Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Blame it on the Whales

It’s not often that our Google Alert for “higher than normal volumes of mullet breeding” returns a news item, but when it does it’s a doozy. Today’s story is from Cape Town, South Africa or more specifically Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront, billed as “a place where crowds gather to eat, drink, shop, socialize, and admire breathtaking views of Table Mountain.” Apparently a new breathtaking feature is the stench of rotting fish. These have accumulated in the harbor due to HTNVOMB along with a pair of humpback whales who chased a school of mackerel to an oxygen-starved demise in the shallow waters.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Genius!

 

This guy in Brooklyn has jumped onto the non-fungible token craze by selling digital recordings of his own farts.

This is brilliant on so many levels.

While giving Alex Ramírez-Mallis all due credit as a (f)art world innovator, I do have some reservations. Having listened to a few of his audibles, he seems to be—if not a true squeaker—a short-burst specialist. The type Dr. Raymond Stantz might classify as “a focused, non-terminal, repeating phantasm or a class-five full-roaming vapor. A real nasty one, too.”

You can spend your crypto-currency on ARM’s staccato output, or you could wait for someone in the basso profundo category with a more sostenuto style of delivery. It’s all a matter of taste.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

You Better Listen to the Radio

 

I’ve known Saskia Wilson-Brown since she first began organizing the Institute for Art and Olfaction in Los Angeles almost eight years ago. The IAO is now a thriving center for perfumery training, workshops, seminars, and scent-related events. Saskia’s latest innovation is Perfume on the Radio, a twice-monthly broadcast that is also available in podcast here and from the usual sources (Spotify, iHeartRadio, etc.).

I am one of the guests on Episode 5, dubbed “The Vice Show.” Saskia and I talk about the aromas of cannabis, how strain names get in the way of consumer experience, and the developing parallels between weed and aromatherapy. My segment begins at around minute 16. It’s free and it’s about 10 minutes long.

Friday, March 12, 2021

Coming Soon: A Live Virtual Appearance

 

The Cannabis Chemistry Subdivision of the American Chemical Society has been incredibly active in organizing symposia and publications on key topics in the cannabis sector. One of their ongoing events is a monthly “journal club” held as a live webinar.

I’ve been invited to give this month’s presentation on March 25 at 11:00 a.m. Pacific Standard Time. My topic is: Cannabis terpenes: Cultivar markers, aroma sources, or active ingredients?

(Yes, I’ll push all three hot buttons in one talk.)

There’s a Q&A session following my presentation, to be moderated by Nigam Arora, PhD. The webinar is free and open to the public. To register for it go to this link.

Hope to see your there!

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Sommeliers Take It on the Nose

 

Robert Camuto, the Wine Spectator editor who interviewed me about his COVID-19-related smell loss, has a new piece up at the magazine. He surveys the experiences of sommeliers who have had the illness and how the olfactory disturbances have impacted their professional lives.

I thought of Camuto a few days ago when I found a paper in The Laryngoscope by a multi-European group of clinicians including Thomas Hummel and Carl Philpott. The study examined recovery from post-infectious olfactory dysfunction (PIOD) among patients who undertook olfactory training—a regimen formulated by Hummel and others which has shown promise in speeding the return of smell. The new paper, based retrospectively on 153 PIOD patients, finds that the presence of parosmia—altered smell impressions—at the initial visit is, somewhat paradoxically, a marker of better eventual recovery in odor identification and discrimination.

The study discussed here is “Parosmia is associated withrelevant olfactory recovery after olfactory training,” by David T. Liu, Maha Sabha, Michael Damm, Carl Philpott, Anna Oleszkiewicz, Antje Hähner, and Thomas Hummel, published in The Laryngoscope 131:618, 2021. The paper is available for free download at the link.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Blurbalicious


 










My exploration of the interplay between scent and the other senses began when I ran a sensory psychology research group for Givaudan-Roure fragrances. The company’s perfumers and fragrance evaluators talked about notes and accords using remarkably precise and vivid language. After taking part in smell training sessions, and meetings where we discussed potential fragrance submissions to clients, I began to think that these multisensory metaphors might have a measurable empirical basis. That was the hunch that sparked a research program that established the links between scent and the domains of color and auditory pitch.

