Market Smells II: Smell and Tell Walks (28 July Southwark London)

Why join us? We are conducting two Smell and Tell walks in Southwark. Come learn about your sense of smell and its evolution via two flash talks and a series of smell tests. The tests are not clinically diagnostic but provide a rough guide on how your sense of smell performs in different settings.

When: Saturday 28 July at 10am and at 2pm (pick the time you prefer—the sessions are identical!)

How Long: We estimate the walk will take 60 minutes, allowing for a slow pace.

Where: Tate Modern Turbine Hall, assemble starting 9:45amor 1:45am.

How to find us: We will be wearing black aprons with red lettering saying “Test your sense of smell”

What? We are anthropologists interested in understanding variation in olfactory ability in urban industrialized and rural traditional settings (e.g., hunter-gatherers). The Smell and Tell activities are part of this project. We aim to test olfactory ability in the same individuals in three different settings: low odor (Tate), polluted (Southwark Bridge), odor-rich (Borough Market).

Who? Dr. Kara C. Hoover (University of Alaska) is a bioanthropologist focused on human adaptation with particular interests in stress during adaptation to new or changing climates and the evolution of human olfaction. Dr. J. Colette Berbesque (University of Roehampton) is an evolutionary anthropologist focused on hunter-gatherers with particular interests in social status, social stress, egalitarianism.

Your role: You will be asked to complete three separate three-minute odor identification tests. The odors are natural compounds and while some odors may not be pleasant, none are harmful. We will give you an information sheet with your tests scores to take home.

More Info/Expression of interest
Email: kchoover@alaska.edu or Colette.Berbesque@roehampton.ac.uk
Tweet to: @KaraCHoover or @berbesque

Schedule
10am/2pm: Part 1
Brief introduction to the research project and personnel (~7 min)
Divide into two groups (2 guides per group) for Odor ID Test 1

10:25/2:25: Part 2
Stroll in two groups to second test site at Southwark Bridge (~5-10 minutes)
Flash Talks (Group A Flash Talk: Hunter-gatherer smellscapes; Group B Flash Talk: Modern smellscapes)
5-Odor ID Test 2

10:45/2:45: Part 3
Stroll in two groups to third test site at Borough Market (~5 minutes)
Flash Talks (Group A Flash Talk: Modern smellscapes; Group B Flash Talk: Hunter-gatherer smellscapes)
5-Odor ID Test 3

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Filed under Anthropology and Evolution, Evolutionary ecology, Olfaction, Science, Senses, Sensory ecology, Smelling in the wild, urban-rural

Market Smells I: Results

Last summer-fall, my colleague Colette Berbesque (@berbesque) and student Jessie Roberts, and I conducted a pilot field study aimed at getting some initial data on how the human sense of smell is disrupted in the natural (e.g., built) environment. This is the first step in a larger plan to explore the ecology of human olfaction.

Jessie recruited 39 individuals at two markets in the London area (Borough Market and St. Alban’s Market) to complete the four-odor Sniffin’ Sticks test (lemon, rose, mint, clove). The study produced are two key results. First, strong local signals (e.g,. a frying smell at Borough Market, see left) disrupted what was literally under participant’s noses (in this case, rose).

 

 

Second, the ability to detect and identify odors in the wild is drastically reduced compared to detection and identification in pristine settings. To the right is a comparison between a published study on UK odor identification in the lab and our test results. We used a shorter version that included some of the lab odors so this (like the study) is a rough estimate to validate further work. For more info, see the preprint (in review with Chemical Senses) here . But, we can say that most of what we know about human olfaction is from pristine lab environments which are not really telling us how our sense operates in daily life.

This summer, we aim to complete a few more pilot sessions focused on the Southwark area. The general plan will be to recruit 20 subjects on 2-3 occasions for a 2-hour session. We will be using a different set of odors and conducting repeat testing on the same individuals at three locations (the sensory rich Borough Market environment, the polluted street environment, and the clean art museum environment). We also aim to take local air samplings to determine the pollution level at each location as well as the odor compounds in the at the time of testing. We are still firming up details and hoping to get a bit of funding to provide a breakfast for participants. Stay tuned!

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Smelling in the Wild Pilot Study Schedule

The first pilot study for Smelling in the Wild is taking place during the week commencing 28 August. We are going to be at two London markets (Brixton and Borough markets) asking for volunteers to assist us in understanding how the local smellscape impacts one’s sense of smell. Volunteering should only take about 10 minutes to take two smell tests (odor detection threshold and short odor identification) and a stress survey.

