Personality, personal preference, petulance, and perfume.

Mr. Ross over at the FromPyrgos blog has yet again sworn off discussing my blog (the post is entitled, “Freeing From Pyrgos: This Is Bryan Ross, Signing Off…” I remember at least one other time he’s done this, and I doubt he will be able to keep his promise, though I welcome the criticism. I learned in graduate school that constructive criticism is very useful, and even some resentful criticism might lead to an important insight, so long as you don’t take it personally. In this case, I have read much of the FromPyrgos blog despite disagreeing with many of the claims made there and concluding that Mr. Ross’ appreciation of scents differs significantly from mine. By contrast, he doesn’t seem to think it is legitimate for me to appreciate scents the way I do. And there are issues with his consistency of opinion, whereas I readily admit that I have changed my mind about scents, and have provided scientific reasons for this (see below). For example, can Mr. Ross clarify whether he thinks Basenoters are mostly inconsequential knuckleheads or power brokers of the fragrance industry? He seems to want it both ways, depending upon his claim du jour. Likewise, are reformulations nearly identical to the original formulations or are the new versions different but very good (again from what I’ve read, he wants to have it both ways)?

In his latest blog post, my sanity is questioned, yet there is no specificity. His “evidence” are a couple of personal messages from the Basenotes.net site in which one anonymous person claims to another anonymous person that I appear to have a “personality disorder.” This is interesting because it is a subject that I have spent quite a bit of time researching, ever since I studied with a professor who had specialized in “Psycho-history” decades ago. However, because there is no specificity, other than a distasteful “WTF” comment, the best I can do here is to ask for clarification. Moreover, even if a personality disorder is present, how does that affect one’s appreciation of scents? Rather than Mr. Ross examining the issue at hand, he presents this as evidence of something, but I’m not sure what that is. Does he feel that one can never change one’s mind about a scent, or that one shouldn’t spend too much time thinking about them? Instead, we get accusations of something nebulous, at least to me.

Apparently, these psychological claims were the result of my accusing a particular BN member of possibly being a “right fighter,” as “Dr. Phil” often discusses on his TV show. One BN member who seems to want to be my nemesis (a blog post about him will be forthcoming shortly; I have a feeling this is one of the two people who is quoted anonymously by Mr. Ross), for example, claimed that the Old Spice study supported his point, yet when I quoted a concluding sentence (about how well the vintage versions have held up), he simply stated that it supported his contrary position. I’m not sure if he is delusional or something else, but I have confidence that I can articulate my position clearly and that the majority of readers agree. In the private message, it is claimed that I “go off on tangents,” yet again there is no evidence cited. I won’t waste my time debating ghosts, other than to point it out, but if someone wants to explain this idea, please do. In order to “get back at me” (which is common among those with Paranoid Personality Disorder, it seems), Mr. Ross disclosed these messages.

I’m not sure how one is supposed to regard this FromPyrgos blog. What is his point? If a person claims that his experience suggests to him that the human sense of smell is quite variable and presents actual scientific evidence to support that claim, then the only reasonable reaction, it seems to me, is to go find some evidence that you think supports your contrary claim (if you can find any) and make a sensible argument. Instead, Mr. Ross thinks he can “nit pick” his way to “winning,” whatever that means in this context (I’ll be the first to admit that I do not understand that conceptualization). For example, he brings up a post that allowed on my site, which he claims is from a “spammer.” The comment was short and something to the effect that the reader liked my blog. I did not see any spam there, so again what is the point even if this person is a spammer? I certainly wouldn’t allow that person to post the same comment over and over again, and in fact that was his or her only comment on my blog. So, here again it seems that Mr. Ross thinks that he knows better than everyone else, and makes a claim that he thinks demonstrates how “right” he is, but then not backing it up with evidence or making mountains out of mole hills. If I want to run my blog in a certain way, why not let readers decide if it is worth their while or not? Why does Mr. Ross seem to feel the need to be the “blog master” of the internet?

In my reviews over the years, I have sometimes pointed out how my opinion has changed about a particular scent, and in fact in a recent one suggested that I may have disliked citrus-oriented ones because of the apparently low quality ingredients used in recent formulations. I have no idea if this is true, but I only have so many resources at my disposal (my experience, what I have read online, etc.). And again as I’ve said before, if anyone finds my blog to be a waste of time, I strong urge you to find something better to do with your free time. But for Mr. Ross, this is not enough; he seems to have a “crush the enemy” mentality here, even though this is a human endeavor that would seem to cry out for the opposite approach. I doubt if he will ever admit to being clearly petulant at times, but I will certainly admit to having a different way of viewing things than most people, and in fact I recently saw a documentary about the mind that seems to explain this.

