Science At Its Best & Worst

| Tue Dec. 19, 2006 2:05 AM EST

A team of neuroscientists and engineers from the University of California, Berkeley, and the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, get paid to launch undergraduates on a scent trail in an open field, blindfolded, ears blocked, on their knees, following a track of chocolate essential oil. The results show that we can apparently sniff out the world better than previously believed, at least in pursuit of chocolate.

"Our sense of smell is less keen partly because we put less demand on it," says lead author Jess Porter. "But if people practice sniffing smells, they can get really good at it."

So we're more like dogs and rats than we know. But are they enough like us to make using them in medical research worthwhile? Check out this comparative analysis published at BMJ.com, a free open access online research journal. Researchers in Britain and Argentina conclude that at least half the animal studies they've examined are so flawed as to produce no data clinically relevant to human beings.

For a dose of science at its best, check out this new electric car design project inaugurated by a former BMW employee in Germany. Using the same cooperative open source movement that brought us the software Linux and the browser Firefox, Markus Merz, is asking anyone with a good idea to join the design team design for Oscar, named after the Open Source Car Project. Merz is hoping to attract designers and engineers to contribute ideas free of the restraints of secrecy, patents, or ownership. As reported by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation:

"The most effective tool you can have to get anything done is passion and creativity and that needs to be unleashed, and then it's much more powerful than money," says Lukas Neckerman, head of automotive business development at a financial services company in Munich.
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