Do you do voodoo?

Ella Rhodes reports on this year's IgNobel awards.

Researchers have been honoured for their enquiries into the effects of rollercoasters on kidney stones, the nutritional benefit of Palaeolithic cannibalism and self-colonoscopy. This can only mean one thing – the winners of this year’s Ig Nobel Prizes have been announced. The 10 awards, handed out in a deeply silly ceremony at Harvard University, aim to highlight research that first makes you laugh, then makes you think. 

Among the offerings from psychologists (or similar) were a study that found that zoo-chimpanzees imitate humans about as often, and as well, as humans imitate them. Their observations showed that human–chimp imitation interactions lasted significantly longer than normal interactions with zoo visitors, with some chimpanzees even playing imitative games. The study, by cognitive scientists at the University of Lund Tomas Persson, Gabriela-Alina Sauciuc and Elainie Madsen, won the Anthropology prize. 

Each Ig Nobel winner was given a cash prize of 10 trillion Zimbabwean dollars and handed their award by a real Nobel laureate. Winners are allowed 60 seconds to deliver an acceptance speech which, should they exceed, is interrupted by eight-year-old Miss Sweetie Poo repeating ‘Please stop. I’m bored. Please stop. I’m bored. Please stop. I’m bored.’

The 2018 Ig Nobel for economics went to a team including Lindie Hanyu Liang, an Assistant Professor of Organisational Behaviour and Human Resource Management (Wilfrid Laurier University) and Douglas Brown, an industrial psychologist at the University of Waterloo. Their experiment used voodoo dolls for employees to ‘retaliate’ against abusive supervisors, finding a benefit among staff in their perceptions of injustice.

The Ig Nobel ceremony also included the premiere of The Broken Heart Opera, a mini-opera in which children attempted to build a mechanical heart, break that heart, and (inspired by the old Bee Gees song) mend the broken heart. The opera starred sopranos Maria Ferrante and Jan Hadland, with a chorus composed of Boston-area cardiologists and the Nobel laureates. 

The Medicine prize this year was given to Marc Mitchell and David Wartinger for examining the effects of the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad rollercoaster on a 3D-printed model kidney made from silicone containing kidney stones. They found more kidney stones were passed when they rode in the rear of the rollercoaster – which they did 60 times. 

James Cole won this year’s Nutrition prize for calculating that the caloric intake from a human-cannibalism diet is significantly lower than the caloric intake from most other traditional meat diets. Paul Becher, Sebastien Lebreton, Erika Wallin, Erik Hedenstrom, Felipe Borrero-Echeverry, Marie Bengtsson, Volker Jorger, and Peter Witzgall won the Biology award for demonstrating that wine experts can reliably identify, by smell, the presence of a single fly in a glass of wine.

Marc Abrahams, master of ceremonies and Editor of the magazine Annals of Improbable Research, closed the ceremony with the traditional, ‘If you didn’t win an Ig Nobel Prize tonight — and especially if you did — better luck next year.’

The ceremony was webcast live, for the 24th consecutive year and a recording is available. Find much more 'Improbable research' in our archive.

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