By Mark Salamon, August 1, 2017
Those of you who read my recent article about smell and aging know how passionate I am about smell research. So you can imagine my excitement when I stumbled upon yet another research article by neuroscientist John McGann out of Rutgers University who “had an epiphany” while comparing the sense of smell of rodents to humans. Contrary to the scientific consensus that animals have far better senses of smell, McGann concluded that “Actually we have a really excellent sense of smell”, and stated that it is comparable to that of rats, mice, and dogs. His findings were published in the journal Science. (1)
The most exciting thing about this research is that it highlights the fact that as a nation with limited research dollars, we are finally getting our priorities straight and focusing on getting to the bottom of these life threatening smell issues. The second most exciting thing is that it provides a glimmer of hope for me and millions of other Americans who happen to be male that we may actually have a sense of smell, although deep down I don’t really believe it. In fact, McGann’s findings are already being called into question by skeptics like Alexandra Horowitz, professor of psychology at Barnard College, who says that there really is “no serious comparison between the performance of a scent tracking dog and a person”.
Actually, I should qualify my previous statement that I don’t really believe it. It all depends on who you are talking about. We have been in airports where my first clue that they were using drug sniffing dogs was when one of them shoved its nose in my crotch, whereas my wife’s first clue was when she smelled the drugs before the dogs did. So for people like my wife and all those who share her trait of being female, I wholeheartedly side with John McGann. But for me and all the other pathetic males on the planet, Horowitz is right. But all is not lost, because she qualifies her opinion with the exception that humans do outperform other animals when it comes to using their sense of smell to savor food. “Without smell you can’t taste, and that’s a real loss”, she says, “I will acknowledge that’s something we’re great at, maybe even better than dogs.”
Now that really got me thinking. Dogs obviously have a better sense of smell than men. And if smell is necessary for taste, then you would think that a dog would take much greater pleasure eating something like a nice Eggs Benedict than, say, underwear. But every dog I have ever known would be equally satisfied with either dish. Conversely, if you surveyed a random sample of men, practically all of them would prefer the Eggs Benedict.
The only conclusion that can be drawn is that this scientific mystery warrants further research. I can hardly wait.