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Listed below are the winners of the 2022 Ig Nobel Prizes

Science which makes you laugh, then think

Maya ritual enemas, constipated scorpions, and moose crash test dummies feature.

The Ig Nobel Prizes honor

Enlarge / The Ig Nobel Prizes honor “achievements that first make people laugh and make sure they are think.”

Aurich Lawson / Getty Images

Can you give yourself an alcohol enema for science? Test the running speed of constipated scorpions in the lab? Build your own moose crash test dummy? Or possibly you would like to tackle the thorny question of why legal documents are so relentlessly incomprehensible. These along with other unusual research endeavors were honored tonight in a virtual ceremony to announce the 2022 recipients of the annual Ig Nobel Prizes. Yes, it’s that point of year again, once the serious and the silly convergefor science. You can view the livestream of the awards ceremony here.

Established in 1991, the Ig Nobels are a good-natured parody of the Nobel Prizes; they honor “achievements that first make people laugh and make sure they are think.” The unapologetically campy award ceremony usually features miniature operas, scientific demos, and the 24/7 lectures whereby experts must explain their work twice: once in 24 seconds and the next in only seven words. Acceptance speeches are limited by 60 seconds. So when the motto implies, the study being honored may seem ridiculous initially, but it doesn’t mean it’s without scientific merit.

Viewers can listen in for the most common 24/7 lectures, along with the premiere of a mini-opera, The Know-It-All Club, where every member “makes clear their opinion that there surely is only 1 person in the Know-It-All Club who knows anything”commensurate with the evening’s theme of knowledge. The winners may also give free public talks in the weeks following ceremony, which is posted on the Improbable Research website.

Listed below are the winners of the 2022 Ig Nobel Prizes.

Art History Prize

Citation: “Peter de Smet and Nicholas Hellmuth, because of their study ‘A Multidisciplinary Method of Ritual Enema Scenes on Ancient Maya Pottery.'”

Honestly, I possibly could write a whole article concerning this fascinating 1986 paper, adapted from the doctoral dissertation of de Smet. The analysis targets the polychrome pottery of the late classic Mayan period (600900 CE), which frequently depicts palace scenes, ball games, hunting parties, and dances connected with human sacrifice (via decapitation). However in 1977, scholars discovered one Maya jar depicting the administration of an enemaand subsequently several others aswell.

  • Painted polychrome Maya bowl showing a ritual enema. There exists a smoking monkey at left and a water lily jaguar (with a little jug at the end of its tail) in the centre.

    Nicholas Hellmuth

  • Another view of the painted polychrome Maya bowl showing a ritual enema. Another smoking money is apparently holding an enema syringe while a human figure holds one hand near their anus.

    Nicholas Hellmuth

Apparently, the Maya were recognized to administer medicinal enemas, however the pottery scenes suggested they may also took intoxicating enemas in a ritualistic setting. De Smet and Hellmuth analyzed the iconography on several pottery pieces depicting enemas, and also the linguistic glyphs appearing in those scenes. In addition they compiled a listing of the possible “ethnopharmacological” substances the Maya may have ingested.

In the time-honored tradition of scientific self-experimentation, de Smet (a self-described “non-inhaling smoker” and “regular user of coffee and beer”) tested the efficacy of several the suspected substances by administering enemas on himself. He drank an oral alcoholic concoction for comparison before separately administering a clyster. Both concoctions had about 5 percent alcoholic content “since a clyster having an alcoholic content of 20 percent is fairly irritating to the rectal tissue,” so most of the concoction would have to be consumed. Intoxication levels were measured with a breathalyzer. “The outcomes certainly support the theoretical suggestion that alcohol is absorbed well from an enema,” the authors concluded.

De Smet wisely declined to self-administer a tobacco enema, given the data for toxic unwanted effects. Nor did he personally test psilocybin mushrooms, fly agaric, water lily (a possible hallucinogenic), Tsitse (Erythina alkaloids), or Toh-kuall not as likely candidates for used in the rituals depicted on the pottery. He also thought we would skip toad poison (the Bufo alkaloid bufotenin). Instead, he administered an enema of dimethyltryptamine (DMT), that is closely related, finding “no discernible effect.” That’s an N of just one 1, however, 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 whether any intrepid researchers followed de Smet down the self-administered enema path.

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