Why stinky hockey equipment may bother women more than men

Watching the kids go through their paces at the end of day-1 training, I was talking with a mom who said, I’ve got to get her gear and air it out.

I shrugged.

Now that Amy is a hockey player, she also is rigorous about airing the gear and washing the undergarments.

I shrug.

Science may have an explanation.

Leonard Sax of the N.Y. Times wrote last month that the sense of smell differs between women and men. It’s entirely plausible that a woman could perceive an odor which is – for the woman – overpoweringly awful, while a man doesn’t smell anything.

In research published in 2002 in the journal Nature Neuroscience, Pamela Dalton of the Monell Chemical Senses Center and her colleagues exposed men and women to smells in the laboratory. Not just once, but over and over again. Dr. Dalton and her team found that with repeated exposure, the women’s ability to detect the odors improved 100,000-fold: the women were able to detect the odor at a concentration 1/100,000th of the concentration they needed at the beginning of the study.

But the male subjects, on average, showed no improvement at all in their ability to detect the odor.

Smell receptors in the nose send their signals via the olfactory nerve to the olfactory bulb. The olfactory bulb is the first stop in the brain for information about smell.

There are two basic kinds of brain cells: Neurons are considered the most important, because they seem to play the biggest role in sending information via electrical signals. But glial cells are essential too, because they provide structure and may also modulate information processing in the brain.

On all counts, women beat men. Women have more cells in the olfactory bulb: 16.2 million cells total in the average woman, compared with 9.2 million total cells in the average man. In 2014 research published in PLOS One, researchers at the University of São Paulo compared the noses of 18 subjects from age 55 to 94 shortly after their deaths. They found that the women had 6.9 million neurons, double the 3.5 million in the men. When they counted glial cells, women again had more: 9.3 million compared with 5.7 million in the men.

The differences in their perceptions could make each feel that the other must be crazy. Was she imagining the smell? Was he lying and pretending he didn’t smell it?

Knowing that the differences in male and female noses can be so extreme, the best approach may be for each family member to agree to respect and trust the other’s report of sensory experiences.

Risk perception is always irrational

David Ropeik, an author and risk-perception consultant, writing in the uber-cool Undark, says in 2011, the city leaders of Calgary, Alberta, bowed to public pressure and ended fluoridation of the local drinking water, despite clear evidence that the benefits of fluoridation vastly outweigh its risks. A recent study found that second graders in Calgary now have 3.8 more cavities, on average, than a similar group did back in 2004-05, when the water was still being treated.

mindfulness_poster_UKIn West Virginia, legislators in favor of shrinking government recently passed a law allowing sale of unpasteurized milk, despite convincing evidence that raw milk is a vector for pathogens like Salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria. To celebrate, the bill’s sponsor shared some raw milk with his colleagues, several of whom got sick. The legislator says it was just coincidence.

Since the 2011 nuclear accident in Fukushima, Japan, fear of radiation has prompted thyroid cancer screening for all children in the prefecture. The levels of radiation to which kids had been exposed were too low to pose significant danger, and the sensitive ultrasound screening technique is well known to find abnormal cells in most people’s thyroids, though in nearly all cases those cells will never cause cancer. As a result of this unprecedented scrutiny for an infinitesimal risk, hundreds of kids have had their thyroids removed unnecessarily, with far-reaching health implications for the rest of their lives.

Our perceptions of risk are products of cognitive processes that operate outside our conscious control — running facts through the filters of our feelings.

A Canadian couple is mourning the death of their 19-month-old son from meningitis. They hadn’t vaccinated him, and treated him with natural remedies like horseradish root and olive leaf extract, refusing medical attention until the boy was unconscious and near death. They are facing criminal charges.

For anyone outside the emotions that produced these choices, it’s hard not to feel frustration at hearing about them. It’s hard not to call them ignorant, selfish, and irrational, or to label such behavior, as some do — often with more than a hint of derision — “science denialism.” It’s hard, but it’s necessary, because treating such decision-making as merely flawed thinking that can be rectified with cold hard reason flies in the face of compelling evidence to the contrary.

