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‘Poop knife’ study among Ig Nobel winners

Maybe this year’s Ig Nobels, the spoof prizes for dubious but humorous scientific achievement, should have been renamed the Ick Nobels.

An anthropologist who tested an urban legend by fashioning a knife out of frozen human faeces and a man who found that spiders oddly give scientists who study insects the heebie-jeebies are among the 2020 winners.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, Thursday’s 30th annual Ig Nobel ceremony was a prerecorded virtual affair instead of the usual live event at Harvard University.

This year’s winners also included a collection of world leaders who think they’re smarter than doctors and scientists and a team of Dutch and Belgian researchers who looked at why chewing and other sounds people make drive us crazy.

Metin Eren has been fascinated since high school by the story of an Inuit man in Canada who made a knife out of his own excrement. But is the story true?

Eren, an assistant professor of anthropology at Kent State University in Ohio and co-director of the university’s Experimental Archaeology Lab, used real human faeces frozen to minus 50C and filed to a sharp edge, then tried to cut meat with it.

“The poop knives failed miserably,” he said in a telephone interview. “There’s not a lot of basis empirically for this fantastic story.”

The study is a little gross but makes an important point: there are a lot of narratives out there based on phoney or unproven science.

Researchers from Canada and the US won the psychology prize with their method to detect narcissists using an eyebrow examination.

The entomology prize went to a US researcher for his collection of evidence that entomologists – who study insects – are afraid of spiders.

A female Chinese alligator in an airtight chamber filled with helium-enriched air was induced to bellow in a study from scientists from Austria, Sweden, Japan, the US and Switzerland, which won the acoustics prize.

The organisers also made a political dig, awarding a “medical education” prize to the leaders of Brazil, Britain, India, Mexico, Belarus, the US, Turkey, Russia and Turkmenistan for “using the COVID-19 viral pandemic to teach the world that politicians can have a more immediate effect on life and death than scientists and doctors can”.

AP with DPA

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