I used those results to create practical commercial applications for the company, and later used similar techniques to help my own clients incorporate multisensory alignment in their product development work.

Over the years, cross-modal perception has really taken off as a research topic. The studies have come thick and fast: Does the color of the plate influence your liking of the food? Does the weight of a glass impact the flavor impression of your drink?

While these studies have been done by dozens of labs around the world, by far the most prolific and influential researcher is Charles Spence, a professor in the Department of Experimental Psychology at the University of Oxford. Spence has created a Crossmodal Research Laboratory and spawned a number of very successful students. He has also been generous in citing my earlier work in his papers.

So I was pleasantly surprised to receive an advance copy of his latest book along with an inquiry from his publisher asking me to blurb it. In Sensehacking: How to Use the Power of Your Senses for Happier, Healthier Living, Spence applies the principles of multisensory perception to everyday life—he wants to help people declutter their sensorium in a practical way.

I liked the book well enough to offer a blurb. Lo and behold, not only did the publisher use it, but it made the front cover, beating out blurbs by five other Big Names who were relegated to the back of the dust jacket. </gloat>

“Spence does for the senses what Marie Kondo does for homes.”

Put that in your blurb bong and smoke it.

Sensehacking goes on sale in the USA on March 5. May he sell a million copies.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Culling the Herd












I have far more books than shelf space. I could buy more bookshelves but then the living room would start to look like the library of an English country house and I’m just not in the mood for Victorian clocks and Wedgewood vases.

Unlike the previous FirstNerve Manor, the current house has no attic where I can stow boxes of books. And when it comes to limited basement storage space, wine takes priority.

So today I hauled out box B219: my collection of books by Stephen Jay Gould. Back in the last century I subscribed to Natural History magazine where Gould had a monthly column. These used to appeal to me as a graduate student and post-doc heavily into natural history and evolutionary theory—and the history of science concerning both. It was easier to buy the book (e.g., The Panda’s Thumb) than keep a stack of old magazines around for reference. With his enormous popularity—every collection of essays received a major review in the NYT—I figured the first editions would hold value.

Gould was something of an academic celebrity back then, despite (or perhaps because of) his thinly veiled Marxism and trendy political views. Even as I kept buying his books, I grew weary of his moralizing and his prose, especially the faux folksiness (his whole “just another nerdy baseball fan” persona really grated). I find it puzzling today that I bought so many of his books, especially as I disliked the leading role he and the odious Richard Lewontin played in the disgraceful attacks on Edward O. Wilson and sociobiology. What was I thinking? [Completionism is a frequent co-morbidity to bibliophilia—Ed.]

So this afternoon I cast a gimlet eye over a stack of 15 volumes by Gould. I’d already determined that there is no market for them (mint condition first edition or not). I decided to keep Ontogeny and Phylogeny (1977) because it is a serious treatment of a major topic in evolutionary theory (no baseball references). Ditto The Structure of Evolutionary Theory (2002), even though I’ve never cracked it open. [Has anyone?—Ed.] Finally, I held on to The Mismeasure of Man (1981) because that book got Gould hoist on his own petard.

All the rest? They’re in the trash can and headed for the Larimer County landfill on Tuesday afternoon.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

I'll Get Right on It












Step away from social media for a few weeks and your life becomes less cluttered.

But social media is relentless, like a leaky pipe slowly filling your basement with water.

At this point I don’t want to sign back into LinkedIn unless I’m wearing my hip waders because I’ll be ass deep in “Congratulate Cindy Sue on her work anniversary!” and “Bob Schmo has reposted inspirational thoughts on how to be a team leader” and other flotsam.