In the second episode of “Science Britannica” (“Method and Madness”) Brian Cox spoke to a well-known Autism researcher Simon Baron-Cohen who has also studied scientists, in terms of their personalities (see around the 27 minute mark of this video):

His findings were that scientists prefer to focus on one or a small number of tasks at a time, and they do so in much more depth than most people (he says most people usually flitter from one topic to another). They not only have systematic minds, but possess all-embracing curiosity and enjoy deconstructing the world. Additionally, he said it make sense to think of them as somewhere between “normals” and Autistic people. Baron-Cohen notes that most people think that, “if you go too deeply into something you’re obsessional and it should be discouraged…” Another issue may involve how much “working memory” a person possesses, which seems to regulate how well a person can “stick to a subject.” This may be why the claims made by Mr. Ross, my apparently self-appointed nemesis on BN (“greekyogurt,” though perhaps at least one other), and some others who have poked their toes into this “debate” seem to have difficulty following all the detail.

However, instead of suggesting that someone is lacking in working memory, I will go ahead an offer a challenge that I think is the best way to resolve any issues: go ahead and make your case succinctly, and be sure to include evidence. What, exactly, is the issue? Is it that they think that everyone must agree with their perception of scents or else the person is psychologically disturbed? Because I am not sure what they find so troublesome in the points I’ve made on this blog, I will start off with the claim against vintage scents, and I will publish all replies that are appropriate. What, Mr. Ross, do you find so troubling about some number of people wearing mostly vintage scents and discussing how much they enjoy these concoctions on various sites? You certainly are entitled to be as troubled as you like, but if you think you can single-handedly stop us from voicing our opinion on the major scent sites, I advise you consider some psychological counseling. Note that I am not claiming this is the case, but as things stand I do not understand his position. If I receive comments that contain some inappropriate but also appropriate commentary, I’ll just delete the inappropriate material and publish the rest. Thus, there is no reason for these people to refrain from replying, unless he or she realizes that “the jig is up” and they really have no sensible case to make.

The claim here, and you can make a totally different one if you like, is that vintage scents are a really bad thing to want to acquire because they are always or almost always “off” in some major way. My argument is not they are in any way perfect, but simply that I enjoy them more than recent releases. And after acquiring well over a hundred bottles of vintage, without any being “off” in a way I consider major, I don’t see that there is much risk, especially if you buy from ebay, as I often do (due to their return polity). Even if I had been “ripped off” a few times, I would have no problem losing $100 or so, considering the many great deals I’ve gotten there. The idea that vintage is mostly “dreck,” however, strikes me as clearly ludicrous, because if that were the case we would have read many online “horror stories,” whereas the reality is it’s almost always the case that people talk about how great vintage formulations are, and don’t say that when they wear such scents those around them think there is a really bad odor emanating from nearby.

In fact, Mr. Ross has claimed that some Creed scents need to “age” in order to smell better and become a lot stronger (the latter claim seems scientifically impossible, in terms of the usual chemical and naturals used), but I can’t remember reading anyone else make this claim before he did. Smelling better is certainly possible, since it may just be a change in personal sensitivities (or changes to the liquid that was trapped in the tube since the last wearing), and this is a scientifically tenable position. Where is the evidence for this incredible change in strength (with no loss in the quality of the scent) over the course of less than a year? It sounds like something a young child would say, such as, “you can’t see me because I made myself invisible now,” but I welcome the opportunity to read some evidence about this supposed phenomenon. Why doe Mr. Ross feel the need to “sign off” when there are a few issues at hand, and there doesn’t seem to be any impediment to discussing them rationally?

The latest “issue” involved a statement released by Maitre Parfumeur et GantierMaitre. They warn against “old stock,” which is fine with me. In fact, I certainly hope people fear these bottles and they sell for pennies on ebay, because I will likely be the one buying as many as I can. Mr. Ross seems to think this is evidence for a case against vintage, yet much of his post is about outright fakes, which is an entirely different issue (if he doesn’t understand this, then I am truly concerned about his mental health). Since I have no sympathy for fakers or the potentially dangerous junk they produce, I don’t think that’s all I need to say. In the case of fearing “old stock,” there is clearly a strong possibility of a conflict of interest, and when that is the case it’s not credible to cite these sorts of self-serving statements as “evidence.” However, even if the person who wrote it believes it to be the case, what does that mean for the vintage aficionado? Some person (s) at MPG has an opinion – good for him or her! Now I’ll get back to trying to find some old MPG bottles at low prices. The point is that there is a vintage market (which seems to be on the rise) and there are vintage aficionados; trying to suggest that there isn’t because you don’t want there to be brings us back to the child claiming to be invisible because he or she says so.

If this is not the claim, let’s discuss whatever it is, trying to focus on that one specific issue with an open mind. Let’s cite evidence and examine it closely. Let’s not think that we know better than others in terms of what scents they should wear. Let’s put emotions aside. I have documented how it is now scientifically established that the human sense of smell can change significantly in a short period of time, and after I have said many times that I believe I had major sensitivity issues (possibly even Multiple Chemical Sensitivities or a “sub-clinical” form of it). Mr. Ross points to “evidence” (such as when I change my review of a scent) that simply is inconsistent with this science. It’s as if he thinks he can will away whatever science he likes, just as he has quoted the Old Spice study as if it was conclusive and then went on to take implicit if not explicit positions against it (at least in terms of not questioning Mr. Dame on his “dreck in ten years” notion). I welcome a “debate” on the science but Mr. Ross seems convinced that he is so right (not just ordinary right) that it is beneath his dignity to do so, and if that is the case, and he finally has “take his ball and walked away,” then so be it. If he or another of these others really want to discuss scents in an intelligent way, I look forward to hearing what they have to say.

