Intended for healthcare professionals


Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, and other leaders win Ig Nobel awards for teaching people about life and death

BMJ 2020; 370 doi: (Published 18 September 2020) Cite this as: BMJ 2020;370:m3675
  1. Janice Hopkins Tanne
  1. New York, USA

Politicians are better than doctors or scientists at medical education. Leaders such as Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, Alexander Lukashenko, Boris Johnson, Jair Bolsonaro, Narendra Modi, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow of Turkmenistan have used covid-19 to teach their citizens about life and death. For their efforts they jointly won the 2020 Ig Nobel prize for medical education, although none of them showed up to make an acceptance speech.

The Ig Nobel awards are given for achievements that first make people laugh and then make them think. The 30th awards were virtually handed out on 17 September by real Nobel prize winners at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The online event was produced by the Annals of Improbable Results and co-sponsored by the Harvard-Radcliffe Science Fiction Association and the Harvard-Radcliffe Society of Physics Students.

Research on how income inequality predicts frequency of French kissing won the economics prize for Christopher Watkins, a psychologist at Abertay University in Dundee, and colleagues from 13 countries. “Kissing plays a role in keeping human pair bonds together,” he said. In countries with greater income inequality, his team’s research showed that people kiss more often to show they are committed to their partner because commitment is more important in a harsh environment.1

Eyebrows as indicators of narcissism won the psychology Ig Nobel for Nicholas Rule and Miranda Giacomin of the University of Toronto. “We started with whether people could detect narcissism from the face,” Rule told The BMJ. They found distinctive looking eyebrows were typical in people “who express higher levels of grandiose narcissism,” he said. He said that they had not considered the eyebrows of Donald Trump or Joe Biden.2

A woman who became aggressive when she heard sneezing led to the discovery of a new disorder, misophonia, by psychiatrists at the University of Amsterdam Medical Center. Damiaan Denys told The BMJ that some people found that sounds made by others while eating or breathing were so annoying that they sometimes became violent. “The consequences are huge. They socially isolate,” he said. So far, he has found about 5000 people with the problem, which fortunately can be treated with coping strategies.34

Doorbell ringing diplomats from the governments of India and Pakistan won the peace prize. The diplomats have been ringing each other’s bells in the middle of the night, cutting off electricity and water, and making obscene phone calls. It is apparently standard negotiating tactics between the nuclear armed rivals.5

Among the other Ig Nobel awards were:

  • Acoustics, for getting an alligator to bellow in a chamber of helium enriched air6

  • Physics, for showing what happens to an earthworm vibrated at high frequency7

  • Management, to Chinese hitmen who mismanaged an assassination plot and went to jail. The intended victim survived8

  • Entomology, for discovering that many entomologists are afraid of spiders, which are not insects9

  • Materials science, for demonstrating that frozen faeces do not make good knives10

In the US, a specially edited recording of the Ig Nobel ceremony will be broadcast on National Public Radio’s Science Friday programme on 27 November.

The ceremony is available on YouTube ( and on Facebook (


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