The 'Nobel Prizes' of weirdness were just announced. The winners are hilarious.

You may not have heard of the Ig Nobel Prizes, but they're basically the best thing about science.

They're a parody of the Nobel Prizes and are given out once a year. But these awards don't go to the kinds of studies that'll get anyone a meeting with the president or cure space fever. Instead, the prizes are given out to some of the weirdest, strangest, and just plain funniest academic achievements of the past year.

There are prizes in 10 different categories. Here are this year's winners:


1. The effect of polyester pants on rats' sex lives.

Image via iStock.

The reproduction category was won by the late Ahmed Shafik, of Egypt, for two studies looking at whether polyester, cotton, and wool trousers affected the sex lives of rats and humans.

2. Assessing the perceived personalities of rocks.

Image via iStock.

Are your rocks rugged? Sincere? Excited? These winners of the economics prize can tell you!

3. Why dragonflies love tombstones.

Photo by Vincenzo Pinto/AFP/Getty Images.

Nine scientists won the physics prize together for figuring out why certain dragonflies kept wigging out around polished black tombstones. Turns out the polished grave markers look just like water to the bugs!

The scientists also looked at why white-haired horses were so dang good at shooing away flies.

4. The chemistry prize was given to Volkswagen, for making emissions "disappear."

Photo by Alexander Koerner/Getty Images.

The chemistry prize this year was a little dig at Volkswagen, who cheated automobile emissions testing.

5. What happens if you scratch an itch while looking in a mirror?

Image via iStock.

Five scientists in Germany revealed that if you have an itch on the left side of your body, you can fix it by looking into a mirror and scratching the right side instead! For that they won the medicine prize.

6. Scientists ask lying liars about lying.

Image via iStock.

Scientists asked 1,000 liars about how often and how good they were at lying. Turns out, kids are masters of deception. This won them the psychology prize.

7. "On the Reception of Detection of Pseudo-Profound Bullshit."

Image via iStock.

Turns out some people are just bad at detecting what is and what isn't proactive paradigm-shifting phenomena that'll revolutionize your energy flow. Who knew? This was the winner of the peace category.

8.  For two researchers who learned what it means – what it really means – to be a badger and a goat.

Thomas Thwaites at the prize ceremony. Photo by Michael Dwyer/AP.

The biology category was jointly awarded to two men: Charles Foster, who lived as a badger, otter, deer, fox, and a bird; and Thomas Thwaites, who created an entire prosthetic goat-suit ... to live among the goats.

9. For a three-volume autobiographical work about the pleasure of collecting flies.

Image via iStock.

Specifically both dead flies and "flies that are not yet dead." This was the literature prize.

10. "For investigating whether things look different when you bend over and view them between your legs."

Image via iStock.

The perception prize was given for finding out that doing this might make images appear brighter and more distinct. Wow.

These are hilarious, but it's all in good fun.

Photo by Michael Dwyer/AP.

The winners all have a chance to bow out if they don't want to take part. And if they do want to accept their awards, they're invited to Harvard, where they're greeted with an adoring audience, (real) Nobel laureate emcees, prizes, and even an opera.

Marc Abrahams, who started the prizes, said the prizes are unique because it's not about who's the best or the worst or the most important.

"The only thing that matters is that it makes people laugh and then think," Abrahams said.

And there are a couple things we can take away.

Such as just because something is funny doesn't mean it can't still be helpful (imagine using the itchy mirror trick for a kid with chicken pox or in a burn ward). Or maybe these prizes show that science is still a human endeavor, and humans are, in the end, pretty weird, funny little animals ourselves.

But most of all, Abrahams hopes these can be a kind of inkblot test. People so often get told what's good and bad, but these prizes are so off-the-wall, they kind of defy any pat analysis. Abrahams hopes that each person will end up thinking and deciding for themselves which of these are good, silly, stupid, hilarious, or secretly brilliant.

As for me, I think I'm going to change up my wardrobe and then see what this whole badger thing is about.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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In a North Carolina neighborhood that looks like a present-day Pleasantville, a man carries a cup of coffee and a plate of brownies out to his car. "Good mornin!" he calls cheerfully to a neighbor jogging by. As he sets his coffee cup on the hood of the car, he says, "I need to wash my car." Well, shucks. His wife enters the camera frame on the other side of the car.

So far, it's just about the most classic modern Americana scene imaginable. And then...

A horrifying "rrrrawwwww!" Blood-curdling screaming. Running. Panic. The man abandons the brownies, races to his wife's side of the car, then emerges with an animal in his hands. He holds the creature up like Rafiki holding up Simba, then yells in its face, "Oh my god! It's a bobcat! Oh my god!"

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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