Sex, lies, and vomeronasal organs

20 08 2008

That seems to be the end of the MHC-smelling your mates and the recent pill “revelation”.

Already I was disappointed when erv used science (or, well high school statistics) to make a mockery the latest hot news item.

It is a very bad shame that people who are supposed to be competent to report on science don’t understand what error bars are for.

I’d heard of MHC-smell relatedness before back when I was in high school from the BBC and ABC. But by the time I got home from work, erv has gone a destroyed my trust in the whole idea, with real science (this time she actually goes and talks to a scientist*)

Humans do not have well developed vomeronasal organs. Ok, what what? That’s ~nasal as in nose, or, oh, just look at wikipedia. As human-like apes have become more reliant on colour-based vision, our sense of smell has diminished. We just don’t have the capacity for being able to strongly sense smell differences associated with MHC.

So why is research still being done with smell-based MHC detection in humans?

Could there be non-olfactory cues in MHC distinction in humans and human-like apes? Differences in sweat light refraction perhaps?

*yes erv is a scientist in her own right, but just to perfect, she goes and talks to a scientist with appropriate knowledge – it’s a machiavellian scheme alright




2 responses

21 08 2008

Look, the research may be crap but the “error bars” thing was a complete red herring. The 2008 study only claimed that the desirability of the smell had a significant session-group interaction, which it had. The 1995 study used a paired test where the error bars of *group* averages are not directly related to significance.

And humans clearly have a capacity to distinguish pleasant and desirable smells from unpleasant ones, so VMN is apparently not needed for that. People should be attacking the claims that go beyond the data (maybe there is no effect on mating), but in this case it seems that people are all too eager the discredit the data (weak that it is) for dubious reasons.

21 08 2008

The criticism isn’t necessarily directed at the research itself.

Useless-on-the-outside research isn’t anything new. It is how this is either being reported by the media, or possibly being marketed to them.

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