Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Quick Sniffs: Going Buggy in More Ways than One

While on the road earlier this month I missed this story about a workplace shooting rampage in Philadelphia. According to the Philadelphia Daily News, the female shooter was preoccupied with various olfactory complaints. Check out the whole weird story.

With the midterms looming on November 2 we’re deep into election season. So it’s a great time for stinky political stories. Gawker gives an apocalyptic Mars Invades spin to what’s become an annual Mid-Atlantic news item: Stink Bugs About to Overtake Washington, DC on ‘Biblical’ Level." Gawker commenter Don_Is provides the fragrance description:
Oh, and for those of you who haven’t had the pleasure: if you frighten, maim or kill them, they stink. They smell like a cross between cilantro, skunk, burning rubber, and a really peaty, lowland Scotch. Disgusting and pleasant at the same time.
Hey, Don! There’s a large daily in New York that needs an energetic new voice to replace their perfume critic who has apparently run out of review stars. Shoot ‘em a resume, dude.

[Hat tip to reader Barbara Herman, aka Perfumaniac.]

Meanwhile in New York, Carl Paladino, the rough-and-tumble multimillionaire real estate magnate from Buffalo, beat Rick Lazio, the blasé, entitled frontrunner in the Republican primary for governor. Now Paladino takes on entitled New York State Attorney General and all-around nasty piece of work Andrew Cuomo in the general election. It should be fun—Paladino has already hatched a brilliant piece of scent marketing—a garbage-scented campaign mailer headlined “Something STINKS in Albany”.

Some dweeb in the NYT said it smelled like “rotting vegetables”. FirstNerve requested a copy of the mailer from the Paladino campaign to judge the olfactory quality for ourselves. So far no response. Bummer.

Speaking of violent, delusional people with olfactory issues, let’s not forget Iranian dictator Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who wore the same shirt and jacket for six straight days while visiting the UN. Not to mention leaving six floors of the Hilton reeking of specially-delivered koobideh and lamb kebabs. (A tyrant can’t do room service when half his country wants him dead.)

Finally, a pitch-perfect send up by Martin Robbins of how news websites report on scientific papers. He nails it all—from the weaselly way reporters evade taking a point of view, to their lazy failure to link or even cite the location of the new paper.

Here’s an example of just the sort thing Robbins lampoons: a post-load of pabulum by The Washington Post’s Melissa Bell, ostensibly about a new smell study by Tim Jacob. Brief sound-bite by the scientist? Check. Self-justifying link to the BBC? Check. Failure to cite where the study is published or available? Check. Padded with inane facts gathered by Googling? Check. A picture, “because our search engine optimisation experts have determined that humans are incapable of reading more than 400 words without one”? Check.


If you like your smell science reportage with a little more bite and flavah (not to mention direct links to the original source whenever possible), grab yourself a FirstNerve RSS feed. It’s free!


EdC said...

In the smell-of-toast case there may be a good reason for not citing the published paper - it doesn't seem to have been published to to be in press. Neither a BBC nor a DNAIndia site had a reference. I found Tim Jacobs' site at the University of Cardiff. The most recent additions to the lists of papers, abstracts and talks are from 2007.

Is it so hard to get this kind of work published in good journals that publication-by-press-release is all we can hope for?

Avery Gilbert said...


Google more vigorously! The blurb on the Flour Advisory Bureau's website has this:

"For further information or to see the executive research report contact mars@marswebbpr.co.uk or call 077 177 18 063."

Operators are standing by!

I do find one thing puzzling about the claims. Based on my scattered breakfast experiences in England, toast is served cold in a rack (blech) and isn't exactly an olfactory bonanza.