The Ig Nobel honors a study on a question we all ask ourselves: Why do the dumbest rise?

Mayan pottery found in Guatemala depicting a man giving himself a ritual enema and displayed at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.LACMA

“The harder I work, the luckier I get,” said statistician George Edward Pelham Box. Like him, dozens of scientists, including Albert Einstein —who is credited with having said: “Chance does not exist, God does not play dice”—, have always defended that success is not random. Three Italian scientists question this and believe that the most talented people do not succeed, but the luckiest. His work has been distinguished, along with a dozen other studies, with the Ig Nobel, the prizes for the most extravagant research. Two of the authors who defy other scientists by assessing luck receive this award for the second time: in 2010 they won the satirical award for “mathematically demonstrating that organizations would become more efficient if they promoted people at random”.

The Ig Nobel —play on words that, pronounced together, could be translated as ignoble— has been granted for 32 years Annals of Improbable Research (Annals of Improbable Research) to studies published and reviewed by prestigious journals. They are usually held at Harvard University with the presence of real Nobel Prize winners, but this year, for the third time, the ceremony has become virtual again, although with the spirit summed up by its director Marc Abrahams: “Laugh and think”. These are the winners this year, who will receive a bill of 10 trillion dollars from Zimbabwe, a currency that disappeared in 2015 and whose total would mean less than 30 cents today.

matter of luck. Rarely does the same team win two IG Nobel Prizes. However, this year the jury considered that work, and not chance, deserves a new award (Economics) for Alessandro Pluchino and Andrea Rapisarda, who insist on a new investigation on luck as a determinant of success versus talent.

The doubly awarded authors, who this year have been joined by Alessio Emanuele Biondo, defend: “Our model shows that, if it is true that a certain degree of talent is needed to be successful in life, the most talented people hardly ever reach the top. higher, being surpassed by moderately talented individuals, but sensibly luckier”.

In its conclusions, the study warns of the “risks” of the paradigm that they call “naive meritocracy”. This, according to the research, “does not give honors and rewards to the most competent people, because it underestimates the role of randomness among the determinants of success.” The authors propose to develop “strategies capable of counteracting the unpredictable role of luck and giving more opportunities and resources to the most talented, a purpose that should be the main objective of a truly meritocratic approach”.

Mayan toxic edema. A Euro-American team has been honored with the History prize for its multidisciplinary approach to the ritual injection of a liquid in the rectum in Mesoamerican civilization. The authors are based on scenes depicted in the classic pottery of this culture and that, according to the study, “undoubtedly indicate that the ancient Maya took intoxicating enemas in a ritual context.” The research uses this finding to refute “the traditional view that the ancient Maya were a contemplative people” and ensure that, on the contrary, “they gave themselves over to ritual ecstasy.”

The work goes further by providing an explanation for the unusual form of substance use. “The occasional exhibition [en la cerámica] of people vomiting seems to provide a plausible reason why the Mayans opted for rectal application”, and not just alcohol, “to achieve a state of intoxication”.

Scorpions that lose their anus suffer deadly constipation. Brazil joins the awards with an investigation that reaches an expected conclusion. Scorpions resort to autotomy, the voluntary separation of part of their body to escape predators. Those of the genus Ananteris lose the last abdominal segments, up to 25% of their body mass, including the anus, which does not regenerate. The consequence is clear: “it prevents defecation and leads to constipation”. And it seems that the strategy is not as effective as might be expected because neither males nor females gain speed with the decrease. “In conclusion, tail loss does not have an immediate effect on locomotor performance in scorpions,” the researchers admit. Of course, as death due to the inability to defecate comes after a few months, scorpions can still, if they feel like it, “find partners and reproduce”. “The prolonged period between autotomy and death from constipation is crucial to understand the evolution of one of the most extreme cases of this phenomenon in nature,” the researchers say.

Love is a thing of the heart. One of Nature’s affiliated journals has published another study awarded this year and that comes to agree with those who point to the heart as the organ of love. According to this work, carried out with binoculars and physiological measurement devices during real blind dates outside the laboratory, “the overt signals [de un romance inicial], such as smiling, laughing, looking at or imitating those signals, are not significantly associated with attraction. To know if everything is going well, according to the researchers, it is necessary to wear a heart rate and skin conductivity meter. The synchrony of the heart rhythm and the epithelial response, “covert, unconscious and difficult to regulate”, are the true indicators of the success of the appointment. These signals increase or decrease depending on the levels of “subconscious arousal”.

ice cream as therapy. A Polish team has been awarded the Ig Nobel Prize in Medicine for testing commercially available ice creams to prevent oral mucositis, ulcers that form in the mouth as a side effect of chemotherapy. This “ice cream cryotherapy,” as the researchers define it, was effective in 13 of the 52 patients who received it. “It could be used as a cost-effective, less expensive and easy to implement method in the prevention of oral mucositis,” the authors state.

All the ducklings went swimming. Two groups have raised fundamental questions: “Why do ducklings swim in formation? Which one is the best? How much energy does each specimen save by doing so?” And the conclusions are up to the task: “By traversing the wake generated by the mother, the duckling that follows her obtains a significant reduction in resistance to the waves and experiences a “destructive interference phenomenon”, that is, it is pushed forward. “Wave riding and wave riding are probably the main reasons for the evolution of formation swimming in waterfowl. This study is the first to reveal that it saves energy for members [del desfile]”, assures the study published by Cambridge.

In honor of the Marx Brothers and their contracting party. The Ig Nobels also have a Literature prize. This time it fell on a study showing that poor handwriting, and not the use of specialized concepts, makes legal texts unreadable. Researchers have analyzed 10 million words used in contracts and discovered, not surprisingly, that they contain “surprisingly high proportions of certain characteristics [lingüísticas] difficult to process. The conclusions are not surprising either: the worst written texts are understood and remembered less.

honest and dishonest gossip. “Gossip can be positive or negative, depending on the type of rumor that is spread,” says Mónica Ojeda, winner of the Best Scientific Publication of Psychology of the University of Seville. A research distinguished in the Ig Nobel Peace Prize now tries to establish a formula so that the gossip knows when and what to share for personal gain. The key is the degree of coincidence between gossip and reality.

Digital engineering and a rubber deer. Two Asian studies have looked at how many fingers and how they are used to turn a given object. The larger the size, the more fingers are used. The researchers say that the data is useful for designing lids and “unraveling the characteristics of the skills of the human fingers”, although they admit that other conditioning factors such as the shapes, heights and materials of the objects, as well as the age of the object, remain to be studied. subject. Finally, also in the field of engineering, a study published by the swedish road and transport institute, has been distinguished for designing a moose dummy with 116 rubber plates and after an exhaustive investigation work following the corpse of a specimen. The objective is to analyze the abuse of these animals, something that the researcher affirms could be applicable to other fauna.

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The Ig Nobel honors a study on a question we all ask ourselves: Why do the dumbest rise?