Reflections on a Few Years of Blogging

Andrew Gelman’s blog has lasted longer than this blog (and was responsible for this blog.) Recently Andrew looked back. It seemed like a good idea so I will follow his lead.

The two big surprises have been how easy it is and how helpful it is. In the beginning it wasn’t easy to find interesting things to say. Somehow it got easier and easier. Partly because I had more ideas — about omega-3, the umami hypothesis and fermented foods, the effect of animal fat on sleep. Partly because readers sent me interesting stuff. Partly because I started teaching at Tsinghua and moved to Beijing part of the year. Partly because the Shangri-La Diet produced results that I wanted to brag about. And — a very big part of it — because there are enough comments here and elsewhere to make me think people are reading it. I think everyone has an innate desire to be listened to. As our concerns and knowledge become more and more specialized, it becomes harder and harder to find an audience. When Spy magazine was around I read every issue three times. I was dying to talk about it with other fans. I couldn’t. I couldn’t find them.

Some of the stuff people have sent me has been incredibly helpful. Most of the examples involve trying my ideas. Taking omega-3 (via flaxseed oil or fish oil). Tyler Cowen’s experience, for example. Tim Lundeen’s results. The effect on sports injuries. Or eating more fermented food. Tucker Max’s experience. Not only does it make the whole subject much easier to talk about, it convinces me I’m on the right track. Some of the examples involve telling me about other more conventional data related to my ideas. For example, I’m very glad to know about hormesis, which supports my ideas about fermented food. Knowing about radiation hormesis makes me stop worrying about the small dose of radiation I get from my cell phone. The recent comment about two morning faces being better than one might turn out to be really helpful and important.

I haven’t read She Stoops to Conquer, an 18th century play, but the title is brilliant. My self-experimenation, I now think, had a dose of that because I was willing to do something as humble as study myself whereas most scientists wouldn’t stoop to that. Too low-status. Blogging has a lot of that. How many Berkeley professors blog? Uh, Brad DeLong? And someone else, rarely. Blogging is beneath them. Whereas half of Tsinghua students have blogs. They aren’t worried about appearing undignified. The phrase keeping up with the Joneses means your car has to be at least as expensive as your neighbor’s car, and so on. A kind of arms race. Such an arms race goes on in science: What you must do to appear high status takes up more and more of your resources, leaving less and less to actually make progress. So less and less progress is made. Self-experimentation breaks out of that vicious cycle. Blogging is the same thing more generally. Supposedly professors, especially at a place like Berkeley, have interesting things to say. But the demands of status, as Veblen described in the last chapter of The Theory of the Leisure Class, make it harder and harder for them to say them. Blogging breaks out of that vicious cycle.

When I taught introductory psychology I found I could often weave whatever I’d been thinking about into my next lecture. It’s good to start a lecture by saying “Something interesting happened to me a few days ago . . . ” Now I can just blog about it.

9 Replies to “Reflections on a Few Years of Blogging”

  1. This is a perfect place to send a note of appreciation, Seth.

    I came here initially from Tyler Cowen’s blog, and since coming here my life is better. How? From fermented food added to my diet (especially kombucha!) , from the additional encouragement I found here to read Taubes’ book last year, and from the inspiration of your example of self-experimentation. If changing others’ lives for the better is an additional motivation for you to blog, I’m writing to offer your effect on mine as one datapoint. Thanks!

  2. Seth, thanks for posting all the interesting info. I’ve lost about ten pounds on your Shangri La diet (and still losing weight). Not entirely convinced by your stance on climate change, but the information you post is always thought-provoking.

  3. I really appreciate the self-experimentation articles. I eat flaxseed oil pretty regularly now, and my daughter takes fish-oil capsules. I have lost some girth — albeit probably more from avoiding bread than from The Diet — and now know a ready treatment for inflamed gums.

  4. Ditto on that note of appreciation. I started coming here also through Marginal Revolution, and since I was already interested in the sorts of things Seth writes about, I stuck around. Around that time, Seth was discussing Taubes and the lipid-heart hypothesis; I thought I knew something about that and argued for it, but Seth was responsible, at least indirectly, for completely changing my mind. So thanks, Seth.

    Also, that’s an interesting observation about blogging and Berkeley professors. You’d think they’d want to have wide influence through blogging…

  5. Frankly, I cannot even imagine how Brad can find the time to do it, so it doesn’t surprise me at all that the rest of the professors don’t. I don’t know how he is able even to read all the things he’s posting excerpts of and links to, never mind also post and comment on them, and read the ten times more other stuff that he doesn’t end up posting. No normal person could do all that and professorate besides.

  6. Hello Seth, thanks for blogging. I have been following your blog for quite a while through the google reader.

    I think it is great to have such access to the thoughts and musings of a professor – someone who is at the forefront of expanding the body of knowledge in their field.

    Can you point to any other blogging professors? I’d like to start a category in my feed reader 😉

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