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Man who lived as a goat and Swedish fly collector among those honored at Ig Nobel science awards

(Brian Snyder/Reuters)

On Thursday, scientists, writers and other thinkers gathered to celebrate the act of discovery. Awards were handed out. There was a podium. Nobel Prize winners were in attendance.

And that was about as closely as the Ig Nobel Prizes, awarded annually in a ceremony at Harvard University, approximated their far less-silly inspiration, the Nobel Prizes.

Each autumn since 1991, the Ig Nobel ceremony has dished out accolades for studies and findings that “make people laugh, and then think.” And the 2016 crop of odd-yet-provoking discoveries did not deviate from the norm (except, perhaps, to mock Volkswagen’s “diesel-gate” scandal as “solving the problem of excessive automobile pollution emissions”). Among the winners was Thomas Thwaites, who recently published a book, “GoatMan: How I Took a Holiday from Being Human, about living as a goat for three days in Switzerland.

The point of the Ig Nobels is a total lack of gravitas. But the science, for the most part, is legitimate. The awards have been given in the past for discovering the way a vortex of body hair causes bellybutton lint to accumulate in the navel, or how mosquitoes are attracted to the scent of Limburger cheese. (The cheese study led to a prototype trap for malaria mosquitoes, baited with cheese.)

Bacon can stop a nosebleed — and other Ig Nobel discoveries

No one can say Thwaites did not embrace the goat premise as fully as possible. Thwaites told The Washington Post in May that during his three-day stint as a goat, he wore a custom prosthetic. Akin to a goat exoskeleton, the device let him walk on all fours, like a goat. He slept in a barn with the other goats in the herd. He even grazed on the Alps hillside in the manner of a goat.

Video: Man describes why he decided to "become" a goat. (Video: Princeton Architectural Press)

Although, like every other human, Thwaites lacked the organ, called a rumen, that goats use to digest grass. “I had to use a pressure cooker at night to cook the grass I’d chewed up during the day, and spat into my not-quite artificial rumen,” he said.

To inhibit his ability to speak — goats can’t talk, after all — he sought out a neuroscientist willing to zap a specific area of his brain with a magnet. At least temporarily, Thwaites was at a magnetically induced loss for words.

Ig Nobel awards for silly science rock Harvard as only they can

The official award winners, via Ig Nobel‘s announcement:

Reproduction Prize [Egypt] — The late Ahmed Shafik, for studying the effects of wearing polyester, cotton, or wool trousers on the sex life of rats, and for conducting similar tests with human males.
Economics Prize [New Zealand, U.K.] — Mark Avis, Sarah Forbes and Shelagh Ferguson, for assessing the perceived personalities of rocks, from a sales and marketing perspective.
Physics Prize [Hungary, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland] — Gábor Horváth, Miklós Blahó, György Kriska, Ramón Hegedüs, Balázs Gerics, Róbert Farkas, Susanne Åkesson, Péter Malik and Hansruedi Wildermuth, for discovering why white-haired horses are the most horsefly-proof horses, and for discovering why dragonflies are fatally attracted to black tombstones.
Chemistry Prize [Germany] — Volkswagen, for solving the problem of excessive automobile pollution emissions by automatically, electromechanically producing fewer emissions whenever the cars are being tested.
Medicine Prize [Germany]— Christoph Helmchen, Carina Palzer, Thomas Münte, Silke Anders and Andreas Sprenger, for discovering that if you have an itch on the left side of your body, you can relieve it by looking into a mirror and scratching the right side of your body (and vice versa).
Psychology Prize [Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany, Canada, U.S.] — Evelyne Debey, Maarten De Schryver, Gordon Logan, Kristina Suchotzki and Bruno Verschuere, for asking a thousand liars how often they lie, and for deciding whether to believe those answers.
Peace Prize [Canada, U.S.] — Gordon Pennycook, James Allan Cheyne, Nathaniel Barr, Derek Koehler and Jonathan Fugelsang for their scholarly study called “On the Reception and Detection of Pseudo-Profound B——t“.
Biology Prize [U.K.] — Awarded jointly to: Charles Foster, for living in the wild as, at different times, a badger, an otter, a deer, a fox and a bird; and to Thomas Thwaites, for creating prosthetic extensions of his limbs that allowed him to move in the manner of, and spend time roaming hills in the company of, goats.
Literature Prize [Sweden] — Fredrik Sjöberg, for his three-volume autobiographical work about the pleasures of collecting flies that are dead, and flies that are not yet dead.
Perception Prize [Japan]— Atsuki Higashiyama and Kohei Adachi, for investigating whether things look different when you bend over and view them between your legs.

The AP reported that recipients also received awards of $10 trillion in Zimbabwean cash, which was abandoned as a currency in 2009.