Борис Бурда
Author: Boris Burda
Journalist, writer, bard. Winner of the «Diamond Owl» intellectual game «What? Where? When?»
Liberal Arts
9 minutes for reading

BORIS BURDA: How to get a quite strange reward

BORIS BURDA: How to get a quite strange reward
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Photo by Hans Leuzinger on Unsplash




Norma Babier, Charles Paxton, Phil Bowers and Charles Deeming have obtained evidence that ostriches experience increased sexual arousal and reproduce more actively in the presence of humans. What very famous prize in biology did they receive for this startling result?




The Ig Nobel (or Schnobel, as it is sometimes called) Prize — which other one?




Probably, there are too many titles, ranks, awards, and honours in the world. People are awarded for everything nowadays! Sometimes, it’s really for worthy deeds — there are quite a few really authoritative awards that you can’t get so easily. The world-famous Nobel Prize is honorable, useful, and not easy to earn.

There are also a lot of less-known titles, awards, and prizes established by various dubious offices with pompous names, which have founded themselves and now, as best they can, recoup the costs of printing and advertising, giving titles and awards to those who agree to pay the list price. Now, they are honored less — there are too many of them…

Now, we are not talking about them, although it is also an interesting topic — it is time to create a list so that you can look and immediately say that it is better to stay away from the bearer of such a title or winner of such an award — you will be safer. What can we do, the time is such: all vocational schools have become colleges, technical schools — institutes, institutes — universities, and universities — academies…

There is one more kind of award — they are intended not to praise the deserving but to criticize those who deserve it. Winners of these awards are not particularly eager to become laureates, although they are not always ashamed — bad advertising is better than no advertising at all. They are awarded to those who have distinguished themselves in something not very good, and it is impossible to refuse — you should have thought before!




The Darwin Awards are very widely known—they are awarded to the person who has most spectacularly rid the gene pool of mankind of its own poor-quality genes. For example, in 1995, six Egyptian peasants, one by one, went down a well to save a chicken that had fallen there. They were swept away by the current, and all of them drowned without exception. And the chicken survived…

For many years, the famous illusionist James Randi has presented the «Pigasus» award (a hybrid of the name Pegasus with the word pig) for the most ridiculous presentation of so-called «paranormal phenomena». One of the winners of this award, the notorious Uri Geller, sued Randi six times, demanding retractions. He lost every single one of those six cases.

Local, but fascinating in its own way, is the Red Lantern Award, apparently named after the red lantern, which, according to railway rules, is supposed to be hung on the last carriage. It is awarded to the cyclist who takes the last place in the famous «Tour de France» cycling race. Belgian Wim Vansevenant managed to get this award three times…

The anti-Oscar «Golden Raspberry» award has roughly the same nominations as the «Oscars» and is presented the day before the real «Oscars». Many famous films and popular actors have been honored with this award — the record belongs to Sylvester Stallone, who has won it 10 times! The award is a gold-plated plastic raspberry with a price tag of less than $5, including sales tax.


«Золотая малина» — американская сатирическая кинопремия, антинаграда, которой ежегодно отмечают худшие популярные и дорогие киноленты, их актеров, режиссеров и сценаристов. Является своеобразным антиподом кинопремии «Оскар»
«Golden Raspberry» — American satirical film award, anti-award, which annually marks the worst popular and expensive films, their actors, directors, and screenwriters. It is a kind of antipode of the film award «Oscars» / faroutmagazine.co.uk




But the founder of the most famous of such prizes, Marc Abrahams, does not consider his Ig Nobel Prize (despite the fact that its name undoubtedly has a connection with the English word ig noble — «shameful») to be an unambiguously critical statement. He believes that this prize is not the opposite of the Nobel Prize but orthogonal to it — it is somewhat different…

Abrahams says that when he edited the journal of scientific humor «Annals of Improbable Research», he got to such astonishing results that the Nobel Prize for them, of course, no one would not award, but they were so nontrivial that made first laugh, and then — think, and therefore also deserved the distinction.

