It all started with a tweet. “Fresh wave of bad reviews for yankee candles,” wrote @drewtoothpaste in December 2021, in a post that included screenshots of Yankee Candle reviews on Amazon. “This candle had no scent when lit. Very disappointed!” read one one-star review. “No scent very disappointed and embarrassed as this was a gift,” read another. This wasn’t a new discovery: Over the past year, other Twitter users had noticed reviews on Amazon claiming that Yankee Candles had “no smell,” and wondered if there was a connection with COVID-19, which can cause anosmia, or loss of smell.
Based on the December 2021 tweet, the trend had continued. And when Nicholas Beauchamp, assistant professor of political science at Northeastern, noticed it, he couldn’t help himself. “It wouldn’t be that much harder to do this properly,” he decided. Beauchamp took the Twitter joke and turned it into a full paper—presented at this week’s “International AAAI Conference on Web and Social Media”—that examines the clear link between the “no smell” reviews and upticks in COVID-19 cases.