The Nobel Prizes aren’t for everyone. What do you get if you win a Nobel Prize, other than a medal and a certificate and fame and a million dollars?
And anyway, not all scientific research is about tackling the universe’s great problems. Most of it isn’t. Some scientists just put on their lab coats every day and ponder smaller things, like, “Why do scientists wear lab coats? Just because we have doctorates? Is it so the chimps we study can differentiate us from the regular humans?”
And it’s for these scientists that the Ig Nobel prizes were created. The Ig Nobel prizes are a real ceremony that celebrates science achievements that, quote, “First make people laugh and then make them think.”
As opposed to the Nobel Prizes, which first make people think, then make them fall asleep.
For instance, the Ig Nobel prize for Anthropology this year went to a team of scientists in the Netherlands for their studies into why humans and chimpanzees imitate each other.
Do you ever go to a zoo and imitate the chimps? That’s weird. Do you ever go to a zoo and imitate the llamas?
So the scientists sat down at a zoo and monitored how often the two species imitated each other. And after 52 hours of this, they found that the chimps were monitoring the scientists and writing things down on a clipboard, which made the scientists nervous, so that was the end of the study.
But basically, the scientists found that it was about communication. How does one communicate with the chimps other than find a common ground? So we imitate them. We can’t just knock on the window and then each pick up a phone, like in prison.
According to researcher Tomas Persson, who headed the study, “We also found that when both humans and chimps recognized that they were being imitated, they responded in kind.” This got them stuck in a loop, until their wives — or the chimps’ wives— said, “That’s enough. It’s time to go.”
But who really knows how far this study got? Because to be honest, “Tomas Persson” sounds like a name that a chimp would make up for himself if he was trying to pretend he was human.
Meanwhile, the award for Biology this year went to a team of researchers in Europe who found that professional wine tasters can detect a single fly in a glass of wine.
“So can I,” you’re saying. “I can also find a single eggshell in a trough of egg salad.”
But it turns out they can tell by smell.
This isn’t a long-distance smell, though. When wine experts smell wine, they take a deep sniff with their noses all the way in the glass, and you can swear there was more wine in the glass before they took their sniff. But it’s still impressive.
It turns out that the flies release a pheromone to invite other flies into the wine. Unfortunately, according to the experts, this pheromone ruins the wine. More than the fly swimming around in it, apparently.
This study might have huge ramifications in the field of kashrus, especially if we can figure out how to apply it to salads.
In the study, which was led by a man named Paul Becher (in case you didn’t think “Tomas Persson” was a little bit on the nose), the researchers got eight wine tasters together and had them taste several glasses of wine, and at the end, asked them, “OK, so which ones had flies in them?”
This is why wine experts walk around with a spit bucket.
The prize for Chemistry this year went to a group of researchers in Portugal, “for measuring the degree to which human saliva is a good cleaning agent for dirty surfaces.”
This also has kashrus ramifications.
But it’s definitely something mothers have known for years. They lick their fingers and wipe their kids’ faces right before those kids get on the bus, and the kids are all embarrassed, but now they don’t have to be, because there’s a study!
Also, when your kid drops his pacifier on the floor and there’s no sink nearby, you can pop it in your mouth, thereby making it clean enough to put into your kid’s mouth!
The rest of us use it mainly to clean off our phone screens. And, of course, to clean our glasses. But for some reason not our contact lenses. That’s where we draw the line.
So the researchers wanted to know if it’s actually a cleanser of some sort or if we’re just being lazy. And is this just human saliva? What if a dog licks your face? Do you not have to shower? And how about when you’re at the petting zoo and an animal licks the food off your palms and your mother makes you use hand sanitizer? Is that hypocritical, or what?
So they analyzed a bunch of saliva (the paper doesn’t say how they collected it, but I assume it was from spit buckets), and they found that since saliva contains amylase, which is an enzyme that breaks down starches, it turns out to be a surprisingly effective cleaning agent, in addition to being something that art conservators have been using for years to clean delicate sculptures and paintings, as it’s pretty harmless and environmentally friendly.
Something to think about next time you go to a museum and there are signs saying not to touch the displays.
The prize for Literature this year went to a team in Australia for documenting that most people who use new products don’t read the manual.
Yet when you buy a complicated product, not only does the company include a manual, it’s a thick book that includes ten different languages, because I’m going to take the time right now to learn a new language. And in our experience, the English part isn’t very English either. It’s written in what a Chinese person considers to be English, even if the product is made in the States. They still outsource the manuals.
So over the years, people have decided that that they can forgo the manual and just explore the products on their own while people are trying to talk to them. Because to be honest, if you wanted to read a paper booklet, you wouldn’t have bought an electronic device. You want to play with your new toy, not take a class about it.
I used to be good about manuals, back when I was a kid and I received muktzah Chanukah presents right before Shabbos and had nothing to play with all of Shabbos but the manual. But nowadays, who has time? I’ve had my home phone for seven years, and I have no idea what to do with the button marked flash. But I get by, because I don’t believe that whatever it does will be worth my time slogging through the manual to figure out what it does.
Anyway, according to the study, which no one read, they found that younger people, and also more educated people, are less likely to read the manual. I did read the study, of course, and another thing it says is that men are more likely than women to claim to have read things that they haven’t.
The prize for Economics this year went to researchers in Canada for investigating whether it’s effective for employees to use voodoo dolls to retaliate against abusive bosses.
Your boss can be frustrating sometimes. And how do you take out your frustration without getting fired? Maybe ask him if you can hire an assistant so you can perpetuate the chain.
But it turns out that the voodoo doll thing works too.
Now don’t get me wrong: No one thinks there’s magic at work. But according to the research, it turns out that beating up a small doll representing your boss is cathartic. Even though your boss doesn’t feel it. It’s not even like it’s his doll. Of himself. And if something does coincidentally happen to him while you’re sticking pins in it and slamming it in a desk drawer, you can attribute it to what you did. And also, you might not have a job tomorrow.
But on the other hand, I don’t know that beating up a doll representing your boss is healthy aggression. I say you should just yell at the doll. Or you can offer to clean his glasses or his mug or something.
But my main question is: How do you have a doll made of your boss, exactly? Did you take pictures of him and bring it in to a guy? Did you have your boss pose for a sculpture?
“Why are we doing this?”
“I’m not paying you for this time.”
“Ohh, just you wait.”
The researchers do point out, though, that if a manager wants to maintain a productive company, he should pay attention to ways in which he can ensure his employees’ emotional well-being. Such as providing them with little dolls of himself. Perhaps on the day they start working there.
“My boss is so full of himself. He gave me a little avodah zarah that looks like him. I had no idea what to do with it. So I threw it in the shredder.”
Finally, the prize for Peace this year went to researchers in Spain for measuring the frequency, motivation, and effects of shouting insults while driving. Does calling the other drivers idiots calm you down, or do you just do it to educate your kids on what not to do?
Anyway, the scientists found that it doesn’t really help. The other drivers can’t really hear you anyway. The best way to communicate with bad drivers, people find, is to imitate them.
Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia and is the author of six books, published by Israel Book Shop. He also does freelance writing for hire. You can send any questions, comments, or ideas to MSchmutter@gmail.com.