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How do the Ig Nobel Prizes work?


The Ig Nobels: Honor or Ridicule?
Genuine Nobel laureates Bob Laughlin, Craig Mello, Roy Glauber and Dudley Herschbach dressed up as chicken eggs for the 2007 Ig Nobel Prize ceremony.
Genuine Nobel laureates Bob Laughlin, Craig Mello, Roy Glauber and Dudley Herschbach dressed up as chicken eggs for the 2007 Ig Nobel Prize ceremony.
Stan Honda/AFP/­Getty Images

­When the 2007 Ig Nobel Prizes rolled around, 10 more practitioners of weird science made the cut -- including the U.S. Air Force. Researchers at the military's Wright Laboratory in Dayton, Ohio, had been working on a particularly noteworthy chemical weapon: the "gay bomb." The idea was simple: Enemy soldiers wouldn't be able to do much fighting or defending if they were busy making mad, passionate love to each other.

Yes, the U.S. Air Force was financing the ultimate aphrodisiac, aimed at forcing even the most battle-hardened warriors to make love, not war. How could they not win that year's Ig Nobel Award for peace? Of course, no one was surprised when Air Force representatives didn't show up to accept the honors. If the Air Force was angered, however, the military agency at least opted not to unleash any chemical vengeance on the ceremony: No spontaneous lovefests were reported.

Most Ig Nobel laureates have at least taken the honor in good cheer, even if they weren't able to attend the festivities. Still, not everyone is a fan. Cereal researchers from the Institute of Food Research in the United Kingdom were good sports about the honor in 1995, but Robert May, the British government's chief scientific adviser at the time, wasn't laughing. In letters to both Nature and the Annals of Improbable Research, May took the Ig Nobel Prize organizers to task for ridiculing serious work, arguing that the awards should only target anti-science and pseudo-science and leave real scientists to their labors.

­Improbable Research Editor Marc Abrahams countered by stressing that the magazine goes to a great deal of trouble to contact the honorees beforehand and get their consent. He argued that most of history's great scientific breakthroughs have at least initially been received with laughs or yawns. He stated that the awards perform an important task in reminding everyone that, despite all the stuffy stereotypes, science can be fun, and scientists can enjoy a good laugh. Furthermore, the award affords winners some attention that such obscure studies, such as the University of Sidney's 2002 comprehensive survey of human belly button lint, might not otherwise enjoy.

­Wan­t to read all about past Ig Nobel Prize winners and find out just how leeches feel about garlic and sour cream? Explore the links on the next page and learn even more about the often-weird world of scientific research.


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