For making this startling discovery, five academics at Scotland’s Rural College in Edinburgh have been awarded one of the 2013 Ig Nobel Prizes.
The awards, announced yesterday by the American humorous magazine the Annals of Improbable Research, are an annual parody of the Nobel Prizes. They are awarded for projects that “first make people laugh, and then make them think”.
After studying nearly 11,000 cow “lying episodes”, the academics – Bert Tolkamp, Marie Haskell, Fritha Langford, David Roberts, and Colin Morgan – concluded in 2010 that the animals are more likely to stand up if they have been lying down a long time – but once they are up it is impossible to predict when they will lie down again.
The researchers hope their study will help farmers identify health or welfare issues in their herds.
The public health prize went to a Thai group who, in 1983, described ways to reattach a severed penis. The paper came in the wake of an “epidemic” of penile amputations in Thailand, largely perpetrated by “angry wives on philandering husbands”. The techniques were effective except where the dismembered member “had been partially eaten by a duck”.
A team of mostly French researchers were awarded the psychology prize “for confirming, by experiment, that people who think they are drunk also think they are attractive”. Their paper, Beauty Is in the Eye of the Beer Holder, was published in the British Journal of Psychology in 2012.
Researchers from South Africa and Sweden were given a joint prize in biology and astronomy for discovering that when dung beetles get lost, they can navigate their way home by looking at the stars.
The archaeology prize was awarded to two US researchers who, in 1995, ate a boiled shrew without chewing and then examined their faeces to find out which bones would dissolve inside the human digestive system.
A Japanese team was awarded the prize in medicine for discovering that listening to opera helps heart transplant patients live longer – at least if they are mice, while the physics prize went to an Italian team that proved that some people would be able to run across the surface of a pond - on the moon.
But perhaps most gloriously, a late American inventor was awarded a “safety engineering” prize for a device, patented in 1972, to trap aircraft hijackers by dropping them through trap doors, sealing them into a package and dropping the package out of the plane – only to parachute into the arms of alerted policemen waiting on the ground.
This year’s Nobel Prizes will be awarded in the second week of October.