Belgian psychiatrist among winners of 2020 IgNobel Prizes
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Belgian psychiatrist among winners of 2020 IgNobel Prizes

Mouth kissing, a thing people in poorer countries do more of, says science. © PxHere

A Belgian psychiatrist who teaches at the university of Amsterdam is one of the winners of this year’s IgNobel Prizes for improbable research.

Damiaan Denys, originally from Wevelgem in West Flanders, was part of a team that carried out research into misophonia, the name they gave to a condition in which the sufferer experiences extreme discomfort when hearing a particular sound, such as the noise of someone chewing or popping gum.

The IgNobel Prizes were launched in 1991 as a playful counterweight to the Nobel Prizes. The prize carries the tagline, “achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think.”

The awards ceremony, usually held in New York but organised this year online, takes the form of a game show. Winners have to explain their work in 24/7 form: first in 24 seconds, then again in seven words. All recipients are limited to 30 seconds of acceptance speech, and presentations may take any form, such as a comic opera.

The prize is worth billions – a 10 trillion Zimbabwe dollar bill, to be exact, a denomination that was withdrawn from circulation in 2009 when rampant inflation brought its real value down to 40 cents.

In addition to the Amsterdam team’s victory in the field of medicine, prizes were awarded in psychology to two researchers who discovered you can tell how narcissistic a person is by examining their eyebrows.

Another team found that at the height of tensions between India and Pakistan in 2018, both sides had their diplomats playing pranks on the other, using time-honoured techniques such as ringing the victim’s doorbell and running away.

A Russian experiment placed earthworms on a vibrating Teflon plate to find out if, being made essentially of water, their bodies would producing the kind of pattern known in fluid dynamics as Faraday waves. They did.

A multinational team set out to find if there was a relationship between national income inequality – the gap between rich and poor – and kissing on the mouth, only to find a reverse correlation. People are more likely to kiss on the mouth in countries where competition for resources is more intense, probably as a factor in establishing strong human bonds.

Finally, a team of anthropologists from Kent State University in the US won a prize for research that debunked an old urban legend by proving that knives made of frozen human faeces do not work very well.

Details of the prizes with links to the original published research can be found at the IgNobel Prize website.

Alan Hope
The Brussels Times