He wasn’t the only one who liked the idea. The Ig Nobel Prizes are awarded and presented by real Nobel laureates, usually wearing funny fake glasses with big false noses — because of this, the prize is sometimes called the Schnobel Prize. The certificate for this prize is signed by at least three Nobelists.

Sometimes, the awarding of this prize is really in the nature of criticism — for example, the awarding of this prize in 1999 to the Kansas and Colorado State Boards of Education for restricting the teaching of the theory of evolution in schools. Incidentally, the last court case on this issue was in the US in 2016, with supporters of evolution bans losing again…

And what proves the ambiguity of the Ig Nobel Prize even better is that physicist Andre Geim first won the Ig Nobel Prize in 2000 and then, in 2010 — the Nobel Prize. Barthes Knops achieved this result even earlier (Nobel Prize — in 2005, Ignobel Prize — in 2006), but he received the Nobel Prize not by himself but as a member of the IAEA team. Does it count?


«Вонючка», официальный талисман Ингобелевской премии
«The Stinker», the official mascot of the Igobel Prize / improbable.com




The Ig Nobel Prizes are presented before the real Nobel Prizes, just like the «Golden Raspberry» before the «Oscars». The first ceremonies were held at the famous Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and then they were moved to Harvard, which is also a place where, if you want to spit and not hit a Nobel laureate, you have to take special aim…

Many people come to receive this prize in person. Of course, two-time laureate Alexander Lukashenko hasn’t come even once (for the fact that a one-armed disabled man was fined in Belarus for illegal applause and for his statements about the COVID-19 pandemic), and laureates of the prize in economics usually can’t come because they are in prison. What can be done about it?

The laureates who arrive give a speech, for which they are given 60 seconds. At the 61st second, a little girl called Miss Sweetie Poo starts screaming, «Please stop, I’m bored!» and the speech ends on its own. And a few days later, there are the Ig Nobel Lectures, where the winners can talk more about their work.

Paper airplanes used to fly around the hall during the awards, and physicist Roy Glauber, the official «broom keeper», used to sweep the floor after the ceremony. But in 2005, he was busy — he himself received a real Nobel Prize, and a year later, the planes were canceled for safety reasons. It’s a shame — it was supposed to look beautiful …


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Американский физик-теоретик Рой Глаубер сметает бумажные самолетики со сцены Игобелевской премии, 2008 год
American theoretical physicist Roy Glauber sweeps away paper airplanes from the stage of the Ig Nobel Prize, 2008 / physics.aps.org




The Ig Nobel Prize is deliberately humorous. But does all awarded research have such a reputation? For example, the 2008 prize in medicine for the work that proved that a placebo drug (known to be ineffective) works better the more money you charge for it? Whatever you want to call it, it says a lot about the properties of human nature.

And didn’t the 2019 Economics prize go to scientists from Turkey, Germany, and the Netherlands who proved that among all banknotes, the Romanian leu is the best at tolerating dangerous bacteria? It’s perfectly possible to, say, add some kind of disinfectant to the paper on which this money is printed and help reduce the number of contagious diseases.

The 2018 Literature Award was for authors from the UK, Australia, and El Salvador who have convincingly demonstrated that people almost never read the instructions for household appliances and, therefore, fail to utilize most of their functions? I’d award them just for the title of their work alone: «Life is too short for “reading frickin” instructions». Isn’t that great?

Didn’t the 2007 Peace Prize winners come up with a valuable idea — to invent a gas bomb that causes soldiers (of the same sex) to have an irresistible sexual attraction to each other? They would immediately stop fighting because they would be so busy! It is a mistake for the Ministry of Defence not to allocate funds for this development, which implements the hippie slogan «Make love, not war»…

The Vatican also deserved an economic award in 2004 — receiving paid orders for various religious services, which they passed on to their Indian colleagues, who charge significantly less for these services and earn a lot of money without working too hard. This is a really clever idea, and the economic effect of it is noticeable and quite significant!

