by Ann Bartkowski



I don’t want to hear the words “human” and “pheromone” together again until at least 2050.  And if I die before 2050, as long as no one has made me admit that I have pheromones, I will die happy. 

Joking aside, I got into a slight disagreement this week with someone who shall remain anonymous to protect those who are into trusting their beliefs over the scientific method. 

(I know it’s hard to do… just recently I came to terms with the fact that the universe does not revolve around me…which sucks, doesn’t it Ptolemy?)

One of my (many) favorite things about working at the Exploratorium is that whenever I have a burning question, I can always find an authority on the subject who is happy to have a discussion about the answer.  This week’s debate was no exception, and while Gabriel, Ryan J., and I were eating lunch the other day, Charlie, the resident senior biologist, appeared in the lounge. 

Charlie said that he had actually had the opportunity to talk with a researcher who has (unsuccessfully) dedicated 35 years of his life to searching for pheromones in humans, and even this guy admits we can’t prove their existence.  He also forwarded this article to Anne, which he says “may be about as close as anyone has gotten to the presence of human pheromone evidence yet”.

I also highly recommend this peer-reviewed review paper from 2004 called Facts, Fallacies, Fears, and Frustrations With Human Pheromones.  It’s quite long so I understand if you don’t want read it, but it is an awesome summary of everything we know about pheromones and humans up to this point in time.  It has it’s fair share of technical jargon, but even if you just read the abstract at the beginning, you can get a gist of our current understanding on the P-word.    

If you are kind of confused about what pheromones actually are, and what they can do for the animals and insects who actually have them, (or if you’d just rather read Wikipedia than a science journal) you could read this article about the different types of pheromones and how animals use them.

Unfortunately, as Gabriel so eloquently put it, “It’s impossible to prove something doesn’t exist.”  So does anyone want to publish a new human neuroanatomy textbook with hypothetical diagrams of more hypothetical organs in the brain? No one will be able to prove they are wrong, right?

Overall, I’m really glad we’ve been having this debate at work this week.  What intrigues me most is how the scientific truth can change during our perpetual process of acquiring knowledge.  I mean, if  I had been born in the 12th Century, I would have gotten to live at the center of the universe, right?  And no one living on that stationary sphere in the middle of the universe had even made up the word “pheromone” yet!