The 2016 Ig Nobel Prize Winners Are, Predictably, Bizarre

The annual Ig Nobel Prizes honor the science world's weird and wacky.


Thomas Thwaites as GoatMan/Photo by Tim Bowditch

Some scientific research seems more important than it is. And some scientific research is so bizarre, it seems it couldn’t possibly be as useful as it is.

On Thursday, contributions to the latter category were honored at the Ig Nobel Prize awards, an annual ceremony at Harvard that showcases the unusual, the innovative, and the downright weird. But unlike, say, the Razzies, Ig Nobel Prizes aren’t a celebration of failure—they’re handed out by actual Nobel Prize winners, and recognize good, if offbeat, science that “makes people laugh, and then think.”

The 2016 Ig Nobel Prize winners didn’t disappoint. The weirdest include:

  • Ahmed Shafik, a late Egyptian researcher who outfitted male rats in cotton, polyester, and wool pants, to test how the fabrics affect sexual function. Similar tests were performed on human males. Presumably, larger pants were required.
  • A team of German researchers, who found that if you have an itch on your left arm, you can find relief by scratching your right arm while looking in the mirror, and vice versa. You laugh, but the finding could be helpful for patients with serious skin conditions.
  • An international research cohort, who asked a thousand liars how often they fib, to study how lying changes over the course of a lifetime. Whether you believe the study results is up to you.
  • Charles Foster, who attempted to live as a badger, otter, fox, deer, and bird in order to intimately understand how animals function. The experience was the foundation of his book, Being a Beast. The prize went jointly to Thomas Thwaites, who lived as a goat, complete with prosthetic limb extensions. Thwaites also wrote a book, titled GoatMan: How I Took a Holiday from Being Human.
  • Atsuki Higashiyama and Kohei Adachi, two Japanese researchers who studied whether things look different when you bend over and view them between your legs. In addition to making study subjects dizzy, the experiment’s goal was to better understand how vision and perception work.
  • And, in a swift departure from the celebration of good science, Volkswagen took home a prize “for solving the problem of excessive automobile pollution emissions by automatically, electromechanically producing fewer emissions whenever the cars are being tested.” Shots, fired.

You can see a full list of winners, past and present, here.