BU Today

Science & Tech

During the summer months, BU Today is revisiting some of the past year’s favorite stories. This week, we feature scientific research.

Almost two decades ago, when Christopher Schmitt was an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, he attended a lecture about the now-famous T-shirt-sniffing experiments, which suggested that scent plays a role in sexual attraction. The speaker, an endocrinologist, discussed the studies, which found that women rated men’s attractiveness by the scent of T-shirts the men had worn days earlier. Women consistently preferred the scent of men who had specific differences in their major histocompatibility complex, a set of proteins that are critical to immunity, and in this case, mark potential mates as genetically alluring.

Schmitt, now a College of Arts & Sciences assistant professor of anthropology and of biology, was intrigued. “It was the first time I’d heard of that kind of study,” he says. He approached the professor after class and asked if similar experiments had been tried with gays or lesbians. “She just kind of looked at me like I was crazy and said, ‘Why would you want to do that?’” he recalls. Embarrassed, he cut the conversation short and fled.

“To this day, I don’t know if she meant ‘What would be the hypothetical deductive reason for that?’ or ‘Why would you ever do that with gay people?’” he says. “So part of that was my own timidity. But part of it was also being 20 years old, and gay, and thinking, oops—I just stepped over some invisible line.”

Continue reading about issues in STEM diversity on BU Research


4 Comments on Is Science Too Straight?

  • Irene Plonczak on 10.11.2017 at 10:42 am

    I don’t agree with everything, particularly not this: “Science prides itself on being apolitical, gender-neutral, and color-blind—open to all, focused only on finding truth.”
    But overall it opens up an important conversation

  • Andrew Wolfe on 10.11.2017 at 3:09 pm

    The author complains that, in scientific research and discussion where it is completely irrelevant, human homosexuality is not mentioned. Do we really think the gay lifestyle must be brought up in every situation?

    • Amelia Taylor on 10.12.2017 at 1:55 am

      “Lifestyle”? Irrelevant? Scientific research cannot explain human sexuality unless it accounts for homosexuality. To omit homosexuality is to try and push a backwards political agenda.

  • Nathan Phillips on 10.12.2017 at 5:07 pm

    Welcome Prof Schmitt. BU is enriched by your presence and I’m proud to be your colleague.

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