In fact, the evidence is clear that we sometimes can’t help making such mistakes. Our perceptions, of risk or anything else, are products of cognitive processes that operate outside our conscious control — running facts through the filters of our feelings and producing subjective judgments that disregard the evidence. The behavioral scientists Melissa Finucane and Paul Slovic call this the Affect Heuristic; it gives rise to what I call the risk perception gap, the dangers produced when we worry more than the evidence says we need to, or less than the evidence says we should. This is literally built in to the wiring and chemistry of the brain. Our apparent irrationality is as innate as the functioning of our DNA or our cells.

mad.cows.mothers.milkBill Leiss and I called it a risk communication vacuum in our 1997 book, Mad Cows and Mother’s Milk.

Whatever it’s called, people do irrational things, against the reason of others.

Certainly I do.

And it drives people crazy.

Maybe it’s brain wiring – certainly the fad in addiction, perception and mindfulness research – but it all sounds like a way to make a buck.

And that’s fine, everyone needs a salary.

Facts are never enough, empathy is often lacking, story-telling is key, but these are just observations, the blunt force of armchair critics. Creators create, and get involved in the frontlines.

Put the words into actions.

Walk on.


There are some who call it storytelling: Images matter in talking about raw milk

The internet has become an increasingly important way of communicating with consumers about food risk information. However, relatively little is known about how consumers evaluate and come to trust the information they encounter online.

Using the example of unpasteurized or raw milk this paper presents two studies exploring the trust factors associated with online information about the risks and benefits of raw milk consumption.

In the first study, eye-tracking data was collected from 33 pasteurised milk consumers whilst they viewed six different milk related websites. A descriptive analysis of the eye-tracking data was conducted to explore viewing patterns. Reports revealed the importance of images as a way of capturing initial attention and foregrounding other features and highlighted the significance of introductory text within a homepage.

 In the second, qualitative study, 41 consumers, some of whom drank raw milk, viewed a selection of milk related websites before participating in either a group discussion or interview. Seventeen of the participants also took part in a follow up telephone interview 2 weeks later. The qualitative data supports the importance of good design whilst noting that balance, authorship agenda, the nature of evidence and personal relevance were also key factors affecting consumers trust judgements.

The results of both studies provide support for a staged approach to online trust in which consumers engage in a more rapid, heuristic assessment of a site before moving on to a more in-depth evaluation of the information available. Findings are discussed in relation to the development of trustworthy online food safety resources.

Examining trust factors in online food risk information: The case of unpasteurized or ‘raw’ milk

Appetite Available online 12 January 2016

Elizabeth Sillence, (Dr), Claire Hardy, Lydia C. Medeiros, Jeffrey T. LeJeune


Coles cashes in on chicken myth; responding to consumer perceptions rather than leading

An Australian supermarket campaign promoting hormone-free chicken has been called dodgy by a leading consumer watchdog.

In-the-better-late-than-never category, Australians are finally speaking out about a Coles Supermarkets advertising promo that markets fear rather than food safety.

According to industry groups and consumer watchdog Choice the supermarket giant is trying to capitalize on the urban myth that chickens are given hormones to speed growth.

Adding hormones to Australian poultry was outlawed in the early 1960s but the myth of pumped-up chickens has persisted, said Dr Andreas Dubs, the executive director of the Australian Chicken Meat Federation.

Choice spokesman Christopher Zinn said,

"You can’t have hormone-free chicken unless there are chickens that are pumped up on hormones. I think it’s a little dodgy. It’s true, but it’s like saying it’s plutonium-free or cyanide-free because it’s suggesting that anything that doesn’t have that label on it might have that."

A Coles spokesman said the supermarket was just countering the myth.

"Chicken in Australia has not been treated with hormones for over 40 years. However, there is still a widespread misconception among customers that they do. In fact in July last year, chicken producer Steggles commissioned a Newspoll study among 1000 people that showed that 76 per cent still believed that hormones and/or steroids were used in chicken production."

So why isn’t Coles leading the formation of public perception instead of blindly following? Because there’s a buck to be made.

On bullshit and section 5 of the Food and Drugs Act (the Canadian one)***

Ron Doering, the first president of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and probably the only one anyone remembers (right, pretty much as shown), writes about food silliness in his regular column for Food in Canada. It’s reprinted below.

