What is Headspace?

Headspace is Amber Marks's satirical account of her research into the policing of smell - she uses developments in smell research as an allegory for the surveillance society. Amber was working as a barrister when she started spotting sniffer dogs on her travels to courts in different parts of the country. Disturbed by the implications for civil liberties (who needs a warrant when you've got a dog) and cynical about the supposed infallibility of canine intelligence (barking up the wrong knee), Amber started researching the phenomenon. To her amazement she discovered that across the world, people are being convicted on the word of a dog alone - despite the science of smell (the fascinating history and advances of which are all included in this book) being very poorly understood. As a legal expert on canine evidence, Amber is invited to a Ministry of Defence conference where the security applications of mice, moths, salmon and plants are discussed. That's when Amber's research journey really begins.

Q & A with Amber:

Why did you call the book "Headspace"?

Quite a lot in the book is about the importance of pscyhological privacy to human liberty and autonomy. Headspace - in 1960s jargon- means psychological privacy, the cognitive shed required for the development of an individual personality. When an entomologist told me that 'headspace' is also the technical term for the area surrounding a subject in which their smell can be detected and analysed - I knew it had to be the title of my book.

What did you enjoy most about writing this book?

I enjoyed everything about it. I enjoyed befriending security agents, police officers and scientists (they have all taken the fun I poke at their research in good humour). I enjoyed researching all the novels relating to the sense of smell (Perfume, Jitterbug Perfume, Brave New World, Oryx And Crake and millions of others) and learning about the science of smell. It was a great excuse to read Arthur Koestler's Ghost in the Machine and learn about bee brains and the manipulation of instinctive behaviour.

What is Dogwatch?

Dogwatch is the name of a secret organisation in Amber's book. It monitors potential threats to Headspace and seeks to inform people of their rights in these confusing times. It is presently focused on developments in surveillance, forensic science, less than lethal weapons, the militarisation of biology and the science of smell. Membership is easy- just send your findings to Amber and automatically become a member!

Beware of Robots- They could be amongst us

Published on Adbusters Culturejammer Headquarters (http://www.adbusters.org)
Cockroach Herding
Created 03/25/2008 - 16:04
The Reconquest of Cool [1]
Douglas Haddow [2]


A group of researchers at the Free University of Brussels have recently figured out how to influence the behavior of one of the world’s most resilient creatures: the cockroach. Combining elements of entomology and robotics, the group created an experiment that involved mingling light sensitive, cockroach-scented robots with the real deal.

Within a constructed social arena, the researchers set up two separate shaded areas, one area being darker than the other. Upon being released into the arena, the 16 organic roaches, which have a natural distaste for light, chose to socialize in the darker of the two spaces. The researchers then placed four of the robot roaches into the arena and allowed the two groups to mingle and become acquainted.

After the living roaches warmed up and befriended their artificial counterparts, the group then programmed the robots to graze in the area with more light. Although cockroaches are instinctively drawn to the darker of the two areas, they were unable to resist the impulse to imitate, and ultimately follow their cockroach-smelling robotic friends into the light.


A team of marketing specialists have recently figured out how to effectively influence the social patterns of Manhattan’s most trend-savvy demographic: the hipster. Utilizing elements of guerilla methodology in conjunction with a strong understanding of cultural capital, the team successfully interloped the Lower East Side’s vibrant nightlife and established an intimate venue where they could easily manipulate young consumers.

The team engineered a recurring, premeditated “non-event” in which they would hang out on a street bench located in front of New York’s most prominent American Apparel branch. Initially, they were able to attract the interest of passing youths because of their status as minor celebrities within the city’s taste-making elite, but over time “The Bench” (also known as the “anti-scene”) grew to become a hyper-local social phenomenon and quickly developed a reputation as a cool alternative to neighborhood bars and clubs.

Positive media publicity further popularized “The Bench” and soon enough the surrounding sidewalk was packed with thronging youths eager to hang out at New York’s newest and freshest night spot. Although youth are supposed to be resistant to social control, they were unable to resist the impulse to imitate, and ultimately follow their marketing-savvy friends into the light of American Apparel.

Source URL: http://www.adbusters.org/magazine/76/cockroach_herding.html
[1] http://www.adbusters.org/magazine/76
[2] http://www.adbusters.org/authors/douglas_haddow

Cloned Dogs- Evolution- and Korean Revolutionaries

Do the Koreans believe Lamarck's theory of evolution or do they think character and behaviour are genetically determined by other means?

