‘There’s No Smell!’ How This US Expert Found a Link Between Covid Waves & Bad Reviews of Scented Candles
Bad reviews for scented candles means the candles are bad? It’s not so simple, apparently, with a new theory (and data supporting it) that claims a link between the rise of Covid-19 in US and declining customer satisfaction with perfumed candles.
The respiratory disease Covid-19, which emerged in 2020, has long been linked to the symptom of loss of smell.
And a Twitter thread that wondered about a correlation between the sharp rise in negative reviews for an American scented candle company and a possible Covid wave has now started an actual conversation, with data analysis, on the theory.
How Did it Begin?
It all began when a Twitter user pointed out a sharp increase in negative reviews complaining that the famously pungent candles of ‘Yankee Candle’ (a company which calls itself “America’s favorite brand of premium scented candles”) had no smell. The user wondered whether it could it be a hidden sign of the Covid wave.
According to a report by Guardian, the theory has now been confirmed by scholarly research, and there is indeed a link between Covid cases and the number of reviews complaining that Yankee Candles don’t smell. The rise in negative reviews mirrored the rise in official case counts in early 2022, the report said.
What’s the Correlation?
Nick Beauchamp, a Northeastern University political scientist and statistician earlier this year published a peer-reviewed paper on the relationship between Yankee Candle reviews and Covid data. Beauchamp, whose main job is to predict political outcomes by analysing online posts, told the Guardian ‘he got involved’ after tweeting about the candles last Christmas break and going viral.
Beauchamp used nearly 10,000 Yankee Candle reviews from Amazon in his study, ‘Detecting the Effect of Covid Anosmia on Amazon Reviews’ Using Bayesian Vector Autoregression, and discovered that each additional 100,000 new Covid cases per week resulted in an estimated 0.25% increase in the number of “no smell” reviews.
He controlled for seasonality to ensure that the increase in “no smell” reviews wasn’t due to more people purchasing candles in the winter. He also investigated whether there was a link between “good smell” reviews and Covid cases (no) or reviews and flu cases (yes) (no).
Beauchamp conducted a similar study on over 6,000 Amazon reviews of Vera Wang perfume and discovered a similar, albeit slightly weaker, relationship between reviewers complaining about “no smell” and official Covid data.
Yankee Candle update: Do ‘no smell’ complaints on Amazon predict Covid? My December tweet is now a paper @icwsm. It showed that Covid predicts reviews but not vice versa — but with new data through June, I now find that reviews do in fact predict Covid.https://t.co/NFz0qtvOxn pic.twitter.com/SVNiRIZ5hp
— Nick Beauchamp (@nick_beauchamp) June 6, 2022
Are the ‘No Smell’ Reviews Foreshadowing a Covid Wave?
Beauchamp concluded that cases did influence “no smell” reviews, but the study found no significant predictive relationship between reviews and Covid cases, implying that the reviews merely mirrored rather than predicted the pandemic data.
However, that seems to have changed. According to the report, Beauchamp updated the analysis in June to include data from the Omicron wave. “What I discovered was that the parameters of the model had changed slightly, and that the reviews had become significantly more predictive of Covid cases than before,” he explained.
“My hypothesis was that as measurements get more irregular and poorly reported, the official accounts were sort of lagging the actual cases and it was taking longer for these effects to turn up. And as a result, the reviews – which are still chugging along – become more useful as a signal,” he told the Guardian.
Beauchamp ran the analysis again on Monday night to include the last four months of data. This time, he discovered something unusual: while “no smell” complaints for Yankee Candles have increased in recent months, Covid case counts have decreased.
“All of a sudden now, these two curves that have been tracking each other pretty well, for almost three years now are starting to diverge fairly dramatically,” he said, wondering whether this was so due to “official case counts are becoming so poor, because nobody’s reporting those cases, or even testing themselves.”
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