Do you make better decisions when you need to urinate?

Decision-making when you have to pee ... beetles that have sex with beer bottles ... wasabi-spraying fire alarm systems ... and more from the "21th" annual Ig Nobel Awards. With video.

And all these years, we thought there was only one reason not to drink and drive.

It turns out that holding it too long impairs your decision-making ability to the same extent that low levels of alcohol intoxication and 24 hours of sleep deprivation do.

"When people reach a point when they are in so much pain they just can't stand it anymore, it was like being drunk," said researcher Peter Snyder, a professor of neurology at Brown University in Providence, R.I.

While this discovery won't net Snyder and his colleagues a Nobel, it did win them the Ig Nobel for medicine, one of ten annual prizes for the best research that makes people laugh and then think.

The Annals of Improbable Research recognized the "winners" for their offbeat research Thursday night, during the "21th" annual ceremony (see video below) ahead of next week's announcement of the Nobel winners.

Some of the other funny but thought-provoking scientific queries honored included:

  • Why male Australian buprestid beetles try to mate with discarded beer bottles. Professor Darryl Gwynne explained to BBC News that he became interested in the question when he saw male beetles trying to copulate with beer bottles lying on the roadside: "It was very obvious the beetles were trying to mate. These beetles have enormous genitalia, and they're large to start with -- over two inches long. The sad thing was that these beetles were dying; they wouldn't leave the bottles alone. They'd fall off them exhausted." The conclusion: They only do this with stippled brown beer bottles that resemble female beetles who have similar marks on their wing covers. Prize: Biology.
  • What scent is best for rousing deaf people who cannot hear a conventional fire alarm. What other answer would you expect from Japanese scientists and engineers? Wasabi. Among hundreds of tested odors, including rotten eggs, the horseradish-like wasabi (a condiment used in sushi) was best at waking sleepers. The conclusion: It contains a chemical, allyl isothiocyanate, that irritates people's noses. The researchers created a $650 fire alarm from their discovery. (Patent pending.) Prize: Chemistry.
  • Why people sigh. Turns out, no one had ever researched this. Maybe that's because, as the researcher, Karl Teigen, admitted, there is no practical application to the study. The conclusion: Resignation, not sadness or disappointment. Prize: Psychology.
  • Whether yawns in red-footed tortoises are contagious. "With tortoises we've found evidence of social learning, fantastic spatial cognition and brilliant visual perception, so we wanted to know what else can they do," Dr. Anna Wilkinson told the Guardian. So Dr. Wilkinson shot for the stars: She spent six months training a tortoise named Alexandra to yawn -- on command. However, she found out that no other tortoises could ever "catch" a yawn from Alexandra. The conclusion: Red-footed tortoises' yawns aren't contagious. Prize: Physiology.

And the mathematics prize went not to any mathematicians, but to the world's doomsayers for predicting the world's demise in 1954 (Dorothy Martin), 1982 (Pat Robertson), 1990 (Elizabeth Clare Prophet), 1992 (Lee Jang Rim of Korea), 1997 (Shoko Asahara of Japan), 2999 (Credonia Mwerinde of Uganda), and 1994 and 2011 (Harold Camping).

Suffice it to say, they were all wrong.

But they did accomplish something: They taught the world to be cautious when making mathematical assumptions and calculations.

For a complete list of winners, go to the Ig Nobel web page. And below, watch the ceremony, which shows the silly side of science with a mini-opera about chemistry in a coffee shop; the tradition of throwing paper airplanes; and an eight-year-old girl who stands on stage and chants "Please stop, I'm bored" when acceptance speeches exceed 60 seconds.

Marc Abrahams, master of ceremonies (and the journal's editor) ended the night with the traditional closing line, "If you didn't win an Ig Nobel prize tonight -- and especially if you did -- better luck next year."

via: The Guardian, BBC News, Boston Globe

photo: nedrichards/Flickr

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