Here are the winners of the Ig Nobel Prizes 2022

Magnify / The Ig Nobel Prizes honor “achievements that first make people laugh and then make them think.”

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Would you give yourself an alcohol enema for science? Testing the running speed of constipated scorpions in the lab? Build your own moose crash test dummy? Or perhaps you want to tackle the difficult question of why legal documents are so relentlessly incomprehensible. These and other extraordinary research efforts were honored tonight in a virtual ceremony to announce the 2022 recipients of the annual Ig Nobel Prizes. Yes, it’s that time of year again, when the serious meets the silly – for science. You can watch the live stream of the award ceremony here.

The Ig Nobels were established in 1991 and are a good-natured parody of the Nobel Prizes; they honor “achievements that first make people laugh and then make them think.” The unapologetically campy awards show usually features miniature operas, science demos and 24/7 lectures where experts have to explain their work twice: once for 24 seconds and the second in just seven words. Acceptance speeches are limited to 60 seconds. And as the motto suggests, the research being honored may seem ridiculous at first glance, but that does not mean it is devoid of scientific value.

Viewers can tune in to the usual 24/7 lectures, as well as the premiere of a mini-opera, The Know-It-Everything Club, where each member “makes it clear that there is only one person in the Know-It-All Club who knows something” – in keeping with the evening’s theme of knowledge. Winners will also give free public talks in the weeks following the ceremony, which will be posted on the Improbable Research website.

Here are the winners of the Ig Nobel Prizes 2022.

Art history prize

Citation: “Peter de Smet and Nicholas Hellmuth, for their study ‘A Multidisciplinary Approach to Ritual Enema Scenes on Ancient Maya Pottery’.”

Honestly, I could write an entire article on this fascinating paper from 1986, adapted from de Smet’s PhD thesis. The study focuses on the polychrome ceramics of the Late Classic Maya period (AD 600–900), which often depict palace scenes, ball games, hunting parties and dances associated with human sacrifice (via beheading). But in 1977, researchers discovered a Maya jar depicting the administration of an enema – and later several others as well.

Apparently, the Maya were known to administer medicinal enemas, but the pottery scenes suggest that they may have also taken intoxicating enemas in a ritual setting. De Smet and Hellmuth analyzed the iconography of several pieces of pottery depicting enemas, as well as the linguistic signs that appear in these scenes. They also compiled a list of possible “ethnopharmacological” substances the Maya may have ingested.

In the time-honored tradition of scientific self-experimentation, de Smet (a self-described “non-inhalant smoker” and “regular user of coffee and beer”) tested the effectiveness of a couple of the suspected substances by administering enemas to himself. He drank an oral alcoholic mixture for comparison before administering a clyster separately. Both mixtures had about 5 percent alcohol content “since a clyster with an alcohol content of 20 percent is quite irritating to the rectal tissue,” so much of the mixture had to be consumed. The level of intoxication was measured with a breathalyzer. “The results certainly support the theoretical suggestion that alcohol is well absorbed from an enema,” the authors concluded.

De Smet wisely declined to self-administer a tobacco enema, given evidence of toxic side effects. He also did not personally test psilocybin mushrooms, fly agaric, water lily (a possible hallucinogen), Tsitse (Erythina alkaloids), or Toh-ku – all less likely candidates for use in the rituals depicted on the pottery. He also chose to skip toad poison (den Bufo alkaloid bufotenine). Instead, he administered an enema of dimethyltryptamine (DMT), which is closely related, and found “no noticeable effect.” It is an N of 1, but with a fairly low dose. The authors recommended “further research” to expand the sample size and dose range, but we didn’t delve deeper to find out if any other intrepid researchers followed de Smet down the self-administered enema path.

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