The Most Ignobel of Prizes

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Ah, fall. Undoubtedly, the best of time of the year. Tis the season of pumpkin spice lattes, sweaters, and the return of Brooklyn Nine-Nine. And football season, if you’re into that? I hear some people are. One of my favorite events of the year is watching the trees going from lame old green to a marvelous array of colors, ranging from approximately 780 to 577 nanometers (red to yellow-green). There’s something about the smell of decomposing leaves that is just somehow so irresistible. I’m not the only one to spend hours raking all the leaves into a big pile, only to jump into it, right? Autumn is also home to the most important scientific events of the year; the awarding of the Ig Nobel Prizes.

The Nobel Prizes, of course, are awards given every year to scientists all around the world for producing groundbreaking work in their field. I’m talking about the Nobels younger, goofier brother, the Ig Nobels. While the Nobels are given by the Norwegian Nobel Committee, a magazine called The Annals of Improbable Research gives the Igs. The scientists who win the Igs are chosen because they have done the silliest work, not the most groundbreaking. They give them each year, but unlike the Nobels, the awards can be given to articles done in the past. Think of the Nobels as the Oscars, and the Ig Nobels as the preshow where Joan Rivers (RIP) judges what everyone is wearing.

While the Nobel Prizes are given at a very serious ceremony in Stockholm, the Ig Nobels are given at a very silly show at Harvard. There is no theme for the Nobels, but the theme for this year’s Igs was “time”. The prize for the actual Nobels are a fancy gold medal, a diploma, and more than a million American dollars. The prizes for the Igs this year (they change every year) is a sixty-one second clock. It would be bad form to throw paper airplanes at the real Noble Laureates. At the Igs, there is one man on stage with a bulls-eye on his chest for that exact purpose. All of this is to say you should really watch the full video if you get a chance.

By far my favorite prize was in the field of economics (the Nobles don’t have a prize in economics) to a team who determined the personalities of rocks. Yes, rocks. This makes sense when you hear the background, I swear. In marketing, there is this idea of a brand personality, where brands take on human characteristics. We see Jeep as an outgoing adventure lover, Campbell’s Soup as a loving mother, etc. A standard way of measuring this is by asking consumers to describe a brand in human personality traits. The issue with this is that we don’t know if these adjectives were only given because people were asked to give them. Would you think of RedBull as a rebel if you wen’t asked to think of it in human terms? That’s the idea of this study.

The researchers of this study gave this same standardized test to 225 people, and asked them to imagine personalities for three different rocks. As predicted, people gave these unremarkable rocks rather remarkable personalities, complete with full backstories. My personal favorite was this description of a piece of obsidian: “Some young businessman, slick and smart but devious. Probably would backstab you if he could make his way up the corporate ladder faster”. Will this turn marketing research on its head, or will we simply see a comeback of pet rocks? Only time will tell.

If only I could recount all of the amazingly hilarious awards given this year, such as the guy who dressed up like and lived with goats, or the team that tried to determine how much liars lie about lying, but that would make this article a million pages long. So, I think if you found this at all interesting, you should watch the whole show here. I’ll be back next week with explanations of the real Nobel Prizes!

About The Author

Just a girl who has a lot of feelings about planetary science

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