If interested, come to the market and look for the black aprons that say “TEST YOUR SENSE OF SMELL”. We will be at the tube stations for a few minutes at the start of the day and then will Tweet our locations regularly if you are having trouble finding us (@KaraCHoover and @Berbesque).

Pilot Study Schedule
30-Aug/Wednesday: Borough Market (10:30am-5pm)
31-Aug/Thursday: Brixton Market (noon-5pm)
1-Sept/Friday: Brixton Market (noon-5pm)
2-Sept/Saturday: Borough Market (10am-4pm)

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Filed under Evolutionary ecology, Olfaction, Sensory ecology, sensory inequities, Smelling in the wild, stress, Uncategorized, urban-rural, Well-being

Smelling in the Wild

With colleague Dr. Colette Berbesque (University of Roehampton), I am about to start two exciting new projects that focus on the human sense of smell in natural environments.

One project will focus on how our sense of smell may be influenced by subsistence. Our project is a corollary study to work by the Sorokowskas and co-workers (here and here) that argue for a relationship between odor acuity and discrimination relative to diet. We are interested in testing the hypothesis controlling for ecology (the other studies used disparate populations which introduced other explanatory variables) and genetics.

The other project will focus on how our sense of smell is influenced by modern living. My work on sensory inequities and our sense of smell in jeopardy were featured in the news media this past year (see here and here and here) and on radio (BBC Radio 5, BBC Radio Ulster, Dermot and Dave on Today FM Ireland, and Talk Radio Ireland) and form a platform for this project that generates supportive empirical data. We are interested in understanding how the human sense of smell is affected by modern living and how well-being is impacted by environmental effects.

Stay tuned at Smelling in the Wild for details of our upcoming pop-up pilot studies and how to get involved!!

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Filed under Anthropology and Evolution, Evolutionary ecology, Olfaction, primate social life, Senses, Sensory ecology, sensory inequities, Smelling in the wild, stress, Uncategorized, urban-rural, Well-being

Higher Education in crisis

I am currently doing a certificate in academic practice at Durham University. My two projects for the certificate have focused on the intrusion of neoliberal values into higher education in the US and the UK. Put as succinctly as possible, one project focused on the challenges I face (as a result of these values) as a researcher-educator and the other on finding out if students have internalized these values (they have).

The crisis in the US has been emerging for quite some time. Having served on several hiring/tenure review/grant committees and gaining insights into what colleagues find of value in a CV (b/c that is what you are at application), I have become increasingly nonplussed at what counts as value: money first and pubs second but with enough money, pubs are assumed to come after (often doesn’t happen because they are busy writing next grant). What about teaching? The same is true now in the UK despite the upcoming TEF. Unis are firing staff/faculty (or inviting them to apply for voluntary redundancy–Durham, Manchester, anyone else?). Decisions are made on the REF-line and accountability is taking over the real job of the uni–education first, research second.

Since when do scholars have to fund the university? Is this a new vanity biz?  Oli Mould tweeted about a gig economy for HE recently and Lorna Richardson suggested Lecturoo. While it sounds funny to think about academics biking about with big packs of books and teaching supplies on their backs for a quick lecture, maybe it isn’t too far from the truth given the value of teaching in HE right now.

If you have a stack of grants, your output and teaching record are secondary, if at all, considerations. But, consider this, grants are not peer reviewed by more than a handful of people in the field (who may even have a vested interest in what you propose to do). Publications are not only peer-reviewed but then open to the public (see scihub for almost anything behind a firewall)–a lasting record. With grants, there is no endorsement of quality by the community writ broad. At the end of your career, will you be remembered as that scholar who pulled in 2 million, 5 million, 10 million a year but are you someone who changed things, advanced knowledge, broke a mold, caused a paradigm shift, shook the world (or at least those into your area of research)? History has proven the latter are remembered regardless of where they are and what they have had funded. Will the future leaving parties of retiring profs be a read-out of the numbers they have brought in? And, we say goodbye to Prof X who raised 80 million in her career. Doing what? No one cares anymore.

The words you write and those they reach are at the heart of the enterprise. Basic research has its place but without a voice–a person–to communicate it, it loses value. The future of our universities in the US and the UK are terrifying. IN the UK, the REF has inculcated a terror in my colleagues worse than the terror some US scholars feel with tenure–keep your head down and get your REF-able work out and your REF-grants in and focus on the bottom line…of the budget.

