How is it possible that mediocre professionals rise while the most hard-working and intelligent remain completely ignored; why legal texts are always incomprehensible; what speed a constipated scorpion can reach or what fingers we use to turn a doorknob. These and other studies that try to shed light on fundamental questions of humanity have been recognized this Thursday with the awards Ig Nobel 2022. Also a brave scientist who applied enemas to get high like the Mayans and learn about the effects of these ancient drugs on his own body.
The parody of the Nobel prizes distinguishes investigations that at first may seem absurd or directly stupid, but somewhere, although it is sometimes difficult to find it, they have their scientific intrigue. As its organizers say, the scientific humor magazine ‘Annals of Improbable Research’, they are “achievements that first make you laugh and then make you think.” Some of the winners collected their award in an online ceremony where paper airplanes are thrown, opera is sung, speeches are given, real Nobel Prize winners participate and madness is celebrated. [Vea aquí la lista de ganadores].
The Nobel Prize in Economics has gone to an Italian team for explaining mathematically why success does not usually accompany the most talented people. As they explain, many in Western culture still believe in meritocracy, the idea that intelligence, perseverance, and hard work will bring success. This makes achievers deeply admired. However, that naive belief ignores the role of luck.
According to the authors, the qualities that are generally valued for success – IQ and hours worked – follow a normal Gaussian distribution around a mean. However, the distribution of wealth follows a power law, with many poor people and only a few billionaires in the world. For the researchers, what marks these differences is luck, which makes many intelligent, talented and hard-working people be surpassed by others much more mediocre.
Perhaps there is something that equals us. The prize of Applied Cardiology will thrill the most romantic. He has found evidence that when a new couple meets and becomes attracted to each other, their heart rhythms sync up. They found out by gathering 71 couples in ‘date booths’ at a music festival, an art and science festival, and a scientific film festival in the Netherlands. First they saw each other for a few seconds and then they had the opportunity to talk for two minutes. Then they decided if they wanted to go on another date. The couples who said yes had synchronized their hearts. Given this, there is no Tinder that is worth or lists with qualities, it is a matter of skin. Either it happens or it doesn’t.
After love comes real life, with a lot of incomprehensible legal texts that one finds in thousands of situations, from buying a home to accepting ‘cookies’ from a web page. The Nobel Prize in Literature It has been won by a team that claims that these documents are gibberish not because of the necessary precision of the law, but because those who write them insist on using impenetrable jargon and twisted syntax.
But to twist what Peter De Smet, a Dutch pharmacist and Dutch clinical pharmacologist, has done to win the history award. In line with a highly valued Ig Nobel tradition, the researcher decided to test the effects of the Mayan ritual enemas on his own body.
Mayan ceramics show scenes of individuals administering enemas in a ritual setting. Smet studied what substances they might have used and decided to experience it himself. To do this he drank an alcoholic concoction, to which he responded without problems, and tried a dimethyltryptamine (DMT) enema, finding “no noticeable effect.” Of course, in a show that he still had common sense, he refrained from the tobacco enema, the psilocybin mushrooms and the toad poison.
In the field of biology, constipated scorpions got recognition. To survive the attack of a predator, these animals (Ananteris balzani) sacrifice their tails, which also means losing the stinger, the poisonous glands and the anus. They cannot defecate. In these precarious conditions they made a race to see if they were faster or slower than before. It seems they ran the same. This means that some males can still find a mate and father offspring before dying of constipation. Well, that’s a consolation.
Open the door, if you can
In Medicine, honored work showing that eating ice cream can reduce the harmful effects (oral mucositis) of some forms of chemotherapy in cancer patients. In Engineering, a Japanese study that can make people’s lives easier: they discovered the fingers most used to turn a doorknob or a tap according to its diameter. The results can help the industry make better designs.
One step further, the prize of Security Engineering it ended up in a dummy for a car crash test against moose, something that seems to happen often in Scandinavia. These animals can weigh 600 kilos. Other sweeter are the ducklings. The award of Physical it was for biologists trying to understand how they manage to swim in formation (ducklings, obviously). Apparently swimming in single file reduces the effort of the small birds, riding on the waves generated by the mother.
And the Ig Nobel of the Peace It was taken away by a very practical, if perhaps not entirely ethical, algorithm: it helps gossips decide when to tell the truth and when to lie. None of the award-winning researchers has lied (as far as we know) but they have surely caused more than one smile.