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Bothered about BO

Michael Isaacs, Mitch Day | Thursday, April 15, 2010

Dear Smelly Observers,

In our article, we will focus solely on the potential flaws of an experiment which Dr. Payne cited in Wednesday’s Viewpoint (“What Can Body Odor Tell Us…” April 14). Let us preface this argument by informing you that we plan on continuing our individual hygiene habits (once-a-month showers) without fear of being ostracized by women regardless of any scientific experiment. The smelly truth is that B.O. may not be as important as many believe.

The study she mentioned was most likely the infamous T-shirt experiment titled “MHC-Dependent Mate Preferences in Humans” by (Old Spice archrival) Claus Wedekind. In this experiment, male participants wore the same T-shirt to bed for two consecutive nights and placed their T-shirts in plastic bags upon waking up. Then, female participants were asked to smell the T-shirts and rank the men by pleasantness solely from the smell of their T-shirt. Although his intentions were good, there were a number of flaws in his experimental protocol. The sample size was very limited yet the experiment drew inferences which were supposed to be applied to the masses. Next, something smelled fishy about the subjective scale in the experiment in which participants were instructed to rank pleasantness and sexiness on a scale of 1-10. Although Mitch and I are undoubtedly 10s, how does one separate the fives from the sixes? Also, to accept the results as valid, you must assume that the participants lived an “odor-neutral” lifestyle as they were instructed, which I have personally found impossible after living with my roommate (no offense, John).

On a broader perspective, this is a great example of an appealing scientific experiment which was accepted as truth without proper scrutiny. Since the findings were more popular than most, the interpretations were skewed first by the media and further distorted by public word of mouth. Finally, if we were to assume that Wedekind’s findings were valid, we must still recognize that it is only one gene. Surely something as complex as dating cannot be simplified down to one, individual gene. If this were so, our girlfriends would be much easier to understand and we would spend less time flirting and more time sniffing.

Michael Isaacs
Siegfried Hall
Mitch Day
Columba Hall
April 14