What happened to supporting and celebrating the best minds? Actually, I think there is more celebration and support for creative thinkers and scholars in various industry outlets–at least there the neoliberal values are apparent and expected.

The Titanic is sinking.

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The magic of Irish mince pies

After a warm-up in Co. Durham before Christmas with my short pastry and a friend’s filling, I have now made 36 mince pies of my own this season. My Irish pies have Powers single pot whiskey in them rather than the brandy many English pies contain. I also use Irish butter (Kerry Gold Unsalted) not margarine. A special ingredient that sets my pies apart is candied peel and fresh juice from fruit freshly harvested the day of making from my father’s orange tree in Lexington, Kentucky–the tree overwinters indoors. I grate my own spices, as seen below top left and right with aromatic fresh citrus zest.

The final mince (below, bottom) contains Granny Smith apples and zest for tart, mixed fruits for sweet, and nuts for crunch (the trigeminal component that  makes a perfect match for taste and smell!). The whiskey and butter hold it all together in a perfect matrix of deliciousness!

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The final step is short crust which takes time and can be frustrating to roll. Still, the fatty floury pastry is a perfect complement to the mince. Here they are almost ready to go (left) and done (right)!

 

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The Future of Smelling

Coming on the heels of a grant proposal, I am starting to think about my upcoming paper for the American Association for the Advancement of Science meetings in Boston in February. My talk will focus on the future of human smelling in a panel called ‘How We Came To Our Senses: Ecology, Evolution, and Future of Human Sensation’ The panel also features my colleagues Dr. Nathaniel Dominy (Dartmouth College), Dr. Amanda Melin (University of Calgary), and Dr. Paul Breslin (Monell Chemical Senses). This panel is a lovely step forward for my research which has focused on the evolution of our sense of smell and modern human variation in ability to detect specific odors (as limited by the small number of receptor-ligand knowns). I have written before about our early efforts to rebuild ancient noses which was picked up in several media outlets. I hope to get the final results of the Old Noses out in early 2018 along with the human variation data (stay tuned for some sneak-peak blog posts). For now, though, I want to focus on the next steps.

While visiting Durham University in the UK this fall, I have been thinking about modern cities and smellscapes–a contrast to where I would normally be, rural Alaska. Namely, I have been thinking about how a thread of anthropological research on environmental inequities is highly relevant to modern smellscapes. Specifically, sensory environments in cities are not equal and some people bear the burden of negative sensory input on a regular basis–garbage, noise, greater concentrations of pollution (e.g., bus routes), urban decay. The higher your socio-economic status, the more you can afford to elevate your place of living out of the sensory fray and surround yourself with positive sensory landscapes. The access to positive sensory landscapes is only going to become more polarized: urban population density projections show an increase from 54% to 66% by 2050 (UN)–in Europe 73% of the population lives in urban areas and 82% in the US. Africa and Asia are not as urbanized but projections show great increases in those areas in the few decades.

We are already very mismatched to the modern urban smellscape–our evolutionary sensory tuning took place in lush environments in Africa, rich with natural odors of plants and animals and other humans. We were in deep and regular contact with the environment–actively engaged (and anyone who has engage in any kind of smell training–perfume and wine mainly–knows how important that regular exposure is. In fact, some research has shown that hunter-gatherers can detect odors in more more dilute forms. Now, we find ourselves in built environments with manufactured odors (think Lush, Subway, and any number of modern chains with bespoke smells) and pollutants (which also diminish our capacity to smell well as seen here and here). This is true of urban areas but also true of rural areas with high activity in farming, mining, and manufacturing–all of which produce anthropogenic waste.

What does that mean for us? We are at greater risk of reduced capacity to smell (smell-ability) and increasingly find ourselves in environments with unnatural odors, high concentrations of harmful odors, and an inequitable distribution of positive sensory input. Smell loss and exposure to negative smellscapes (e.g., living near a piggery, manufacturing plant, or landfill–to name a few) increases risk for depression as well as reduces quality of life. No one has yet looked at impacts of artificial smells. An impaired sense of smell can result in eating issues as well as exposure to danger (not smelling rotten foods, toxins). Urban futures must focus on equitable in the sensory landscape, reduction in artificial sensory stimuli, and mitigation of negative sensory input across the urban setting. These efforts should be paramount to protect a sense that most people don’t think about but that performs vital day to day functions. I plan to launch several projects in the coming year that will address many of these unknowns and advance awareness of sensory inequities–this work will be embedded in my current work establishing the general architecture of human smelling in the distant evolutionary past and modern distribution of variation So, stay tuned!!

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