Kudos to Kate for bringing the subject of today’s newsletter to my attention: the 2021 Ig Nobel Prizes.
“The what?” you might ask, if you were like me up until a few days ago, and have never heard of these awards.
They’re the annual prizes awarded by the science humor magazine, Annals of Improbable Research, intended to celebrate research that makes you laugh—but then make you think.
What kinds of research? Well, let’s start with a subject that’s been near and dear to my heart since I stopped shaving at the start of the pandemic: an experiment suggesting that men may have evolved beards to avoid being punched in the face.
University of Utah scientists Ethan Beseris, Steven Naleway, and David Carrier created simulations of human faces with and without beards, then researched how much damage they endured after dropping weights on them.
Yes, it sounds like something I would have enjoyed trying in third grade, but the experiments actually resulted in a published paper in the journal Integrative Organismal Biology.
They found that the fake beards absorbed a bit of the force, resulting in less damaging (fake) injuries. Also, they theorized, beards might have obscured exactly where the jawline was, making it harder for foes to land a solid blow in just the right place.
Next up? Spanish researchers who studied nasty, already-been-chewed gum left on sidewalks to determine how bacteria-laden it was after three months. (Answer: very bacteria-laden.)
This one was published in the journal Nature. (“Our findings have implications for a wide range of disciplines, including forensics, contagious disease control, or bioremediation of wasted chewing gum residues," the scientists, from the University of Valencia, wrote.)
Other Ig Noble winners:
A study of “variations in purring, chirping, chattering, trilling, tweedling, murmuring, meowing, moaning, squeaking, hissing, yowling, howling, growling, and other modes of cat–human communication,” conducted by Swedish researchers.
Chemical analysis of the air inside movie theaters, to see if it was possible to reliably detect “the levels of violence, sex, antisocial behavior, drug use, and bad language in the movie the audience is watching” based on collective body odors.
An analysis of suggesting that “the obesity of a country’s politicians may be a good indicator of that country’s corruption.”
German, Turkish, and British research “demonstrating that sexual orgasms can be as effective as decongestant medicines at improving nasal breathing.”
A study about “why pedestrians do not constantly collide with other pedestrians.”
Research by four American entomologists on how to control cockroaches on submarines, and
A baker’s dozen researchers from seven countries whose combined research was about “whether it is safer to transport an airborne rhinoceros upside-down.” (Hence the bizarre photo today, courtesy of the Namibian Ministry of the Environment.)
Regarding the rhino study: this apparently comes up a lot as conservationists attempt to move rhinos to better habitats. Nobody had previously studied whether it was safe to transport the animals suspended from helicopters by their ankles.
(While tranquilized, obviously.)
"Namibia was the first country to take a step back and say, 'hey, let's study this and figure out, you know, is this a safe thing to do for rhinos?" one of the researchers told the BBC.
Yes, I laughed. And then I stopped to think. I’m just glad they’re being recognized for their efforts.
Now we reach the part of the newsletter in which, unless I forget, I often invite comments. A reader pointed out yesterday, however, that if you’re not the kind of reader who habitually clicks through, you’ll never see what others are saying. Maybe you’re not even aware you can click. So, as an experiment, here are links to the comment threads from the last few days’ worth of newsletters, just so you can see what’s going on:
Yesterday’s comments, about CGI photos in real estate listings (8 comments).
Monday’s, about Michael K. Williams, Omar Little, and matching your theme to your daily actions (28 comments).
Last Friday’s, on the 20th anniversary of the day before September 11 (17 comments).
It’s funny; I write this every day, but I sometimes don’t stop to think enough about what the UX looks like to you, the reader. Anyway, the blue box below takes you to the comments for today:
7 other things worth your time
This is stunning reporting on so many levels, from a new book by my old boss, Bob Woodward: Reportedly, Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was so concerned that President Trump might launch a war with China around the 2020 election, that he contacted his counterpart, Gen. Li Zuocheng of the People’s Liberation Army, to assure him that there were no plans to attack. “If we’re going to attack, I’m going to call you ahead of time,” he reportedly told the Chinese general. “It’s not going to be a surprise.” (WashPost, via MSN)
Gavin Newsom held onto his governorship through California’s recall election, winning a handy majority and surviving a Republican challenge that put a brief scare into the Democratic establishment. (CNN)
Norm Macdonald, a comic who was beloved as anchor of Saturday Night Live's popular "Weekend Update" segments, died Tuesday. He’d reportedly been battling cancer for several years but kept his diagnosis private. (CNN)
Not long after being pummeled by Hurricane Ida, the Texas and Louisiana coast has been hit by Hurricane Nicholas. (Reuters)
Census data shows that stimulus policies helped millions in the US avoid poverty during the pandemic. (Reuters)
A biotech firm has raised more than $15 million to attempt to bring wooly mammoths back from extinction, possibly creating a cross-breed with modern elephants. They expect to welcome the first bioengineered calves into the world within six years. (The Guardian)
Squirrels show personality traits much like humans, according to a new study. They make friends, can be shy or outgoing, and have different risk tolerances. (USA Today)
Thanks for reading. Photo courtesy of the Namibian government. Want to see all my mistakes? Click here.