In the meantime, I’ll conclude by mentioning that I’ve found that the learning process is a great deal of fun, that is, if I’m interested in the subject. Of course, as a “newbie” to anything you are likely going to say some things that in retrospect you will roll your eyes at, if not regard as outright silly. However, in the case of scents, perceptual change never seems too far away. The studies I cited in my recent “Can one be an ‘Einstein’ of scent?” post, however, suggests there are two major factors here. One is how “wired” your brain is to detect notes, accords, construction, etc., while the other is sensitivity. These often work at cross purposes, so to speak, at least in my experience. Mr. Ross himself has recently written about the Biolandes (synthetic iris note) in Dior Homme. In my wearings of DH and notes that appear to have quite a bit of Biolandes as well, I’ve noticed that this iris note sometimes “spikes out,” whereas other times it “stays in place.” This is one reason why people like myself will change our reviews, because in this example the iris may seem to unbalance the composition and possibly destroy much of the dynamism, whereas other time everything seems just right. This is why I think you need to read as much as you can about a scent before “blind buying” a bottle (though sampling is probably the best idea), but also why you shouldn’t dismiss a scent too quickly (I’m certainly glad I rarely did this). Mr. Ross can weigh in with his thoughts, if he wishes, but from what I’ve read at FromPyrgos, he doesn’t agree with this, and instead thinks that there is some sort of “objective” human perception of these concoctions. This is contrary to everything I’ve read and experienced, but if he wants to provide some evidence, especially scientific papers, then I look forward to reading his commentary.

NOTE: I thought it would be a good idea to provide an example of “right fighting” in this context. I have pointed out that if one reads through the posts and reviews on BN, MUA, and Fragrantica, one finds very little evidence of anything remotely resembling the claim that scents turn to “dreck” or are clearly unwearable within a decade’s time, but we do see that there are many vintage fans/aficionado. This is beyond anecdotal evidence because there is so much of it and this is a subjective perception. If most of these people thought they smelled really bad by wearing vintage scents, they would have told us by now. Another way to think of this is the old saying, “the exception proves the rule.” Those who “right fight” often look for an exception and then they’ll say, “see, I found this comment that proves I’m right,” when an academic trained in social science investigation would point out the opposite.

In personal relationships, there seems to be a great deal of blaming and dredging up of past events, which may be distorted so that the person can claim that he was “right” back then, which “proves” that the other person is “bad” and needs to change. The “right fighter” does not believe that he or she bears any responsibility for the problems in the relationship, or minimizes it greatly. This is why one often encounters fruitless “debates” online; a debate with a competent moderator that focuses on one specific issue may be best, but of course is unlikely to occur. Therefore, the best one can do is to point these things out and hope the majority of readers give the arguments made a fair hearing, without becoming distracted by “right fighting” tactics.

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2 Comments

Filed under Criticizing the critics.

2 responses to “Personality, personal preference, petulance, and perfume.

  1. Hey Bigs,

    I have one possible explanation for the seeming near-unanimity of opinion about the value of vintage at sites such as D-notes: it’s a pre-selected sample of the population, isn’t it? People who are not “true believers” do not usually frequent such sites, do they? The few who do but disagree have to have a lot of guts to speak up, and some probably think that it’s not worth the fight.

    Loved the post–I do hope that Bry will reconsider. The Bigs-Bry battle has become my favorite sporting event! 😉

    • I mostly have read reviews and posts on BN, Fragrantica, and MUA. As a newbie, I also read a lot of reviews on Perfume Emporium’s site. There are plenty of people there, probably a majority, who are not especially interested in vintage, yet few seem to be reticent to criticize scents. Most of the criticism, as you are probably aware, is directed towards new releases of one kind of another. Almost all the criticism of vintage seems directed towards reformulations. There are a few claims about people receiving “off” scents from an ebay seller, especially mini bottles, which may have been filled up with some water. I know that someone did this to me (with a regular size bottle), because the liquid was quite cloudy and it was filled up beyond where manufacturers would (it wasn’t sealed, though, but was a screw top spray). I was able to get a full refund, however, so as I’ve said, what’s the risk? In any case, other than literally a few claims like this, I have not encountered one person who is the original owner of a sealed spray bottle who has claimed it turned to “dreck” (other than one or two that were flawed in a major way, apparently, but I think those were released less than ten years ago and the problem was known soon after they were released). Considering how much praise for vintage there is on these major sites, as well as how important not smelling skunky is to these same people, I don’t see how anyone can think that the “dreck” claim (or anything remotely similar) is credible, even if the Old Spice study did not exist. If Mr. Ross or anyone else can present evidence to the contrary, I’d like to read it, but this seems to be the perfect example of a “the exception proves the rule” situation, doesn’t it?

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