Reading Palms in Miami
Getting a grip on odor biometrics
Caravaggio: La Diseuse de bonne aventure
Some recent headlines:
Hand odour can reveal a person’s sex, study suggests
New study finds biological sex can be detected by hand odor
Men and women’s hands can be distinguished just from their scent
Science can tell if you’re a woman—from how your hand smells
A few observations:
1. Apparently the mainstream media is back on board with the whole “there are only two biological sexes” thing.
2. There was no sniffing in this study. Skin odor samples were run through a GC-mass spec and the output was analyzed statistically.
3. The authors’ interest in human body volatiles is limited to forensic applications; they barely mention the large literature on sex differences in axillary odor, individual recognition of body odor, etc.
4. The paper does not identify specific sex-related odor molecules. It uses discriminate analysis to create a weighted combination of multiple chemical compounds that successfully separates samples from men and women with high accuracy.
5. We’re not talking about a quick swabbing of your hand, as when airport security tests for explosives residue. Odor donors squeezed a gauze pad between their palms for ten minutes, as if in prolonged, earnest prayer.
That said, the study itself looks reasonably well designed. It was conducted at Miami’s Florida International University under the direction of Kenneth Furton, who has made a career of putting analytic chemistry to use in forensic science. In this video from a local TV station, he seems amiable enough, and quite clear in explaining the work while not overselling it.
Bottom line: We’re still a long way from crime scene investigators using trace odors as evidence.
Chantrell J.G. Frazier, Vidia A. Gokool, Howard K. Holness, DeEtta K. Mills, Kenneth G. Furton. (2023) Multivariate regression modelling for gender prediction using volatile organic compounds from hand odor profiles via HS-SPME-GC-MS. PLoS ONE 18:e0286452.
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