Humans have excellent olfaction and can smell more than a trillion odors.

Humans are the superior animal on planet Earth. We have huge brains that allow us to build skyscrapers and come up with dazzling inventions like pizza and the internet. We’re highly visual, with the ability to pick out the face of a friend in a crowd and paint realistic works of art with our hands and eyes alone.

But we’ve long believed these strengths came at a cost: our sense of smell.

“People are sometimes taught that because humans developed such a good visual system, we lost a sense of smell as a trade-off,” Rutgers University neurobiologist John McGann says.

The myth of poor human olfaction is centuries old. And it is due for a thorough debunking.

“The human olfactory system is excellent,” McGann writes in a recent paper in Science that reviews the wide array of evidence on the human sense of smell. “We’re like lots of mammals with a perfectly good sense of smell, and if we paid more attention to it, I think we’d realize how important it is to us,” he tells me.

In fact, when you actually test humans on their ability to smell specific compounds, we’re pretty discerning. We can smell particles that are just two atoms large. And we can tell more than a trillion distinct odors apart.

But how did the myth get started? And why is it not likely to go away soon? Let’s take a walk through the research.

The scientist who started the myth

As McGann explains in the new paper, the myth began — as myths often do — with an overconfident male scientist.

Paul Broca was a 19th-century anatomist in France who pioneered the study of the roles different brain regions play in speech and Read More Here