Cloned sniffer dogs go on show
Hyung-Jin Kim, Associated Press, in Incheon
The Guardian, Friday April 25 2008
The Korean customs service has unveiled a group of seven cloned Labrador retrievers that are being trained to sniff out explosives and drugs at ports and airports.

The cloning was carried out by Seoul National University scientists, who in 2005 created the first known dog clone. The team is led by Lee Byeong-chun, a former aide to Hwang Woo-suk. Hwang's breakthroughs on stem cell research turned out to be false, but independent tests proved the dog cloning was genuine.

The dogs were born five to six months ago after being separately cloned from an experienced drug-sniffing dog. For now, they all share the name "Toppy" - a combination of "tomorrow" and "puppy."

"They have a superior nature. They are active and excel in accepting the training," said Kim Nak-seung, a trainer at a centre near Incheon airport, who was putting the dogs through their paces yesterday. In February all the dogs passed a behaviour test to see whether they are genetically qualified to work as sniffing dogs. Only 10%-15% of naturally born dogs pass the test.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2008

Oh yes! The man in the lab coat can help me decide who to bed...phew!

From The Times
August 13, 2008
The Pill may put you off smell of your man and ruin your relationship
Mark Henderson, Science Editor
To millions of women it has been the great liberator over the past four decades, allowing them the freedom to control their fertility and their relationships. But the contraceptive Pill could also be responsible for skewing their hormones and attracting them to the “wrong” partner.

A study by British scientists suggests that taking the Pill can change a woman’s taste in men — to those who are genetically less compatible.

The research found that the Pill can alter the type of male scent that women find most attractive, which may in turn affect the kind of men they choose as partners. It suggests that the popular form of contraception — used by a quarter of British women aged between 16 and 50 — could have implications for fertility and relationship breakdowns.

The findings, from a team at the University of Liverpool, add to growing evidence that the hormones in the Pill influence the way that women assess male sexual attractiveness.

The Pill is thought to disrupt an instinctive mechanism that brings together people with complementary genes and immune systems. Such a couple, by passing on a wide-ranging set of immune system genes, increase their chances of having a healthy child that is not vulnerable to infection.

Couples with different genes are also less likely to experience fertility problems or miscarriages. Experts believe that women are naturally attracted to men with immune system genes different to their own because of their smell.

Commenting on the latest study, the researchers said that it could indicate that the Pill disrupts women’s ability to judge the genetic compatibility of men by means of their smell.

They said that this might not only impact on fertility and miscarriage risk, but could even contribute to the end of relationships as women who stop or start taking the Pill no longer find their boyfriend or husband so attractive.

Several previous studies have suggested that women tend to prefer the smell of men who are different from them in a cluster of genes called the major histocompatibility complex (MHC), which governs the immune system. Some of these studies have also found that this effect is not seen among Pill users.

The latest study, published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society, has now assessed the impact of Pill use in the same women, both before and after they began using oral contraception. A group of 97 women was tested, some of whom started taking the Pill during the course of the research. All had their MHC genes tested and were asked to sniff T-shirts worn in bed by men with different patterns of MHC genes.

Unlike some previous studies, the research did not find any preference for dissimilar MHC genes. However, when the women started taking the Pill their preferences shifted towards the scent of men with more similar genes to their own.

This suggests that Pill use has an effect on perceptions of scent attractiveness, even if there is no underlying female preference for similar or dissimilar MHC genes.

Craig Roberts, who led the study, said: “The results showed that the preferences of women who began using the Pill shifted towards men with genetically similar odours. Not only could MHC-similarity in couples lead to fertility problems, but it could ultimately lead to the breakdown of relationships when women stop using the Pill, as odour perception plays a significant role in maintaining attraction to partners.”

The research also found differences between women in relationships, who tended to prefer odours of men with different MHC genes, and single women, who tended to prefer the smell of MHC-similar men.

This could potentially indicate that if women are tempted to have an affair, they are more likely to choose a man with very different genes, to maximise the diversity of any offspring that they might have.

The scientists said that more work was needed to explain the way various studies have obtained different results on whether women naturally prefer men with different or similar MHC genes. They also cautioned that the importance of scent in human mating preferences remains uncertain.

The research backs up an earlier study of how women’s perceptions of partners can alter when taking the Pill. Psychologists from St Andrews and Stirling universities found that women on the Pill tend to prefer macho types with strong jaw lines and prominent cheekbones.

However, women who are not taking that form of contraception seem to be more likely to go for more sensitive types of men without traditionally masculine features.

