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There Aren't a Trillion Different Smells After All 48

New submitter Neuronaut137 writes: Last year a paper in Science magazine reported that humans can distinguish a trillion different odors, a result that had already made its way into neuroscience and psychology textbooks. Two new papers just published in eLife overturn that result, pointing to fatal flaws in experimental design and data analysis. Oh, well; thinking I had a superpower was fun while it lasted.
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There Aren't a Trillion Different Smells After All

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  • by suso ( 153703 ) * on Thursday July 09, 2015 @09:26AM (#50075233) Homepage Journal

    I remember throughout the 90s seeing various textbooks or articles saying that the human eye could only distinguish 16.7 million colors. *rolls 24-bit eyes*

    • Yeah, and "all the music is made of only 7 notes!.."

      Massive over-simplification, generalization, and misinterpretation of maths and science in public culture is what allows us geeks to feel superior so easily.

      • by Twinbee ( 767046 )
        You're right - it's twelve, not seven.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Dunbal ( 464142 ) *
        No, it's seeing people (like a carpenter I hired yesterday for a job) struggle to add 75 and 60 in their head that makes me feel superior. I don't expect them to understand complicated things.
        • There's an app for that!

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          No, it's seeing people (like a carpenter I hired yesterday for a job) struggle to add 75 and 60 in their head that makes me feel superior. I don't expect them to understand complicated things.

          No, it's seeing there are people out there that aren't smart enough to build things themselves, that they have to hire a carpenter to do it for them.

          • by Dunbal ( 464142 ) *
            I can do it myself. It's cheaper for me to hire someone to do it. My time is worth more than his.
        • Eleventy five?
        • Why did you hire a carpenter? Are you too fucking stupid to work word with your own hands? Were you hiring the carpenter to build a high wooden horse for you to sit on?
        • by Bengie ( 1121981 )
          I know a lot of dim-wits that can do math in their head but have no ability to apply math. I can't do math in my head but I can apply it. Two separate issues at hand.
    • by Twinbee ( 767046 )
      Don't forget that only 24fps is needed for super smooth motion!
    • They are also stating that people can only see ~1,000,000 colors, which is not correct for many/most people.

    • by Bengie ( 1121981 )
      I read something at some point that mentioned that while the eye can only see only a few million colors, it can see many many shades of each color. Which is why we easily see color banding.
    • I don't remember ever seeing the number 16.7 million except to advertise a video card. Perhaps your memory is playing tricks on you?

      In any case, the number of colors humans can distinguish is far lower -- about 10 million.

      Also, the ability of LCDs to accurately render even 24-bit color is rare, let alone the full gamut of visible color. Many LCDs only render 18-bit color anyway, which is 131,072. Even in the case of true 24-bit displays, that's merely mapped to whatever gamut range the display has, not t

  • This is the result if news media take science publications as truth. Of course, most of them are well researched, but even if, every result can be questioned.

    • The problem I'm having with this is that the peer reviewers should have picked this one up. I think any statistician who looked at that and noted that the results are going to drastically change with test number should have called them out. I kinda thought that one of the things that Science (the magazine) was going do is run papers by a living, breathing statistician.

      • Oops, test number and measure of statistical significance.

        Drat Slashdot. Where is the damned edit button.

      • An average statistician would not likely have identified an error here. Their extrapolation was intended to be novel, and part of the results. An average statistician can catch an average statistical lie, but Markus Meister is no average statistician.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    There just HAS to be a fart joke in here somewhere, but i can't find it...

    • The joke must be silent...but deadly.

    • How about one from George Carlin?

      I've got four farts . . . my Heineken fart, my broccoli fart, my rice pudding fart, and my non-dairy creamer fart, and that's not one of my farts! I know, the DOG farted!
  • Every wine snob worth his inheritance knows that his nose (not yours) can be trained to distinguish at least a trillion scents, and they're all hiding in that glass of $500/bottle wine.

  • I was suspicious about the original paper because something about it smelled wrong.

1 1 was a race-horse, 2 2 was 1 2. When 1 1 1 1 race, 2 2 1 1 2.