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Why Do Fruit Bats Have Oral Sex? Ig Nobel Prize Celebrates 20 Years Of Weird Academic Research (VIDEO)

First Posted: 09/28/11 10:57 AM ET Updated: 11/27/11 05:12 AM ET

Ig Nobel Awards
Dr. Elena Bodnar, winner of the 2009 Ig Nobel Public Health Prize, displays a bra she designed that converts into a pair of gas masks. Fpr the last 20 years, the Ig Nobel Prizes have been handed out annually to bizarre scientific discoveries and research. The next ceremony is Sept. 29 in Cambridge, Mass.

Scientists who make discoveries that have lasting value to humanity get awarded with Nobel prizes.

That doesn't happen to those who figure out that wearing socks on the outside of shoes can decrease the number of falls on icy sidewalks.

However, for those stout-hearted eggheads willing to research a seemingly ridiculous hypothesis, such as confirming that swearing does indeed relieve pain, there is another, more infamous award: The Ig Nobel Prize, which have been handed out at Harvard University since 1991 by The Annals of Improbable Research, a bi-monthly magazine devoted to scientific humor.

This year's ceremony takes place Sept. 29 at Harvard's historic Sanders Theatre before 1200 spectators, including some genuine Nobel Prize winners, and it will be webcast live on YouTube.

CHECK THIS PAGE AT 7 P.M. ET ON SEPT. 29, FOR A LIVE WEBCAST

Editor Marc Abrahams says the Ig Nobel Prizes honor research in a variety of disciplines, with the main criteria being "discoveries that cannot, or should not, be reproduced."

Examples that demonstrate this philosophy in spades include the Ig Nobel Prize in Biology given last year to a team of scientists from China and the University of Bristol in England for proving that fruit bats engage in oral sex, and the 2007 Ig Nobel for Linguistics, which was given to Juan Manuel Toro, Josep B. Trobalon and Nuria Sebastian-Galles for determining that rats sometimes can't distinguish between recordings of Japanese and Dutch played backward.

In the two decades since the first awards, Abrahams is surprised at how the Ig Nobels have grown in reputation. But then again, he's not.

"I really have a split opinion," he told HuffPost Weird News. "I am surprised and full of wonder at how people have gotten involved. But part of me thinks this is just the start of something bigger."

Some might suggest that the Ig Nobels' satirical side might scare people away from science, Abrahams has discovered that it's the opposite.

"I think the Ig Nobels make science more fun," he said. "Truth is, research doesn't always lead to direct and obvious conclusions. A lot of it is accidents. You're looking for one thing and find another. In that way, science is kind of loopy."

It is. Although one might think that winning an Ig Nobel winner prevents a scientist from ever winning a Nobel prize winner, Dutch scientist Andre Geim proved that to be a fallacy.

In 2000, Geim shared the Ig Nobel Prize in Physics with British researcher Michael Berry for proving that magnets can be used to levitate a frog, and ten years later, he won the Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on a type of carbon known as graphene.

It wasn't always that way. In the early days, Abrahams admits the scientific community didn't know how to take the Ig Nobels.

"They thought it was one more thing to trash people," Abrahams said. "That's why before handing them out, we contact the winners and give them a chance to decline. Usually, no one declines. The few that have were in the early stages of their career and usually had someone above them who didn't like them and they didn't want to give them an excuse."

As counter-intuitive as it might seem, winning an Ig Nobel can actually be good for one's career. At least it worked that way for sword swallower Dan Meyer, who won the 2007 Ig Nobel Prize for medicine for a paper he co-wrote with Brian Witcombe titled "Sword Swallowing And Its Side Effects" that was published in the December 2006 British Medical Journal.

"The Ig Nobel Prize has helped raise awareness of sword swallowing injuries around the world," he told HuffPost Weird News. "I am now recognized as the world's leading expert in the field of sword swallowing, and our research is now seen as the first comprehensive medical study in the 4,000 year history of sword swallowing."

As a result of winning the award, Meyer says he has been contacted by doctors and scientists around the world who still
don't believe sword swallowing is real, and has given speeches at science and medical events at places such as Harvard, MIT, Oxford University and Cambridge.

"The fact that our research paper won the 2007 Ig Nobel Prize in Medicine catches people by surprise and makes them first laugh, and then think about the subject, and eventually realize that sword swallowing is really real," Meyer said proudly.

The Ig Nobels have changed a lot of lives for the better, but perhaps none more than Japanese inventor Daisuke Inoue, who won the 2004 Ig Nobel Peace Prize for inventing karaoke and, thus, Abrahams said, "inventing a new way for people to tolerate each other."

"He wasn't very well known in Japan," Abrahams said. "But the day after he won it was big news, and he's pretty well known there now."

WATCH: IG NOBEL PRIZE CHAIRMAN MARC ABRAHAMS DEMONSTRATES A PEPPERMINT-SCENTED SCRATCH-AND-SNIFF SUIT

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