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Digital Subscriptions > Newsweek International > 29 September 2017 > I STINK, THEREFORE I AM


The human sense of smell, long denigrated, can finally hold its head (and nose) high

AN EXTRAORDINARY human superpower has long been hidden in plain sight, a secret weapon as easy to spot as the nose on your face…because it is the nose on your face. Contrary to popular belief, humans have an excellent sense of smell. And the story behind why we ever thought differently is an incredible illustration of how facts can be buried by bias.

In a newly published paper in Science, neuroscientist John McGann, who studies sensory perception at Rutgers University, explains how religious politics in 19th-century France spurred the misconception that humans have a poor sense of smell. The Catholic Church objected to what it deemed the teaching of atheism and materialism, particularly the courses taught at the University of Paris Medical School by an anatomist named Paul Broca whose work focused on the brain.

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INSANE IN THE MEMBRANE During the 2016 election, conservatives turned on the principles that had once animated them. Somehow a movement based on real ideas,such as economic freedom and limited government, had devolved into a tribe that valued neither principle nor truth; luminaries such as Edmund Burke and William F. Buckley Jr. had been replaced by media clowns such as Ann Coulter and Milo Yiannopoulos. Icons such as Ronald Reagan, with his optimism and geniality had been supplanted by the dark, erratic narcissism of Donald Trump. With anger and bravado, Trump declared war against Reaganism during the 2016 campaign and some people loved him for it.