Training surgeons is as easy as training dolphins or dogs—at least according to a study that Thursday earned a 2019 Ig Nobel, the annual Nobel Prize spoof that rewards weird, sometimes head-scratching scientific discoveries. This year's winners included, per the AP: Dutch and Turkish researchers who figured out which nation has the yuckiest money; an Italian scientist who urges consumption of pizza for its health benefits; and an Iranian engineer who obtained a US patent for a diaper-changing machine. Karen Pryor, Theresa McKeon, and Dr. I. Martin Levy figured out that a common technique used for training animals called operant learning—or clicker training—can be used to make better surgeons. In short, a mechanical device that emits an audible click is used to reinforce positive behavior.
It's not quite the same as giving a doctor a treat and a pat on the head, but it still works, says Pryor, an animal trainer who's been using the technique for decades. The awards at the 29th annual ceremony at Harvard University, produced by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research, were handed out by real Nobel laureates. The winners received $10 trillion Zimbabwean dollars, which is virtually worthless, and each was given one minute to deliver an acceptance speech enforced by an 8-year-old girl whining, "Please stop. I'm bored." Silvano Gallus also won an Ig Nobel, for his research that found yes, pizza is good for you—though maybe just pizza that's made and consumed in Italy. Like many of the winners, Gallus was thrilled to win an Ig Nobel. "I am honored to have obtained this achievement for a bizarre but important award," he said. (Read more Ig Nobel Prizes stories.)