Odd re­search wins 2018 Ig No­bels

Vir­tual voodoo dolls, self-colonoscopy among winners

Tulsa World - - Datelines - By Mark Pratt nu­tri­tious,”

BOSTON — Any­one who's ever been so fu­ri­ous with their boss that they feel like ex­act­ing re­venge re­ally needs to lis­ten to Lindie Liang.

Liang and her col­leagues found that abus­ing a vir­tual voodoo doll in­stead of your boss will make you feel bet­ter with­out get­ting you fired or thrown in jail, a study that earned them a 2018 Ig No­bel, the an­nual prize spon­sored by the sci­ence hu­mor mag­a­zine An­nals of Im­prob­a­ble Re­search for com­i­cal but prac­ti­cal sci­en­tific dis­cov­ery.

Winners rec­og­nized Thurs­day in­cluded a Ja­panese doc­tor who de­vised a rev­o­lu­tion­ary new way to give your­self a colonoscopy; a Bri­tish ar­chae­ol­ogy lec­turer who fig­ured out that eat­ing hu­man flesh isn't very nu­tri­tious; an Aus­tralian team that found that peo­ple who buy high-tech prod­ucts re­ally can't be both­ered with the in­struc­tion man­ual; and Span­ish univer­sity re­searchers who mea­sured the ef­fects of shout­ing and curs­ing while driv­ing.

The prizes at the 28th an­nual cer­e­mony at Har­vard Univer­sity were be­ing handed out by real No­bel lau­re­ates. The event fea­tured a tra­di­tional pa­per air­plane air raid and the pre­miere of “The Bro­ken Heart Opera,” per­formed with the help of Har­vard Med­i­cal School car­di­ol­o­gists.

The winners, who as usual jour­neyed to Mas­sachusetts at their own ex­pense, also re­ceived a cash prize of $10 tril­lion vir­tu­ally worth­less Zim­bab­wean dol­lars. Each was given 60 sec­onds to de­liver an ac­cep­tance speech be­fore an 8-year-old girl com­plained on­stage: “Please stop. I'm bored.”

Liang, an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of busi­ness at Wil­frid Lau­rier Univer­sity in Water­loo, Canada, spe­cial­izes in study­ing work­place ag­gres­sion.

“We wanted to un­der­stand why sub­or­di­nates re­tal­i­ate when it's bad for them,” she said. “We all know yelling at our boss is bad for your ca­reer. So what's the func­tion of re­tal­i­a­tion? Why do peo­ple keep do­ing it?”

Ob­vi­ously, Liang couldn't ask peo­ple to beat their bosses. In­stead, they were shown an on­line voodoo doll with their su­per­vi­sor's ini­tials. They then had the op­tion to use pins, pli­ers or fire on the vir­tual doll.

The bot­tom line: Peo­ple felt bet­ter af­ter abus­ing the doll, or as Liang put it, “their in­jus­tice per­cep­tions are de­ac­ti­vated.”

Still, she doesn't en­dorse lit­ter­ing work­places around the world with voodoo dolls for peo­ple an­gry at their bosses. Let's just have more civil work­places to start with, she sug­gests.

James Cole, a lec­turer in ar­chae­ol­ogy at Bri­tain's Univer­sity of Brighton, earned his Ig No­bel for a study on can­ni­bal­ism that found that if you want a high-calo­rie meal, eat­ing hu­man flesh prob­a­bly isn't the way to go.

Can­ni­bal­ism is pretty com­mon through­out hu­man his­tory, he said. But the ac­cepted view is that hu­mans have eaten other hu­mans pri­mar­ily for nu­tri­tional rea­sons. Cole found that the caloric value of hu­mans isn't that high when com­pared to other an­i­mals we know our an­ces­tors hunted and ate.

“We're not su­per he said.

How did Cole de­ter­mine the caloric value of a hu­man? Don't worry. No hu­mans were harmed in his study — he used a pre­vi­ously de­ter­mined for­mula that bases body part calo­rie counts on weight and chem­i­cal com­po­si­tion.

Dr. Akira Ho­ri­uchi, a pe­di­a­tri­cian at Showa Inan Gen­eral Hos­pi­tal in Ko­ma­gane, Ja­pan, won for his self-colonoscopy study in which he used a colono­scope de­signed for chil­dren and sat up­right rather than ly­ing in the tra­di­tional supine po­si­tion.

Ho­ri­uchi isn't rec­om­mend­ing that you give your­self a colonoscopy in the com­fort of your home. He said via email that many peo­ple are afraid of get­ting a colonoscopy, and he just wanted to show how easy it can be.

“If peo­ple watch a video of my self-colonoscopy, they think colonoscopy is sim­ple and easy,” he said.

Peo­ple may laugh at the winners, but Ho­ri­uchi said win­ning an Ig No­bel brings at­ten­tion to stud­ies such as his that might oth­er­wise be ig­nored.

The in­ci­dence and mor­tal­ity rate of col­orec­tal can­cer in Ja­pan are in­creas­ing, he said. If his work makes some­one more will­ing to get a colonoscopy, he rea­sons, maybe he'll save some lives.

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