A man who lived like a badger, rats in pants, and other Ig Nobel winners

A Swedish entomologist who collected bugs for seven years, an Egyptian professor who dressed rats in pants, and a British researcher who lived in a badger den are among those honored for their quirky scientific achievements.

Brian Snyder/Reuters
Nobel Laureate Eric Maskin (r.) presents the 2016 Ig Nobel Prize in Biology to Thomas Thwaites of Britain for 'creating prosthetic extension of his limbs that allowed him to move in the manner of, and spend time roaming the hills in the company of, goat' during the 26th First Annual Ig Nobel Prize ceremony at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., Sept. 22, 2016.

In what may appear to be the silliest awards program in the world, the 26th annual Ig Nobel prizes on Thursday night were awarded to people who went to unimaginable (and hilarious) lengths to study animal behavior, sexual health, and visual perception.

At a ceremony at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., the spoof awards honored people such as the late Ahmed Shafik, a professor at Cairo University in Egypt who died in 2007. He dressed rats in polyester pants to test whether the fabric made them less sexually active than rats who wore cotton or wool pants, or none at all. According to his 1993 paper, the electrostatic fields created by polyester pants could play a role in impotence.

"We have never heard of anybody else who carefully spent time examining what happens sexually to rats if you put pants on them," said Marc Abrahams, editor of the Annals of Improbable Research, a humor magazine that hosts the awards, which aim to highlight scientific accomplishments that make one laugh, then think.

Winners such as Fredrik Sjöberg, who published a three-volume memoir about collecting hoverflies for seven years on the remote Swedish island where he lives, receive their awards at an eccentric ceremony that this year featured a paper airplane air raid and a tic-tac-toe contest with a brain surgeon and a rocket scientist.

The prizes are awarded by winners of the prestigious Nobel prizes and include $10 trillion in cash. Unfortunately for the winners, the generous cash prize comes in Zimbabwean currency, which is nearly worthless.

Dr. Sjoberg's books were a hit in Sweden, with the English translation, "The Fly Trap," having garnered acclaim in the United States as well.

"I had written books for 15 years (read by no one) when I finally understood it's a good thing to write about something you really know, no matter what that might be," Sjoberg said in an email to the Associated Press.

"The Ig Nobel Prize beats everything," he said. "At last I hope to become a rock star. Leather pants, dark sunglasses, groupies. All that."

Another winner this year was honored for living like animals in order to see the world through their eyes. Charles Foster, a fellow at the University of Oxford in England, spent months mimicking the behavior of badgers by living in a hole in a Welsh hillside. Dr. Foster also rummaged through London’s trash cans like a fox in search of food scraps, and was chased by bloodhounds through Scotland while learning what it's like to be a deer.

"I was hunted down quite quickly," said Foster, who wrote a book about his experiences, called "Being a Beast."

Other winners included Thomas Thwaites, a Brit who attached a set of prosthetics to his legs to try living like a goat in the Swiss Alps, and Atsuki Higashiyama and Kohei Adachi, from Japan, who studied how different objects look when viewed bent over and through the legs.

This report uses materials from the Associated Press and Reuters.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to A man who lived like a badger, rats in pants, and other Ig Nobel winners
Read this article in
https://www.csmonitor.com/Science/2016/0923/A-man-who-lived-like-a-badger-rats-in-pants-and-other-Ig-Nobel-winners
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today
https://www.csmonitor.com/subscribe