New literary reference

It was disheartening not to see 'Headspace' in the Guardian's list of the best books on smell, but fellow Welshman proved that the Guardian had clearly missed the most interesting smell references in literature any way so it's no big deal...


Ten of the best (June 21) could also have included the smells that dominate the opening pages of Raymond Queneau's Zazie in the Metro. While Proust's Marcel inhales "the lingering scent of invisible lilacs" in the countryside, Queneau's Gabriel voices his repulsion on inhaling unpleasant odours given off by the unwashed crowd at the Gare d'Austerlitz: "Howcanemstinksomuch?" He then dabs himself with a heavily scented mauve handkerchief, provoking a verbal exchange that nearly leads to violence with an outraged couple on the platform. Queneau exploits smells and smelling not as a stimulus to memory, but as a means of sniffing out other people's identity and personal habits, soon to be renewed with the arrival of Gabriel's teenage niece Zazie, who strongly approves of her uncle's choice of scent and then goes on to question him relentlessly about his sexual orientation.
Mark Stroud

Calming the nerves

News highlights

Lavender scent calms dental patients

15 Sep 2008, PR 187/08

A study by researchers at King’s College London has found that people exposed to lavender oil scent before having dental treatment were then less anxious about going to the dentist.

Metaxia Kritsidima, an MSc Dental Public Health graduate, working with Dr Koula Asimakopoulou Lecturer in Health Psychology, from the Dental Institute at King’s, presented their results at The British Psychological Society’s Division of Health Psychology and European Health Psychology Society Conference at the University of Bath last week.

British Psychological Society press release

Metaxia Kritsidima explained: ‘A substantial number of people avoid going to dental surgeries because they are ‘scared of the dentist’, which can have a significant impact on their dental health. The anxiety experienced by these patients once they get to the dentist is stressful not only for them, but also for the dental team.

‘Working under a state of increased tension may potentially compromise their performance, as well as lengthening appointment times. This is why finding a way of reducing dental anxiety is really important.’

In this study, researchers investigated the effects of lavender scent on dental anxiety. The dental anxiety levels of 340 adult patients were measured while they waited for a scheduled dental appointment. Some patients were exposed to a lavender scent while the rest were not.

Patients who were exposed to the scent reported feeling less anxious than the control group. This significant effect was present regardless of the type of dental appointment (e.g. routine check up, drilling). However, the exposure to lavender had no effect on the patients’ anxiety regarding future dental procedures.

Metaxia Kritsidima concludes: ‘Our findings suggest that lavender could certainly be used as an effective ‘on-the-spot’ anxiety reduction in dentists’ waiting rooms.’

Dr Koula Asimakopoulou, comments: ‘This is a significant difference and it was present regardless of the type of dental appointment.’

More than 700 psychologists from the UK, Europe and further met at the University of Bath from 9 - 12 September 2008 for the joint European Health Psychology Society and British Psychological Society’s Division of Health Psychology Conference 2008.

The conference, themed ‘Behaviour, Health and Healthcare: From Physiology to Policy’, will look at how psychology can be applied at individual and group level to promote health, and even prevent illness, at a national level.

Dog Witness to murder

Murder Trial Calls Dog As Witness
By Sky News SkyNews - Thursday, September 11 02:59 pm
A courtroom observing a French murder trial could be excused for thinking the presiding judge has gone barking mad.


In what is believed to be a world first, the investigating magistrate has invited a dog to take the stand as a witness.

Scooby will give evidence as he is believed to have been with his 59-year-old owner when she was found hanging from the ceiling of her Paris flat.

Police believe the death was suicide, but her family cry murder - and the only witness to see the alleged crime is on four legs.

It is hoped Scooby can collar the potential perpetrator, having already played a leading role during a preliminary court hearing in Nanteree, a Paris suburb.

He is said to have hounded a suspect, "barking furiously" after being taken out of the kennel and into the witness box by a vet.

French judge Thomas Cassuto praised the mongrel for his "exemplary behaviour and invaluable assistance".

But lawyers barked back - insisting the bizarre spectacle "proved nothing".

One said: "Human evidence is unreliable enough, let alone canine evidence.

"Besides, the victim died two and half years ago, which is seventeen dog years! How is the animal supposed to remember that far back?"

A spokesman for the Palais de Justice in Paris confirmed that the appearance was the first time a dog had appeared as a witness in criminal proceedings in France.

He said: "It was a preliminary hearing. The judge will now decide if there is enough evidence to go to trial."