Sat, Sep 15, 2018 - Page 7 News List

Boss revenge, cannibalism studies win Ig Nobel Prizes


From left, Nobel laureates Eric Maskin, Wolfgang Ketterle, Oliver Hart and Michael Rosbash attempt to assemble a “heart” at the Ig Nobel award ceremony at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on Thursday.

Photo: AP

Anyone who has ever been so furious with their boss that they feel like exacting revenge really needs to listen to Lindie Liang.

Liang and her colleagues found that abusing a virtual voodoo doll instead of your boss will make you feel better without getting you fired or thrown in jail, a study that earned them an Ig Nobel, the annual prize sponsored by the scientific humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for comical, but practical scientific discovery.

Winners recognized on Thursday included a Japanese doctor who devised a revolutionary new way to give yourself a colonoscopy; a British archeology lecturer who figured out that eating human flesh is not very nutritious; an Australian team that found that people who buy high-tech products really cannot be bothered to read the instruction manual; and Spanish university researchers who measured the effects of shouting and cursing while driving.

The prizes at the 28th annual ceremony at Harvard University were handed out by real Nobel laureates.

The event featured a traditional paper airplane air raid and the premiere of The Broken Heart Opera, performed with the help of Harvard Medical School cardiologists.

The winners, who as usual journeyed to Massachusetts at their own expense, also received a cash prize of 10 trillion virtually worthless Zimbabwean dollars.

Each was given 60 seconds to deliver an acceptance speech before an eight-year-old girl complained onstage: “Please stop. I’m bored.”

Liang, an assistant professor of business at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Canada, specializes in studying workplace aggression.

“We wanted to understand why subordinates retaliate when it’s bad for them,” she said. “We all know yelling at our boss is bad for your career. So what’s the function of retaliation? Why do people keep doing it?”

Obviously, Liang could not ask people to beat their bosses. Instead, they were shown an online voodoo doll with their supervisor’s initials. They then had the option to use pins, pliers or fire on the virtual doll.

The bottom line: People felt better after abusing the doll, or as Liang put it: “Their injustice perceptions are deactivated.”

Still, she does not endorse littering workplaces around the world with voodoo dolls for people angry at their bosses, instead suggesting that there be more civil workplaces to begin with.

James Cole, a lecturer in archeology at Britain’s University of Brighton, earned his Ig Nobel for a study on cannibalism that found that if you want a high-calorie meal, eating human flesh probably is not the way to go.

Cannibalism is pretty common throughout human history, and the accepted view is that humans have eaten other humans primarily for nutritional reasons, he said.

Cole found that the caloric content of humans is not that high compared with other animals humanity’s ancestors hunted and ate.

“We’re not super nutritious,” he said.

How did Cole determine the caloric value of a human? Do not worry, no humans were harmed in his study — he used a previously determined formula that bases body part calorie counts on weight and chemical composition.

Akira Horiuchi, a pediatrician at Showa Inan General Hospital in Komagane, Japan, won for his self-colonoscopy study, in which he used a colonoscope designed for children and sat upright rather than lying in the traditional supine position.

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