Anyone with a sense of humor and a predilection for science will enjoy a visit to the Annals of Improbable Research website and the annual list of Ig Nobel awards.  

The awards are for research that first makes people laugh, then makes them think and then spurs their curiosity. They are presented by Annal's science humor magazine, the Harvard Radcliffe Science Fiction Association, and the Harvard Radcliffe Society of Physics Students.  

An example of such awards is the one given in 2009 for a brassiere that can quickly convert into a pair of protective face masks. It is called the RAD Emergency Bra and described as a brassiere convertible into face masks with a radiation sensor incorporated into the body of the bra in the event of an emergency in which the sensor (located under the front clasps of the brassiere) will change color. (RAD stands for radiation absorbed dose.)

To determine the number of RAD units the sensor can be matched with colors listed on the calibration bars found are the service strip attached to the side of the bra.  The device is used to warn the wearer of the presence of ionizing radiation in the event of a "dirty" bomb explosion or any other type of nuclear release involving high energy gamma rays.

The first round of Ig Nobel prizes were handed out in 1991, honoring among others, the inventor of the antiflatulence pill, Beano.  

The awards have continued every year since then, recognizing inventions such as the Vego-matic, karaoke, and underease, the world's only airtight, charcoal filtered underwear.

If you are wondering how achievements might attract the attention of Improbable Research, well anyone can send in a nomination, and you can even nominate yourself.  The magazine receives more than 5000 new nominations every year, which are added to the collected nominees from previous years. Then the Ig Nobel Board of Governors narrows down a list of finalists in 10 categories; nutrition, peace, archaeology, biology, medicine, cognitive science, economics, physics, chemistry and literature.  After each finalist has been investigated for authenticity, the board members cast their votes. The awards celebrate "achievements that cannot or should not be reproduced."  Even if you are not interested in chemistry, the 2007 award given for turning cow manure into vanilla flavoring should pique anyone's scientific curiosity.

The 2018 Ig Nobel prize for medicine was given to Marc Mitchell and David Warlinger for using roller coaster rides to try to hasten the passage of kidney stones.  The anthropology award went to three researchers who collected evidence in a zoo, that chimpanzees imitate humans about as often, and about as well, as humans imitate chimps.  

The biology prize went to eight individuals who demonstrated that wine experts can reliably identify, by smell, the presence of a single fly in a glass of wine.  One person won the nutritional award for calculating that the caloric intake from a cannibalian diet is significantly lower than the caloric intake from most other traditional meat diets.  The peace prize was particularly relevant, it was given to scientists who measured the frequency, motivation and effects of shouting and cursing while driving an automobile.

An example of a study that won a prize was conducted at Cornell University where David Dunning and Justin Kruger supplied scientific evidence that incompetence is bliss, for the incompetent person.  They staged a series of experiments, involving several groups of people.  Beforehand, they made some predictions, most notably that:  incompetent people dramatically overestimate their ability; and incompetent people are not good at recognizing incompetence – their own or anyone else's.  

Their work became the basis for the Dunning Kruger Effect, it occurs when people fail to adequately assess their level of competence – or incompetence – at a task and consider themselves to be more competent than they actually are.  

This theory is also commonly known as "Mount Stupid," the place where you have enough knowledge of a subject to be vocal about it, without the wisdom to gather the full facts or read around the topic.

It should be mentioned that Ig Nobel prizes are not designed to ridicule science, to the contrary.  Prizes honor achievements that make people laugh and then think.  Good achievements can also be odd, funny, and even absurd.  So can bad achievement, a lot of science gets attacked because of its absurdity, a lot of bad science gets revered despite its absurdity.

Max Sherman is a medical writer and pharmacist retired from the medical device industry. He has taught college courses on regulatory and compliance issues at Ivy Tech, Grace College and Butler University. Sherman has an unquenchable thirst for knowledge on all levels.  Eclectic Science, the title of his column,  will touch on famed doctors and scientists, human senses, aging,  various diseases, and little-known facts about many species, including their contributions to scientific research. He can be reached by email at