How do the Ig Nobel Prizes work?

By: Robert Lamb

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 below and learn even more about the often-weird world of scientific research.

Ig Nobel prizes

What does IG stand for in Ig Nobel Prize?
Ignoble, defined by the Oxford Dictionary as "not honorable in character or purpose".
Who has gotten an Ig Nobel Prize?
Scientific humor magazine the Annals of Improbable Research handed out the first round of Ig Nobel Prizes in 1991, honoring, among others, the inventor of antiflatulence pill Beano.
Who got an Ig Nobel prize in 2020?
Two of the winners were Miranda Giacomin and Nicholas Rule. They devised a method to identify narcissists by examining their eyebrows.
Who gives out the Ig Nobel Prize?
The magazine receives more than 5,000 new nominations every year, which are added to the collected nominees from previous years. Then, the Ig Nobel Board of Governors narrows the entries down to a list of finalists in 10 categories. After each finalist has been investigated for authenticity, the board members cast their votes.
How much money do you get for winning an Ig Nobel?
Most of the winners travel at their own expense to accept their award in person,

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More Great Links


  • Fontelera, Jorina. "Light Friday: 2008 Ig Nobel Prizes." Industrial Market Trends. Oct. 24, 2008. (Nov. 17, 2008)
  • "Ig Nobel Prize is 'knot funny.'" BBC News. Oct. 3, 2008. (Nov. 17, 2008)
  • "The Ig Nobel Prizes." The Annals of Improbable Research. 2008. (Nov. 17, 2008)
  • McNeil, Donald G. Jr. "An Over-the-Top Prize That's Better to Give Than Receive." New York Times. Oct. 7, 2003. (Nov. 17, 2008)
  • Nadis, Steve. "UK chief scientist warns of risks of 'Ig Nobel' ridicule." Nature. Sept. 26, 1996. (Nov. 17, 2008)
  • Nobel Foundation. 2008 (Nov. 17, 2008)
  • Pratt, Mark. "2008 Ig Nobel Prizes honor research on stripper fertility and Coca-Cola as spermicide." The Associated Press. Oct. 4, 2008.,0,5393718.story
  • Rivenburg, Roy. "Style & Culture; Advances in weird science." Los Angeles Times. Oct. 1, 2004. (Nov. 17, 2008)