Voodoo Dolls, Roller-Coasters for Kidney Stones Win at Ig Nobels
Voodoo Dolls, Roller-Coasters for Kidney Stones Win at Ig Nobels

Voodoo Dolls, Roller-Coasters for Kidney Stones Win at Ig Nobels

The awards for comical but practical scientific discovery also include cannibalism and self-colonoscopy.

Sep 14, 2018
Ashley Yeager

ABOVE: Riding on Space Mountain and other roller coasters might offer relief to patients with kidney stones, an Ig Nobel–winning study shows.
FLICKR, KEN LUND

Studies of stabbing voodoo dolls of unsavory bosses and riding roller coasters to get rid of kidney stones took top honors at the 2018 Ig Nobels, announced yesterday (September 13) at Harvard University. The awards are spoof prizes published in the Annals of Improbable Research

The voodoo work stemmed from Lindie Liang of Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Canada, who studies workplace aggression. “We wanted to understand why subordinates retaliate when it’s bad for them,” Liang tells The Associated Press. “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?”

To test this, she and her team showed research subjects online voodoo dolls with their bosses’ initials and could choose to use pins, pliers, or fire on the virtual doll. The exercise helped relieve the subjects’ anger with their bosses so “their injustice perceptions are deactivated,” Liang says.

Cannibalism also took a top honor with a study that showed human flesh isn’t a high-calorie food and wouldn’t be a good choice when you’re really hungry. The research counters a long-held view that humans ate other humans to improve nutrition. James Cole, a lecturer in archaeology at Britain’s University of Brighton, demonstrated that the caloric value of other animals our ancestors hunted and ate was higher than what would be found in human flesh.

“We’re not super nutritious,” he tells The Associated Press.

See “Cave Creature Genitalia, Other Weird Discoveries Net 2017 Ig Nobels

In another award-winning study, David Wartinger of Michigan State University found that roller-coaster-rides can help to dislodge kidney stones. A patient repeatedly passed the stones when on the rides, so Wartinger built a model of the renal system with artificial kidney stones and then rode on roller coasters at Walt Disney theme parks with it. Big Thunder Mountain, he found, was effective at passing the stones and worked better than rides with big drops, such as Space Mountain. 

Japanese pediatrician Akira Horiuchi of Showa Inan General Hospital in Komagane took home a prize for performing a self-colonoscopy. “This trial may be funny, but I inserted an endoscope into my colon for a serious purpose,” he tells BBC News. His goal was to show how simple a colonoscopy could be and hoped his video of the work encourages more people to go get the test.

“People, especially in Japan, are afraid of colonoscopy and they do not want to undergo colonoscopy. So the number of people who die from colorectal cancer is increasing. I do this research to make colonoscopy easier and more comfortable, so fewer people will die,” he says.

The Golden Goose Awards, which recognize research that sounds silly but has practical applications, were also presented yesterday. Studies on implicit bias, spoiled eggs, and a particular gland in geese took top honors.