Thursday, March 27, 2014

Annals of Anosmia 8: Mixed Signals from the BBC

In what’s becoming a journalistic Rite of Spring, BBC News health reporter Philippa Roxby cobbles together a story on anosmia. In “Learning to live without a sense of smell” she relates the story of Duncan Boake whose inability to smell is the result of a head injury suffered some years ago. Mr. Boake, very admirably, has set up the UK’s first charity to address issues faced by people with smell and taste disorders.

Roxby combines his story with that of a young girl born without a sense of smell. Congenital anosmia, besides having nothing to do scientifically with Mr. Boake’s condition, rather undercuts the “learning to live without” theme of the article. How can one miss what one has never experienced in the first place?

The BBC’s urban-elite bias is amusingly evident in the story: the young girl “never reacted or commented on bad smells, despite living in the country.” Oh, yes—those horrid farm smells! How far can a BBC reporter stray from England’s great tradition of sweet-smelling pastoral poetry? This far, apparently:
Hills, vales, woods, netted in a silver mist,
Farm, granges, doubled up among the hills,
And cattle grazing in the watered vales,
And cottage-chimneys smoking from the woods,
And cottage-gardens smelling everywhere,
Confused with smell of orchards.
—Elizabeth Barrett Browning

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