Every year in advance of the real Nobel Prizes, the Ig Nobel Prizes are handed out at Harvard University as a mockery of head-scratching scientific research, and each year The Morning File chronicles them, as we like to think of ourselves as a mockery of real journalism.
A group of actual researchers from across the globe was honored, or dishonored, by the Annals of Improbable Research with prizes Thursday at the kind of silly event we hear about all too seldom in academia and awards ceremonies.
We're talking about nice touches like the Win-a-Date-With-a-Nobel-Laureate Contest and the employment of a cute 8-year-old girl to hoot the prize-winners off the stage if they exceeded the 1 minute allotted for their acceptance speech.
Our favorite Ig Nobel this year was the Psychology Prize, given to an international team for its published article, "Beauty Is in the Eye of the Beer Holder: People Who Think They Are Drunk Also Think They Are Attractive."
Some of us may remember situations when we were young and irresponsible and drank more than we should and, thus, we were deceived at a bar or party into thinking members of the opposite sex looked much better than they actually were. Known as the "beer goggle" effect, that phenomenon has the potential to lead to some interaction that one regrets the next day.
This newly dishonored research suggests that people who've been drinking are just as likely to have an inflated opinion of their own attractiveness. People who were interviewed after drinking -- or even after they thought they'd been drinking but were given placebo, nonalcoholic beverages -- rated themselves much higher on their appearance and charm than an independent panel of judges was inclined to do.
Such misconceptions can be dangerous, or at the very least throw the world of social engagement out of whack.
"If you become drunk and think you are really attractive it might influence your thoughts and behavior toward others," one of the researchers, Ohio State University professor Brad Bushman, told the BBC News. "It was just an illusion in their mind. Although people may think they become more attractive when they become intoxicated, other [sober] people don't think that."
Indeed, we've all been around that drunk -- oh, wait, maybe we are that drunk -- who thinks he/she is being soooo witty, when instead obnoxiousness is what comes to mind for observers.
So this particular Ig Nobel-winning research makes sense, though we're not sure the write-up it received in the British Journal of Psychology is necessary to support it. You just have to spend a few minutes with an inebriated goofball, and then run in the opposite direction.
It's a little harder to fathom the interests of the Japanese researchers who won the Medicine Prize for determining that mice that receive heart transplants survive longer when they listen to music, particularly opera.
A joint Biology and Astronomy Prize went to researchers from Sweden, Australia, Germany and South Africa who combined their supreme intellect to figure out that dung beetles use the Milky Way as a reference point to orient themselves when they're lost. As to how someone would know when dung beetles are lost, and why they don't just use a GPS when it occurs, we'll leave that to other researchers to figure out.
We'd tell you all about the Public Health Prize, which was given to a group from Thailand that studied techniques for "Surgical Management of an Epidemic of Penile Amputations in Siam," but for some reason we find that topic painful to discuss. Evidently, the report stemmed from an unusually high number of penises severed by angry wives and girlfriends in that Asian land in 1983.
And of course, it's always interesting to see what merits the Ig Nobel Peace Prize. This year it was the decision by Alexander Lukashenko, president of Belarus, to make it illegal to applaud in public. The Belarus State Police were jointly awarded the prize after "arresting a one-armed man for applauding." This all came after protesters against Mr. Lukashenko's regime in 2011 resorted to organized clapping as their preferred form of showing displeasure, and the government cracked down on such open-handed rebellion.
Many of the Ig Nobel winners attended the prize ceremony, considering it all in good fun even though their work was being treated lightly. Mr. Lukashenko, however, did not make it. Our guess is he was worried that others would applaud him for being a good sport.
Gary Rotstein: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1255.