risk and he has fled the Congo for Europe with his family.
Since 2015, Nadia Murad has spoken out about the extreme abuses and sexual violence visited upon women by soldiers of ISIS after having been captured, enslaved, tortured, and repeatedly raped herself, only escaping with the help of sympathetic neighbours who helped smuggle her out of ISIS territory. She was the first person to ever brief the United Nations Security Council on the issue of human trafficking, in which ISIS has even used social media platforms, like Facebook, as slave marketplaces that still exist. She has moved to Germany and continues to fear for her safety for her activism against human trafficking and sexual violence in conflicts.
Economics - Despite the desire by Swedish Foreign Ministers, Kjell-Olof Feldt and Gunnar Myrdal, for the prize in economics to be abolished for having been awarded to “reactionaries as Hayek (and afterwards Milton Friedman),” the prize has been awarded one again this year to William Nordhaus and Paul Romer.
Nordhaus won for his work on integrating climate change in to economic models, and who has tirelessly been trying to alert governments to the dangers of climate change to economies, and the efficacy of carbon-pricing in reducing the release of carbon emissions.
Romer was awarded the other half of this Nobel Prize for his work in researching the motivations of innovation and the effects that limit or promote innovation funding that arise from within a nation’s economy.