If the Nobel Prize is the Holy Grail for any scientist, the IgNobel Prize must be the Ultimate Poopcee Bottle. This year, as always, winners included the finest minds unravelling the more banal and weird mysteries that Nature throws at us. But then, what are we more interested in: understanding quantum mechanics or finding a way of stopping hiccups?
To stop hiccups, read the wind-breaking study by Dr Francis Fesmire and others entitled, ‘Termination of Intractable Hiccups with Digital Rectal Massage’, of which later. Apart from Dr Fesmire, this year’s winners include Randolph Blake and his colleagues who discovered that we hate the sound of nails scraping a blackboard more than any other unpleasant sound because of its frequency. ‘Duh,’ you might say. But the good doctors say ‘duh’ back to you as they theorise in their study, ‘Psychoacoustics of a Chilling Sound’, the cause of so much annoyance to human ears (our ancestors making ape-like sounds of the same frequency to signal fear?). Speaking of our ‘animal instincts’, people suffering from headaches may wonder how woodpeckers manage to go through their lives without aspirin and keep pecking on wood. Ivan Schwab points out that the bird has an enlarged brain case, the skull’s frontal bones along with muscles at the base of the bill acting as shock absorbers.
Another winner has explained why the female Anopheles mosquito, carrier of malaria, is as attracted to the smell of cheese-burger as it is to smelly human feet. But our favourite IgNobel laureate has to be Dr Fesmire. He has put his finger right on the spot — unless, we resort to his other solution for stopping hiccups: have an orgasm.