The annals of science brim with researchers who pushed the boundaries of sense and good taste in a quest for knowledge. With the unveiling of the 30th annual Ig Nobel awards, another case shall be added.
To test the validity of a story in a work of ethnographic literature, Metin Eren, an anthropologist1 at Kent State University in Ohio, made a knife from his frozen faeces.
"It's an honour to be recognised," Eren said, before the ceremony in which he was honoured for his work on Thursday. "I've followed the Ig Nobels my entire life. It's a dream come true. Really."
Not to be mistaken for the more prestigious2 – and lucrative3 – Nobel prizes, to be doled4 out in Scandinavia next month, the Ig Nobels celebrate research that "first makes people laugh, and then makes them think".
In a ceremony held online, rather than at Harvard University as usual, 10 awards were handed out for notable achievements in physics, psychology5, economics, medicine and more. In lieu of a handsome windfall and medal, the winners received a paper cube and a ￡10tn dollar bill from Zimbabwe.
This year's awards included a physics prize for work that recorded the shapes earthworms adopt when vibrated at high frequency. The peace prize honoured the governments of India and Pakistan for having their diplomats6 ring each other's doorbells in the middle of the night and run away before anyone answered.
Chris Watkins, a psychologist at the University of Abertay in UK, shared the economics prize. His research found that french kissing was more common between partners in areas of high income inequality.
The psychology prize went to researchers who discovered a way to identify narcissists from their eyebrows7. "It's exciting, it's a fun award," said Miranda Giacomin, who worked on the study at MacEwan University in Alberta, Canada. Her work built on research that found people could sometimes spot narcissists from their facial features. The eyebrows, Giacomin suggests, are key.
Richard Vetter, a retired8 researcher at the University of California, Riverside, claimed the entomology prize for gathering9 case studies on arachnophobia among insect experts. He concluded that fear of spiders from an early age was not overcome by a career handling insects.
Yet another gong went to Dutch and Belgian researchers for laying out the diagnosis10 for misophonia – the distress11 experienced on hearing another person chew – and showing that talking therapy helps treat it.
"It was a humorous rallying cry for evidence and fact checking," Eren said of the unfunded work. "It's a great story of human ingenuity12, but we need to question and get evidence for everything that supports stances we hold dear to our heart, especially in these dark days."