March 19, 2011

On Malodorants, as Narrated by Alexander Leandro Dela Fuente

I had wanted a copy of Jon Ronson's The Men Who Stare at Goats for quite some time now, but only caved and bought a copy fairly recently; a paperback version had been released and the lower price assuaged any issues I had with the high monetary cost of so-called 'novelty' books. On page 156, a single passage caught my interest:

"...that houses an array of pepper sprays and stun guns and malodorants - tiny capsules of powdered 'faecal matter, dead mammals, sulphur, and garlic' which are great at 'crowd dispersement' and 'will gag a maggot.' " (Ronson 2004)

I thought it would be worth writing about, if ever our Psychology 135 class got around to discussing the importance of smell.

Clearly I hadn't been paying enough attention.

That was around a month ago; tonight, I finally got the chance I'd been waiting for. I eagerly dug up my copy of Ronson's opus, powered up my computer, and started sniffing around. Unfortunately, the results were rather discouraging; I hadn't considered that the book I had been reading was primarily about the US military's more unconventional secret projects. A dearth of reviewable articles was to be my Waterloo and that plain stank.

Like water in the loo.

My first stop on the road to disappointment was Google Scholar. An initial search on non-lethal weaponry produced Nick Lewer and Neil Davison's overview of non-lethal technologies; while this initially excited me, proper reading revealed that only a third of the eight page had been dedicated to malodorants; moreover, the paper itself had been assembled for a forum on disarmament by professionals with no direct connections to military research. The overview's objective was to enumerate, not to describe; as such, I could glean no information about how the US military operationalized research on malodorants.

A subsequent search, this time on non-lethal malodorants, led me to a patent for malodorant compositions. While the References section contained URLs, trying to follow up on these was a dead end for me; working from the bottom of the list, I came up with two Error 404: Page Not Found results and a notice that the US Naval War College's website was taking too long to respond. Rather than attempt to search further and place myself at risk for inclusion on a foreign government's watch list, I decided to retreat and look only at the patent for answers.

I do not want this man to know what I do with my Internet connection.

In that regard, the patent was very forthcoming with both casual and technical descriptions of malodorant compositions; to my distress, however, no mention was made of either the methods or the participant pool with which the claims made in the patent were verified.

Dejected, I turned to Wikipedia. The article on malodorants had been flagged for lacking either references or sources, but it did link to something called Skunk. Ostensibly an Israeli riot-control weapon, Skunk was first used on protesters gathering at a security barrier in the village of either Naalin or Bilin, to reportedly great effect.

Participant pool? A crowd of protestors. Methodology? Sprayed from a water cannon. Informed consent? I doubt it.

All the same, I've got to hand it to the Israelis. As far as efficiency's concerned, their scientific practices merit only one response:

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