Meh.

Maybe later.

Saturday, February 13, 2021

The Tao of Terpenes

 

When I moved to Colorado a few years ago I got interested in the aroma of marijuana. I founded a start-up called Headspace Sensory LLC and began a series of consumer research sniff studies. Three of these have been published so far, and they constitute the nucleus of the brand new field of cannabis psychophysics. You can find them here, here, and here

Along the way I’ve met many people and read a lot about the subject. My impression of the scientific and commercial “cannabis space” is that it is a mixed bag. There are some very talented, very focused people doing excellent work in areas like chemical analysis, plant genetics, and product development. On the other hand, there are lots of people whose hot air to solid content ratio tilts rather heavily toward HA. 

One thing that gets the alarm on the FirstNerve bogosity meter bleeping the loudest is the topic of terpenes. Terpenes are a chemical class of volatile molecules and they are responsible in large part for making weed smelly weedy. That much is true. But one doesn’t have to follow the online terpene trail very far to find perfumey punditry of the most egregious kind. [Take pity and refrain from naming names.—Ed.] [Okay, if you insist.]

So I was pleased when the editor of Terpenes and Testing magazine invited me to write a short article on the chemistry and perception of cannabis terpenes. It gave me the chance to describe some fundamental principles of odor perception and how they apply to the bouquet of terpenes found in cannabis flower. One important lesson: the sheer abundance of a given terpene doesn’t tell us much about its contribution to a flower’s overall aroma. 

In the article I also describe my dream of creating a cannabis aroma map on which individual cultivars are arranged according to smell similarity, and my belief that sensory evaluation—sniff testing—has a major role to play in segmenting the cannabis consumer market. 

If you would like to read it, you can download at this link.

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Noted in Passing







FirstNerve’s wildly popular but now dormant “I Smell Dead People” feature began with an observation in my book. I noted that stories about the “Body in the Bed”—motel guests complaining of a foul odor in their room which the manager later discovers is due to a corpse hidden beneath the bed—were not urban legends but in fact quite common occurrences. 

Way back in 2009, ISDP covered the case of Anthony Sowell, a Cleveland man accused of killing as many as 11 women and stashing their bodies in the house where he lived. One reason he was able to get away with these crimes was that people who smelled the putrefaction often assumed the smell was coming from a sausage factory next door. You can find all the gory details here.

So why bring up Anthony Sowell now? Because the bastard has just died peacefully (unlike his victims) in an Ohio prison hospital. 

He will not be missed.

Sunday, February 7, 2021

#5 Combination Plate



 






There’s a entertaining piece by Chris Vanjonack in Westword about Denver’s legendary Casa Bonita restaurant. Yes, the place featured in the classic South Park episode is, in fact, an actual and much-loved kitsch-classic Mexican restaurant. It’s been around since 1974 and has outlived its sibling locations in Tulsa, Fort Worth, Little Rock, and Oklahoma City. Eric Cartman wasn’t the first kid to become delirious with joy at the prospect of attending a friend’s birthday party at Casa Bonita—it’s been a dining destination for generations of Colorado kids. The 2003 South Park episode brought a surge of renewed traffic to the place, but like so many other restaurants in the state, it may have fallen victim to government-inflicted economic destruction of COVID-19 lockdowns. 

While we’re on the subject of Mexican food [Awk segue—Ed.] there’s something that’s been bothering me—and I wonder whether I’m alone on this. The last can of refried beans I warmed up was . . . disappointing. Instead of melting into a nice, bubbling, spoonable consistency in the pan, they remained a semi-solid mass of spackle-like stiffness. Naturally I figured I’d bought the vegetarian version by mistake. But no—it was Rosarita brand Traditional Refried Beans. And I recalled a similar experience with the last couple of cans of my usual brand: Old El Paso Traditional Refried Beans. A little research shows I’m not the only one noticing a difference. 