The winners of the 2019 Management Award — five Chinese assassins — have realized outsourcing ideas with even greater effect. The first of them took the order, hired the second one for less money, and the second one did the same… in general, the fifth one was paid so little that he didn’t even think about killing the person he had ordered, and the man survived. Thank God!




Some awards celebrate simply ridiculous ideas. Take, for example, the 1995 Dietetics Prize for creating «Kopi Luwak», the world’s most expensive coffee. To get it, you need a palm civet, an animal like a marten, to eat the fruit of the coffee tree and then pick the beans that have passed, so to say, through its body and brew coffee. Bon appetit!

It is difficult to say what benefit can be derived from the work of Norwegian doctor Arvid Vatle, who found out which containers patients take urine for analysis if there is no special one. It turns out that in Norway, it is tomato paste cans! Ten-litre tins, in which tomato paste is usually packaged in our country, are obviously not helpful for this purpose.

The 2000 Peace Prize was awarded to the British Navy for the fact that during exercises, they invented not to fire cannons but just shout «Ba-bang!» instead. This is perhaps not only funny but also profitable — it turned out to save more than £5,000,000 a year. At the same time, no one gets injured or killed in the exercise — even by accident…

And can you fathom the genius of the 2008 Biology Prize-winning paper? In it, they managed to prove that fleas living on dogs jump about 2 centimeters higher and 10 centimeters further than fleas living on cats? Just wondering what benefit can be learnt from this fact, if not by humans, at least by dogs or even cats…

Well, and as an appetizer — the Peace Prize for the same year, 2008. A group of British scientists (probably the same ones from the anecdote) strictly proved by experiments on volunteers that pain sensations are sharply reduced if you swear profanely during pain infliction. Strictly speaking, intuitively, many of us assumed this and even verified it in practice…


Купюра достоинством 100 триллионов долларов банка Зимбабве — денежная часть Игнобелевской премии
A $100 trillion Zimbabwean bank note — the money part of the Ig Nobel Prize / wikipedia.org




The Ig Nobel Prize has also honored individuals who have discovered essential things.

For example, the 2003 Engineering Prize was awarded to Edward Murphy and his co-authors for discovering his law, which states that if something can go wrong, it will definitely go wrong. No one doubts him now, and not long ago, people were still asking why.

The 2000 Prize in Psychology was also awarded to the authors of the «Dunning-Kruger effect», who experimentally confirmed the hypothesis expressed by Charles Darwin that ignorance gives much more confidence than knowledge. It began with a bank robber who smeared lemon juice on his face and piously believed that now the cameras would not see him…

The 2005 Prize for Literature went to individuals who didn’t show up for the award — Nigerian spammers who sent out a myriad of letters offering inheritance and other benefits for little money, which disappeared with them. Some Czech pensioner who lost all his money shot the Nigerian consul in grief. Why? Better to reward them…

The 1991 Peace Prize was awarded to Edward Teller — for the hydrogen bomb and SOI, i.e., «realizing a new understanding of the world». The 1994 Literature Prize went to Ron Hubbard for his book «Dianetics». 1996 Peace Prize — French President Jacques Chirac for his nuclear tests in the Pacific Ocean. The 1994 Nutrition Prize — SPAM trademark.

Let’s also mention the Maths Prize winner Gideon Gono, director of the Bank of Zimbabwe, who issued the $100 trillion note. The cash part of the Ig Nobel Prize is exactly what $100 trillion is — they just give a link to download a drawing of the note, and then the lucky winners print it out themselves if they want.

These wonderful awards are presented every year — 2023 was no exception. They are broadcast on radio and TV in several languages and traditionally end with the words, «If you haven’t received this award — and especially if you have — we wish you good luck next year!» It’s a good wish, and most importantly, it applies to everyone. And good luck to us all next year!


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