CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (Reuters) – Scientists taking on the deep questions of whether cats are liquid or solid, how holding a crocodile influences gambling and whether playing the didgeridoo can help cure snoring were honored Thursday at the Ig Nobel Prize spoof awards.
The prizes are the brainchild of Marc Abrahams, editor of the Annals of Improbable Research, and are intended not to honor the best or worst in science, but rather to highlight research that encourages people to think in unusual ways.
“We hope that this will get people back into the habits they probably had when they were kids of paying attention to odd things and holding out for a moment and deciding whether they are good or bad only after they have a chance to think,” Abrahams said in a phone interview.
Other work on the prize list has clearer potential for practical applications.
Economics winners Matthew Rockloff and Nancy Greer conducted an experiment in which problem gamblers and non-problem gamblers handled 1-meter (3.3-foot) long crocodiles before playing a simulated slot machine.
The 2010 study, conducted on 103 people in Queensland, Australia, found that problem gamblers were likely to place higher bets after handling the reptiles, as their brains had misinterpreted the excitement of holding a dangerous animal as a sign they were on a lucky streak.
A multi-national team of six researchers won the Peace Prize for the 2005 paper “Didgeridoo Playing as Alternative Treatment for Obstructive Sleep Apnea Syndrome: Randomized Controlled Trial.”
The conclusion that the Australian wind instrument might be of some benefit was based not the didgeridoo’s droning tone, but rather that the daily practice involved a lot of blowing, and may have strengthened the upper respiratory tract, making breathing easier.
“They are unusual approaches to things,” Abrahams said. “It would be difficult for some people to decide whether they are important or the opposite. If you had sleep apnea for a long time, the didgeridoo thing would sound quite intriguing.”
Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Frances Kerry
September 15, 2017