Check out the current consumer ratings on the brand’s home page: 

Twenty-nine of thirty reviewers give Old El Paso’s TRB a one-star rating. And the comments are merciless. There appears to have been a recent change in the recipe. 

Hmmm. I wonder if Old El Paso decided to reduce the amount of lard? Lard is probably the ingredient that gives refried beans their melty quality, and produces the tasty puddle next to the rice on your restaurant combo platter. It’s out of fashion now among the high-minded nutrition nannies. Did the company cave? Inquiring minds want to know.

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Platitudes R Us









When I was razzing IFF’s Mr. Big Andreas Fibig for his empty platitudes, I said they sounded like “the output of a Random Mission Statement Generator.” Well guess what I discovered today? An online service called Name My Think Tank that not only generates a name for your think tank, it creates a logo and a mission statement. Give it a try!

With a little tweaking to the code, someone ought to be able to come up with Rebrand My Flavor & Fragrance Company. It could save the industry a ton in consultant’s fees.

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Starting the Transformative Journey

 

Take a moment to savor a heaping spoonful of non-nutritive verbiage served up yesterday by the Chairman and CEO of a major company: 

“Today we start a transformative journey together to become a center of innovation for our customers. Our leadership team believes passionately in the importance and benefit of being a purpose-driven enterprise. We will lead not simply by relying on an unmatched portfolio and flawless execution, but by quickly unlocking new innovations as we tap into our shared passion for pairing science and creativity to deliver for our customers. We are creating an agile, empowered and innovative business that provides exceptional service and delivers on our commitment to be an essential partner for our customers.”

Like that? There’s more. 

“Critical to our success is our ability to foster an execution culture and embed values that support our promises to our people, customers, consumers and our communities. To that end, we have updated our cultural principles to ensure we have the foundation in place to empower our people to deliver on our commitments.” 

Is this heap of platitudinous horseshit the output of a Random Mission Statement Generator? Nuh-uh. It was delivered by Andreas Fibig, the Chairman and CEO of International Flavors & Fragrances. That’s right—this guy runs one of the world’s largest players in the refined, romantic, glamorous world of perfumery and he makes his company sound . . . bland and colorless. Gavin Belson he’s not. 

Exit question: What is an “execution culture”? Is that like Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge? North Korea today? Or is it the new B-school buzz phrase for “we get the job done”?

UPDATE February 3, 2021

Seriously?

“BRAWNDO® – It’s got what plants crave!”




Sunday, January 31, 2021

Another “New York Death”?












Hey, I’m as big a fan of Febreze® as the next guy, but I think it’s a tall order for that product to handle the smell of human decomposition. This case reported by the New York Post will ring a bell with fans of FirstNerve’s long-standing “I Smell Dead People” feature which, if memory serves, recorded instances of people attempting to hide the smell of rotting corpses with scented candles and air fresheners.

Cops believe the actor who was found dead with his mom’s body in Chelsea lived with her decomposing corpse for several days before he also passed away — and that he used Febreze to mask the odor, law-enforcement sources said Sunday.

ISDP fans will note that this is not a bona fide case of “I Smell Dead People” because the remains of the unfortunate Mr. Wedell and his mother were not discovered by smell, but via a police wellness check requested by concerned relatives. 

Enjoy the screenshot of the Post story in case a copy editor wakes up and notices the product name was misspelled in the headline.

Friday, January 29, 2021

The Shape of Stinks to Come: The Green Revolution Devours Boulder County’s Open Space


 








I’ve written here several times about composting, the high-minded effort to turn waste into re-usable mulch. When it comes to setting up large-scale composting operations, these efforts tend to follow a familiar sad sequence. The initial proposal assures the public that the facility will be run according to the latest best practices and result in minimal odor, if any. Once the operation gets underway, nearby residents start to notice objectionable smells. The facility may deny being the source; there may be a back-and-forth as the town tries to document the stink and locate its origin. The facility may own up to being the source, and offer assurances that the smell is a mere hiccup that will disappear once the operation is fully optimized. When the smell and local objections continue, the town hires consultants who recommend installing some sort of odor remediation system. The result: the entire project comes in heavily over budget and leaves a lot of ill will in its wake. 

