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January 15, 1982

Taste and smell: the neglected senses

JAMA. 1982;247(3):277-285. doi:10.1001/jama.1982.03320280005001

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The author of this theory is the Epicurean poet Lucretius (first century BC), but he almost could have been a modern proponent of a steric theory of taste or smell. Beyond that likeness, the word "theory" is important because that, more than fact, has characterized much of our "information" about taste and smell to this day. Thus, although more than 2 million American adults suffer from loss or impairment of olfactory of gustatory senses (so says the recent report of the Panel of Communicative Disorders to the National Advisory Neurological and Communicative Disorders and Stroke Council), biomedical scientists still do not understand much more than Lucretius did about why sugar tastes sweet or fire smells smoky. What they are beginning to understand, however, is that the "chemical senses" have considerable medical significance.

As a consequence of this spreading awareness, the National Institute of Neurological and Communicative Disorders and Stroke recently