A crocodile, a didgeridoo and a cat with the words The 2017 Ig Nobel Prize Part 1

The 2017 Ig Nobel Prize Part 1

The Ig Nobel prizes were announced last night. Which was hilariously good timing seeing as yesterday I idly wondered if they’d been announced yet for this year. Sadly I didn’t get to actually watch the webcast live due to choir practice, but all the same it’s basically a gift wrapped post for this blog. So let’s celebrate some very strange science by taking a look at the recipients 2017 Ig Nobel Prize. This week we’ll be looking at the first five, with the others to follow next week.

A crocodile, a didgeridoo and a cat with the words The 2017 Ig Nobel Prize Part 1

What do a crocodile, a cat and a didgeridoo have in common?


Gambling can be a devastating problem for families. Matthew J. Rockloff and Nancy Greer wanted to examine the effect of heightened emotions on how likely a vulnerable person is to engage in risky gambling. Their method for inducing the state of arousal was rather unorthodox.

They had the subjects hold a meter long crocodile.

Crocodile lying on the sand

Well, do you feel lucky? Do you?

After spending some quality time with the croc, the subjects were then sent into a simulated gambling environment. They found that people who found crocodile cuddling to be a negative experience placed lower bets than the control group. However, those who found it exciting in a positive way placed higher bets.

The implications for understanding problem gambling are quite useful. And now we have confirmation that you should never smile at a crocodile.


Sometimes you look at a study and wonder if they just wanted to get to say a word a lot. Certainly that was at least part of the motivation for my foray into the Ugi reaction. And I suspect Milo A. Puhan and coworkers enjoyed getting to say “didgeridoo” a lot in their presentations.

This study started when one of the instructors, a digeridoo instructor, noticed that he and his students had noticed decreased sleep apnea after practicing for some time. But of course, the plural of anecdote isn’t data, so he teamed up with several medical researchers to actually properly investigate whether didgeridoo playing could be potentially therapeutic. While it didn’t turn out to be as effective as a CPAP machine, there was a definite benefit in cases where a CPAP wouldn’t generally be used anyway.

A colourfully painted didgeridoo lying in grass

It’s prescription

The highlight of the paper may be the discussion of the challenges in coming up with a placebo for playing the didgeridoo. In the end they went with a waiting list because playing the recorder might also have an effect and confuse the issue. Maybe “Hot Cross Buns” will turn out to be medically useful.

So there you go. If you have a partner who snores, suggest they take up the didgeridoo. That’s why this was the peace prize and not medicine.


Another case of wanting to take anedcotes to data, James A. Heathcote looked into the question of why old men have big ears. This study was done in order to resolve a discussion during a faculty meeting. They somehow got off the topic of encouraging general practictioners to engage in research and onto debating whether having big ears is characteristic of old men. With the help of general practitioners, they were able to establish a correlation between age and ear size. No word on whether they made a bet on the matter.

The study proved to be quite intriguing to the medical community. A group in Japan decided to see if the phenomenon could be replicated in a different racial group. Another researcher insisted that a lifetime study would be required to determine if the effect is merely because of age or if there was an environmental effect that caused the older generation to have larger ears. And really, he’s quite right, that could easily be a confounding factor.

Also please note that that makes two studies in the British Medical Journal to win Ig Nobels this year.


Sooner or later, zoology seems to always involve looking at animal genitals. Sometimes you even have to get a vibrator out to be sure. Generally, the genitals of females are quite simple as they need only receive sperm. Do to competitive pressure to get that sperm out there, male genitalia can get quite elaborate.

And then there’s these cave flies. Due to the high nutritional content of the Neotrologa seminal fluids, it’s quite costly for males to produce and highly desired by the females. The reversed energy burden led to genital structure that’s the exact opposite of what you normally see.

Sometimes you get an Ig Nobel for setting out to answer a weird question. And sometimes the weird comes to you.


It has been proposed that since cats change their shape to adapt to a container, they are in fact liquids. The “If I fits, I sits” principle, if you will. Science is not about taking things as “well obviously”, it’s about carefully measuring the relevant properties. And that’s exactly what Marc-Antoine Fardin did. Notice that the rheology society split the paper in order to convince people to actually read the budget report. Fardin concluded that cats have some very interesting fluid properties some of which can be attributed to their status as biologically active materials.

Cat lying on his back and seemingly flowing off the cat tree

Legolas is demonstrating some distinctively liquidlike properties

Some of these seemingly silly Ig Nobel winning projects have actual applications or reveal something useful. This one, however, was a birthday gift. Because that’s what you get for the professor who has everything. A study of the fluid dynamics of kitties. For his next milestone birthday maybe they can track down an autographed paper from F. D. C. Willard.

While the site actually lists this one first, I’m putting it last because where can you go on the internet after cats? Cats are the be all and end all. Check out part two for the remaining 2017 Ig Nobel prize winners in fluid dynamics, cognition, nutrition, medicine and obstetrics.