A common feature of these episodes is a failure to take potential odor issues seriously from the very start of the project. Why does this happen? I think it’s because proponents of large-scale composting don’t anticipate issues of scale. 

Home composting enthusiasts maintain little heaps of banana peels, apple cores, and lawn clippings in their backyards. These produce a small amount of innocuous odor. So what’s the problem in just adding everyone’s little heap to a town compost pile? 

The problem is that the amount of biomass in a commercial or municipal composting facility is exponentially larger than a backyard heap, and that the resulting odor production will also be exponentially larger. Massive odor generation is a certainty—it’s an operational issue that ought to be dealt with in detail at the preliminary engineering stage. It is not enough for planners and proponents to blithely claim that proper “turning over” and aeration of the pile will minimize odor. 

Now comes a story out of Longmont, Colorado, roughly 35 miles south of FirstNerve headquarters. Three residents have filed a lawsuit against a proposed composting facility—one that hasn’t even been built. Among other things, the lawsuit anticipates loss of property values should the facility-to-be emit “noxious odors.” Is this simply a case of NIMBYism or is there something more to it? 

What is at issue is a proposal by Boulder County to build the facility on ~40 acres of land that was purchased, with voter approval, as preserved open space with a perpetual conservation easement. By law, the county’s open space “can be used solely for passive recreation, agriculture or environmental preservation purposes.” But that’s no problem for the three county commissioners. By using an obscure real estate doctrine and a recent land purchase they claim to have extinguished the conservation easement, giving themselves the ability to build a compost facility on the land. The commissioners pushed their plan through with a minimum of public notice. 

The 235-page plan is a classic instance of blithe disregard for potential odor issues. It mentions odor only four times:

(1) In the architect’s narrative under “Buildings”, it states that waste will be delivered to a 17,590 square foot “tipping building”: “This building is a fully enclosed, fully contained component of the operation that will minimize odors, provide visual screening, and prevent any leaching of feedstock liquids into the surrounding soil.” 

(2) In the “Operations” section under “Odor control”: “The CASP [“covered aerated static pile”] bunkers have been shown to reduce odors by 90-95% over conventional open pile windrow systems.” 

(3) In the “Proposed Conditions” section under “landscaping: “Newly landscaped areas are strategically located for visual screening and to reduce sound and odor impacts of the facility.” 

(4) And on page 12: “The existing site border of trees creates a natural setback from the road and would provide visual and odor screening.” 

The idea that a line of trees and other landscaping features will reduce and screen odors is laughable. The tipping building may indeed contain odors—as long as the doors are never opened. And once the dumped waste is moved out of the building for composting, the odor issue pops right back up. Finally, even assuming that the claim about CASP bunkers is correct, that residual 5 to 10% of odors may still reach obnoxious levels, especially since the county intends to process “125 million pounds of animal manure, sewage sludge and food waste per year.” 

Yes, that’s right: this is not just a food waste compost pile. It includes massive amounts of animal manure and sewage sludge (i.e., human manure). 

The city of Boulder gives Berkeley, California a run for its money when it comes to progressive politics. Boulder County has a “Zero Waste Action Plan” that aims for a goal of zero waste by 2025. The three county commissioners (all Democrats) seem hell-bent on getting there, even if it means overriding the declared intent of county residents. Will three residents be able to stop the onrushing tide of sludge? Stay tuned. You can track their battle here.

UPDATE March 22, 2021

The Boulder County commissioners caved and will no longer consider placing a composting facility on the open space in question. The county has filed motions to dismiss lawsuits by neighboring property owners. Story here.

