Balls, you say? Roger Mieusset, a fertility specialist at France’s University of Toulouse, would beg to differ. Mieusset and his accomplice, Bourras Bengoudifa, won the coveted Ig Nobel Prize for Science this week, for settling an issue that has confounded science for generations: namely, whether a man’s testicles are the same temperature. They recruited French postmen (don’t ask) as volunteers, and wired them with delicately placed sensors. In case you’re wondering — and who isn’t? — the left one is warmer, though as always with these things, lab conditions can be the deciding factor. Who’s to say that another, similar study, conducted in, say, Siberia, might yield an entirely different result.
Ten prizes were awarded overall, including an Ig Nobel Peace Prize — a joint winner — to researchers from Liverpool’s John Moores University who identified which parts of the body are most pleasurable to scratch. The ankles topped the table, followed by the back and then the forearm.
The award ceremony itself, at Harvard University, proved blissfully short. The unofficial emcee of Thursday’s “black-tie” affair, an eight-year-old girl, did not have to cut off too many long-winded acceptance speeches with her by-now practiced refrain, “Please stop, I’m bored.”
Which is just as well. These are the Ig Nobel prizes, the other most sought-after award in science. And what makes the Ig Nobels more elevating than, say, The Onion, is that they celebrate actual science. Real, hard science. Weird science, yes,
but actual, peer-reviewed studies, based on actual, peer-reviewed research published in peer-reviewed journals, judged on hard evidence and verifiable fact — for the most part.
The competition for the top prize was stiff, as is to be expected. The Ig Nobels are now in their 29th year, after all. They weren’t born yesterday.
Contenders for the top prize included a study by Japanese scientists who calculated how much saliva a typical five-year-old produces in a single day. (Half a litre. Now you know.) That study won the Ig Nobel for chemistry.
Dutch researchers won the Ig Nobel in economics for proving that banknotes spread infectious microbes (the Romanian leu is the worst), while an Iranian inventor who invented a machine that changes nappies won the Ig Nobel for engineering.
For me, though, the coup de grâce belonged to the winner of the Ig Nobel prize in medicine, the Italian scientists who sought to answer the eternal question of whether pizza provides protection from death.
Sadly, the scientists never managed to answer their own question but, as we all know, it’s the idea that counts. The unprovable is not always the unknowable.
The science isn’t in yet, in any event. The scientists were most hopeful. The proof may not be in the pudding exactly, but it’s out there somewhere.