Who are the 2020 Ig Nobel Prize Winners?

Written by Francesca Lake

Ig Nobel Prize

From a new medical condition to narcissists and hitmen – here’s our roundup of the 2020 Ig Nobel Prize winners.

Celebrating research that first makes you laugh then makes you think, the Ig Nobel prizes are the amusing younger sibling of the Nobel Prize. Here’s our run down of this year’s winners.

Medical matters

This year’s Ig Nobel Medicine Prize was presented by Frances Arnold and awarded to Nienke Vulink, Damiaan Denys and Arnoud van Loon from the University of Amsterdam (The Netherlands) for diagnosing a new medical condition – Misophonia, which is distress at hearing other people chewing. The team proposes that this should be classified as a discrete psychiatric disorder and warrants further research.

For the Ig Nobel Psychology Prize, the award went to Miranda Giacomin and Nicholas Rule (University of Toronto, IL, Canada) for revealing we can judge narcissism from a person’s eyebrows. Why? “The ability to identify dark personality traits at zero acquaintance provides particular value for avoiding exploitation and manipulation,” the authors note. “This research will help to increase understanding of the general processes involved in impression formation and contribute to better understanding when and why people approach or avoid specific individuals.”

The Ig Nobel Medical Education Prize highlighted the impact of politics on the COVID-19 pandemic – the politicians Jair Bolsonaro (Brazil), Boris Johnson (UK), Narendra Modi (India), Andrés Manuel López Obrador (Mexico), Alexander Lukashenko (Belarus), Donald Trump (USA), Recep Tayyip Erdogan (Turkey), Vladimir Putin (Russia), and Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow (Turkmenistan) were awarded the prize for ‘using the COVID-19 viral pandemic to teach the world that politicians can have a more immediate effect on life and death than scientists and doctors can’.

Ig Nobel Prize

The 2019 Ig Nobel Prize winners

Celebrating the weird, wacky and unusual side of science, the Ig Nobel Prize is the jokey younger brother of the highly prestigious Nobel Prize. Aiming to honor research that not only makes you laugh but also makes you think, the awards have been running since 1991 and highlight the funny side of scientific research.

Earthworms, alligators, feces and legs

The Ig Nobel Physics Prize went to a team who determined  what happens to the shape of a living earthworm when it is vibrated at high frequency – research that is relevant to neuroscience.

Meanwhile, the Ig Nobel Acoustics Prize went to a team who gave helium to an alligator, in a bid to understand their communication.

The Ig Nobel Entomology Prize recognized a team who demonstrated that  entomologists are often afraid of spiders.

Finally to round out the scientific side of the prizes, the Ig Nobel Materials Science Prize went to a team who clarified that knives made from human feces are ineffective – this work seems unsurprising on the fece (sorry) of it, but was performed to (in-)validate an historic ethnographic rumor.

Ding dong ditch, romance and hitmen

While not scientific, the Ig Nobel Peace, Economics and Management Prizes are also a fun read. The Peace Prize went to the governments of India and Pakistan for playing Ding dong ditch – sadly, no references were given for this.

The Economics Prize went to an international team who attempted to quantify the relationship between a country’s income inequality and the average amount of kissing. While on the face of it this seems unlikely, the team believed that as mouth-to-mouth kissing could play a role in assessing partners, the amount could vary based on health. Testing 13 countries across six continents they did reveal that kissing is more important in established relationships than courtship, and its frequency is affected by income inequality.

Finally, the Management Prize was awarded to five professional hitmen in China for their odd management strategy: the initial hitman accepted payment and subcontracted hitman 2, who subcontracted hitman 3, who subcontracted hitman 4, who subcontracted hitman 5. Again, unreferenced aside from trial documents, the Ig Nobel page suggests the murder was never actually performed – a lesson in why delegation is not always best.

The full ceremony is worth a watch and available in a webcast.

Check out last year’s winners in our 2019 coverage, and watch this space for coverage of the 2020 Nobel Prizes in early October.