The Nose Knows (Preserve and Protect)

An Arizona State researcher is thumbing his nose at a 2014 smell study that claimed the human nose can distinguish one trillion scents. According to a recent ASU news report, Rick Gerkin, an assistant research professor with the Arizona State School of Life Sciences, said the data used in the study made public last year does not support this claim.

The assertion that humans can discriminate between at least 1 trillion odors is based on a fragile mathematical framework—one that’s capable of creating nearly any result with small variations in the data or the experiment design,” Gerkin said.

Gerkin and colleague Jason Castro, also from the Arizona State University, said that had the research involved a more conservative statistical analysis, the study would have revealed that humans can only distinguish 5,000 odors. The study, which challenges the one trillion smells findings, was recently published in the journal eLife.

The ASU researcher felt it was important because, he says, findings from the 2014 study published in the journal Science are already making their way into neuroscience textbooks, misinforming up-and-coming investigators and cutting off potentially productive lines of research that do not adhere to those findings.

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