Training surgeons is as easy as training dolphins or dogs.
At least according to a study that earned a 2019 Ig Nobel, the annual Nobel Prize spoof that rewards weird, odd and sometimes head-scratching scientific discoveries. This year’s winners also included Dutch and Turkish researchers who figured out which nation has the germiest paper money. The offbeat ceremony was held at Harvard University, with real Nobel winners handing out the awards.
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, Pryor, a scientist, writer and animal trainer who has been using the technique for decades, told the Associated Press.
“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.”
The study, published in 2015 in Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research, found surgeons trained via the clicker method performed surgical procedures with more precision.
The Ig Nobel in economics went to Andreas Voss and his colleagues, who found that germophobes might want to avoid Romanian bank notes. Their study concluded that three types of drug-resistant bacteria clung the longest to Romanian money when compared with several other international currencies.
The researchers, who won the Ig Nobel for economics, said Romanian bank notes include a polymer fiber to discourage counterfeiting and improve durability, allowing the growth of drug-resistant pathogens.