BBC Focus have asked me to write about a somewhat rebellious olfaction scientist named Luca Turin, who has this very cool but controversial theory about how smell works. I actually interviewed the guy *ten years ago* in his garden in Camden when I was just 20, and wrote a feature about him for The Varsity, the student rag at the University of Toronto.
I thought he was funny and ballsy then, and I still think so. Our chat was deeply enjoyable. Choice cut: “The perfume industry is craven, mendacious and trivial. Companies operate by a different principle called money – and it’s not that interesting.”
On an editorial in the journal Nature, which describes his theory as having “almost no credence in scientific circles” and which has received an “extraordinary—and inappropriate—degree of publicity from uncritical journalists”, he simply comments: “An egregious piece of drivel.”
Long story short, this is what rival scientist Leslie Vosshall of Rockefeller University said in a BBC News piece about his work:
“I like to think of the vibration theory of olfaction and its proponents as unicorns. The rest of us studying olfaction are horses. The problem is that proving that a unicorn exists or does not exist is impossible. This debate on the vibration theory or the existence of unicorns will never end, but the very important underlying question of why things smell the way they do will continue to be answered by the horses among us.”
So he has this as his email signature.