In his classic 1986 essay “On Bullshit,” Princeton Uni¬versity professor Harry Frankfurt makes an important distinction between lying and mere “bullshit.” The liar knows and cares about the truth but deliberately sets out to deny or disguise it; the bullshitter doesn’t care about the truth, he is simply trying to impress us or sell us something. The honest man and the liar really care about the facts but the bullshitter isn’t concerned with the facts except insofar as they may be pertinent to his interest in getting away with what he says: “He does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them up, or makes them up, to suit his purposes.”

Which brings me to food labelling. It is not well under¬stood that Section 5 of the Food and Drugs Act not only prohib¬its false claims on pre-packaged food labelling, but it also makes it illegal to have statements that are “likely to create an erroneous impression.” The Guide to Food Labelling, which sets out the government’s interpretations of section 5 of the Act, does not expressly refer to bullshit, but it comes close when it explains why it is a criminal of¬fence to make such factual statements: they “infer [sic] a false uniqueness and give an unfair advantage to that food.”

In practice, unless there is a pushy competitor complaint, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency does not usually take aggressive enforcement against mere bullshit claims. So, for example, even though green tea is the only pre-packaged food that Health Canada allows to make an antioxidant claim, there has been a shameless proliferation of implied claims through the use of a trace amount of green tea, blueberry or acai, or just “blueberry flavour” to give the erroneous impression that the food has anti¬oxidant qualities. The companies don’t really care about the facts (the science on the real value of antioxidants is not that clear anyway), they just want to get away with creating an erroneous impression.

Bullshit on food labels is everywhere. Other tolerated bullshitting claims common today include sea salt (trying to create the impression it is healthier than ordinary salt — it is not), organic (trying to create the impression that the food is safer, more nutritious, more sustainable — it is not), brown eggs (trying to create the impression they are different nutritionally from white eggs — they are not), and non-GMO (trying to create the impression the product is safer — it is not).

While it is not exactly the same as bullshit, the Ameri¬cans have quite a body of jurisprudence on what they call “puffery” in food advertising. As Professor David Hoffman explains in his learned article “The Best Puffery Article Ever,” the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has concluded that there is no harm in it if rea¬sonable people are not likely to take the statement literally.

Our own Dr. Bill Riedel, re¬tired Health Canada food mi¬crobiologist, writes and blogs regularly on what he calls “truthiness.” He claims, in retirement, to have “found sal¬vation in the academic literature on bullshit.”

For my part, I got into this aspect of Section 5 when the regulator recently threatened to take action against a client when I argued that the enforcement was not war¬ranted because the statement was scientifically true and not intended to give an erroneous impression (the issue was stating the Glycemic Index of the food). The regula¬tor argued back that the scientifically illiterate consumer might nevertheless have an erroneous impression — the test, it says, is not what is implied but inferred. That, I say, is another type of bullshit.

Ronald L. Doering, BA, LL.B, MA, LL.D, is a past president of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. He practices food law in the Ottawa offices of Gowling Lafleur Henderson LLP, and can be reached at: Ronald.doering@gowlings.com

Real raw milk facts? Barf

I am immediately suspicious of anyone who says they speak fact.

It’s like I’ve told my kids for years – and I’m especially ingraining you, 16-month-old Sorenne — anyone who has to say, ‘trust me’ is immediately untrustworthy.

So when a web site is named, realrawmilkfacts.com, I’m wondering whose real facts are involved. Is there a publicly available document for deciding whose facts count? We have one, it’s available at http://bites.ksu.edu/about-bites.

And these folks haven’t studied risk perception and communication 101 – facts are important but never enough.

I get all the BS surrounding raw milk – went through all that with genetically engineered foods over a decade ago – and I get all the BS the geniuses in the raw milk movement post about how the last thing they ate made them sick, especially if it was at a fast-food joint (it wasn’t).

Any investigation of foodborne illness is fraught with uncertainty and speculation. That’s where epidemiology comes in, to make statistically-based best guesses to prevent others from getting sick.

It’s better than faith-based food safety.

What is most disconcerting about all the chatter around raw milk is the waste of scarce public resources – inspectors got better things to do, especially when there is a ready solution available (hint, it’s pasteurization).

Oh, and we (left, not exactly as shown) speak fact.