An experiment that hung rhinoceroses upside down to see the effect on the animals has been awarded one of this year’s Ig Nobel prizes.
Other awards went to studies that investigated how well beards soften punches to the face, the bacteria in chewing gum stuck to pavements and orgasms as a nasal decongestant (full list below).
Wildlife veterinarian Robin Radcliffe, from Cornell University, and colleagues won the award for transportation research. They asked whether it was safe for a tranquilised rhinoceros to be slung by their legs beneath a helicopter for 10 minutes.
This is used in African conservation to move rhinos between areas of fragmented habitat. But no-one had checked that the tranquilised animals’ heart and lung function coped with upside-down flying.
So, in collaboration with the Namibian Ministry of Environment, Forestry, and Tourism, suspended 12 tranquilised black rhinoceroses by their feet from a crane and measured their physical responses. It turns out the animals coped very well and there was evidence the rhinos did better in this position than lying chest down or on their side.
Winners received a trophy that had to assemble themselves from a PDF print-out and a cash prize in the form of a counterfeit 10 trillion dollar Zimbabwean banknote.
The other winners
Biology Prize: Susanne Schötz, for analysing variations in purring, chirping, chattering, trilling, tweedling, murmuring, meowing, moaning, squeaking, hissing, yowling, howling, growling and other modes of cat-human communication.
Ecology Prize: Leila Satari and colleagues, for using genetic analysis to identify the different species of bacteria that reside in wads of discarded chewing gum stuck on pavements in various countries.
Chemistry Prize: Jörg Wicker and colleagues, for chemically analysing the air inside movie theatres, to test whether the odours produced by an audience reliably indicate the levels of violence, sex, antisocial behaviour, drug use and bad language in the movie the audience is watching.
Economics Prize: Pavlo Blavatskyy, for discovering that the obesity of a country’s politicians may be a good indicator of that country’s corruption.
Medicine Prize: Olcay Cem Bulut and colleagues, for demonstrating that sexual orgasms can be as effective as decongestant medicines at improving nasal breathing.
Peace Prize: Ethan Beseris and colleagues, for testing the hypothesis that humans evolved beards to protect themselves from punches to the face.
Physics Prize: Alessandro Corbetta and colleagues, for conducting experiments to learn why pedestrians do not constantly collide with other pedestrians.
Kinetics Prize: Hisashi Murakami and colleagues, for conducting experiments to learn why pedestrians do sometimes collide with other pedestrians.
Entomology Prize: John Mulrennan Jr and colleagues, for their research study A New Method of Cockroach Control on Submarines.
Transportation Prize: Robin Radcliffe and colleagues, for determining by experiment whether it is safer to transport an airborne rhinoceros upside down.
In the Ig Informal Lectures the new winners explain, if they can, what they did and why they did it. Normally the lectures happen at MIT, two days after the Ig Nobel Prize ceremony. But with COVID-19 limitations, they will happen online (links above).
I talked about this with Danny Hoyland on West Bremer Radio on 25 September. Listen each week: Saturday 7.40 am, West Bremer Radio.