I’m sure you know of the Razzies, the Golden Raspberry awards – the alt-Oscars.

The Razzies have their scientific equivalent in the Ig Nobels – fot scientific discoveries that are not quite Nobel-worthy.

Unlike the Razzies, though, founded by a film student who couldn’t make it into Hollywood and morphed into a troll, the Ig Nobels serve a scientific purpose.

Even if the list of winners may not cause you to think so.

This year, Ig Nobel winners include Biology champions from Brazil for research on whether constipated scorpions have a delicious sex life. The Literature Ig went to a multi-continental team that explored why legal documents are so difficult to understand. The Engineering award went to a team from Japan (of course) for figuring out the most efficient way to turn a door knob. My favourite this year, though, is the Art History award which went to a team that bravely explored depictions of enema in ancient Mayan pottery.

What, you might wonder, is the point of scientific awards to what appear to be deviously contrived topics? Well, first, it makes you laugh – which, as science has amply attested, is good for health and wellbeing. And in the words of the organisers, the Ig Nobels make you think. Which I believe is a very optimistic statement. 

The Annals of Improbable Research magazine has hosted the Ig Nobels for over 30 years. An award that Nature magazine deservedly calls the highlight of the scientific year. 

Here are some of my favourites from the past three decades.

A Chemistry Ig for research demonstrating water has memory, which might just be the scientific foundation for one of the best horror novels I read during the pandemic outside of news reports.

A particle physicist won the Art Ig in 1992 for a poster with hand-drawn sketches called Penises of the Animal Kingdom, and sold for $11 back then.

And in 2001, the Peace award went to Grūtas Park, a Stalin-themed theme park in Lithuania.

Finally, in 2020, Jair Bolsonaro, Boris Johnson, Narendra Modi, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Alexander Lukashenko, Donald Trump, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Vladimir Putin and Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow shared the Medical Education award.

Take a gander at the magazine’s website. There is a whole lot of historical hilarity to be found there.

And if you have a wild idea for, I don’t know, maybe research on whether absence of wind will not let you watch TV, you know where you can publish it.

And if you’re so inclined, the Ig Nobels have been hosted online for the past three years due to Covid. They’re taking donations for sustenance.

Baaa.

Dolly

PS: Know a “Scientist” near you? You know what to do.