Monday, January 25, 2021

Fragrance Creators Association Stands in Proud Solidarity with Glorious Dear Leader!

 

There are formal congratulations to a new administration and there are self-serving suck-ups. But the Fragrance Creators Association takes it to a whole new level: it’s full Juche Spirit. All that’s missing is the rhythmic clapping. 

Check it out:

WASHINGTON, DC—Fragrance Creators Association issued a statement today from President & CEO Farah K. Ahmed on the inauguration of President Joseph R. Biden and Vice President Kamala D. Harris:

“Fragrance Creators Association (Fragrance Creators) congratulates President Joseph R. Biden and Vice President Kamala D. Harris on this historic day of their inauguration. The association looks forward to working together to find solutions that empower the fragrance industry’s ability to advance key Administration priorities, including promoting sustainability, economic growth, and public health and wellness—especially during COVID-19—while also addressing important social causes of our time. 

Fragrance Creators applauds President Biden’s track record of reaching across the aisle to get things done for the American people. The association also recognizes the pressing need for our country and its leaders to come together in unity and shared values, and is committed to doing its part. We stand ready to leverage the bipartisan Congressional Fragrance Caucus, which was established in 2018 to bring together policymakers to develop policies that champion sound science and are good for people, perfume, and the planet. 

For our diverse, women-led team, today also marks a meaningful and historic milestone, as we welcome the first Black and Indian-American woman to serve as Vice President. We are inspired by Vice President Harris and the individuals who make up the most diverse Administration in our nation’s history. We relish the opportunity to build new relationships as we boldly break new ground to support our members’ ongoing leadership in responsible industry stewardship. 

For Fragrance Creators members, being good stewards means showing up and doing what’s right. The fragrance industry contributes over $22.4 billion to the U.S. economy, invests heavily in sustainable R&D and innovation, and is a strong driver of more than 200,000 well-paying jobs. The association’s diverse membership of 60 member companies reflects the dynamic fragrance value chain—from small, family-owned businesses to multinational corporations. On behalf of its member companies, Fragrance Creators remains committed to supporting President Biden and Vice President Harris and working with the 117th Congress to accelerate a brighter future for our country.” 

###

P.S. Dear Comrade Ahmed, never go full Juche.

P.P.S. The FCA sure is big on diversity: our diverse, women-led team, the most diverse Administration in our nation’s history, “the association’s diverse membership.So take a look at the organization's current board of directors, and . . . wallow in all the diversity.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

The Road to Recovery








I was interviewed last week by Robert Camuto, an editor at Wine Spectator who lost his sense of smell after a recent bout with COVID-19. I suggested that he try smell training to assist his recovery of function. You can read about his experience here in his new column.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

A Note on Free Speech and Social Media


 






In addition to returning to FirstNerve, I’ve been re-evaluating my participation in social media. I’m a big believer in free speech and in freedom from being tracked and monetized by tech monopolies and their billionaire owners. So I’ve made a few changes in my life.

First off, I shut down my @scienceofscent and @scentofweed Twitter accounts. I will not be part of a platform where Jack Dorsey and his minions can arbitrarily shut down people, organizations, and viewpoints that they dislike. 

My disenchantment with Twitter had been growing for years. That’s why in August 2016 joined GAB as @Avery. Although I found a few people to follow, it wasn’t easy to get much traction there in the early days. Few of the big-name bloggers and pundits had joined, and those who had didn’t post much. This has changed dramatically in the past few months. There is a steady stream of big-name refugees from twitter and a ton of new subscribers. GAB has increased its server capacity big time and the user experience and speed are now excellent. I encourage you to join. 

Of course, I also had an account at Parler before it was thrown off the internet by Amazon Web Services. (“If you don’t like Twitter, go make your own version.” OK, they did. “If we won’t host you on our servers, go make your own.” OK, they’re trying to do that.) 

