2019 Ig Nobels: Training surgeons like dogs

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A study showing that a common technique used for training dogs can be used to make better surgeons, is one of the winners of the 2019 Ig Nobels, the annual Nobel Prize spoof that rewards weird, odd and sometimes head-scratching scientific discoveries.

Winners of the 2019 Ig Nobels have received their awards at Harvard University, says a News.com report.

This year’s winners also included Dutch and Turkish researchers who researched which nation has the “yuckiest” money, and an Italian scientist who urges consumption of pizza for its health benefits. An Iranian engineer also won after obtaining a US patent for a nappy-changing machine.

The report says 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 behaviour.

It’s not quite the same as giving a doctor a treat and a pat on the head, but it still works, said Pryor, a scientist, writer and animal trainer who has been using the technique for decades. “Traditionally, experienced surgeons will train the younger surgeons and they make it quite hard,” which leads to tension and fear of failure, she said. “With our method, they learned to use the tools with great confidence and calmness and turned them into calm, pleasant, serene people,” she said.

The report says the study published in 2015 found that surgeons trained using the clicker method performed surgical procedures with better precision.

The awards at the 29th annual ceremony at Harvard University were handed out by real Nobel laureates.

News.com report

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