What about the journalists, pundits, and commentators I used to follow on Twitter? Simple: I subscribe to their email notifications directly or I sign up to follow them on Substack. Substack is an interesting model—it’s a free blogging platform that also allows you to monetize some or all of your content. In other words, you can offer some content for free and reserve other content for subscribers who pay a monthly subscription to get it. This might be a way to restore the independent blogging voices that were so great in the early years of this century. Stay tuned. 

I’ve also grown weary of Google. (Yes, I know it owns Blogger and therefore enables FirstNerve.) Over the past year or so the results returned by its search engine have become . . . less useful. The first page or two of results are from a limited group of news providers and websites. Image searches are biased to stock photo companies. (Do they pay for placement?) This is not the freewheeling Google search of old—it feels rigged. Plus, Google tracks and monetizes the search histories of everyone who uses the service. Who wants that? My solution is to use DuckDuckGo for searches: it works well and it doesn’t track you.  

Then there’s the matter of Gmail. I’ve had a “throw away” account there for years. That means Google bots finger through my correspondence looking for trends the company can monetize (never mind sorting my mail into categories whether I want it to or not). When the auto dealership reminds me it’s time for an oil change, Google knows my identity, the dealer’s identity, and the make and model of my car. The hell with that. I’ve now switched all those threads to my privately hosted email. 

Google also owns YouTube where it has been behaving badly—demonetizing and banning people, organizations, and views that it would rather not hear from. The good news is that there is now an alternative: Rumble.com. It is clean, easy to use, and easy to monetize (if that’s your thing). I’m signed up as AveryGilbert, and am already seeing the service being populated by journalists and videographers with large following. Have a look and join in! 

Then there’s the other distasteful Silicon Valley tech oligarchy—Apple. The Messages on my iPhone are encrypted only went sent to other iPhone users; those exchanged with non-iPhones (the texts in the green bubbles) are not. So for peace of mind I’ve signed up with Signal, a service that provides end-to-end encryption of all your texts, voice calls, and video chats. It’s super-intuitive and fast. What’s not to like? Go get it. 

Bottom line: I sense a coming re-alignment in social media. The dominance of today’s tech oligarchy is beginning to slip. They could become tomorrow’s dinosaurs. It’s happened before (MySpace, anyone?). And high-tech is all about being “disruptive”, is it not?

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Goodbye to All That















Well . . . I’m back.

Yesterday I ended my eight-year dalliance with Twitter @scienceofscent. The precipitating reason was Twitter’s political censorship: it had reached such an intolerable level I could no longer associate myself with it.

I rarely posted about partisan politics. I figured my 1,440 followers wanted my take on sensory issues in science and culture, not my political views. The closest I came to expressing them was in posts about free speech and academic/scientific/commercial integrity. Spoiler alert: I believe in free speech and scientific integrity.

Few of the scientists I followed share my scruples. They salt their threads with political tweets and casually assume everyone agrees with their POV. (They are academics, so when on campus they assume correctly.) Especially grating are the Europeans who freely opine on American politics and society; personally, I wouldn’t presume to lecture Brits on Brexit, or Germans on the EU.

Another reason for leaving is that Twitter is now less engaging. There’s a big, interesting world out there and just not enough time to read the daily stream of humble brags (“so proud of my team’s newly published paper”) or flame wars on the biological basis of consciousness fought in 280-character salvos. The guarded, deliberately evasive language of some tweets isn’t worth the time it takes to puzzle them out. Finally, it’s my impression that comments in replies and retweets—the “social” part of social media—have become less frequent and less interesting.

To be fair, commenting on FirstNerve (and blogs in general) had declined as well, as people were drawn to the rapid fire adrenaline hits of likes and retweets. But I’m back here now hoping to rekindle the discussion by providing longer form coverage of all matters sensory.

I welcome your comments. You can sign up (on the right) to receive email notification of my new posts.