Cause of Death

Hello, this is Seth’s mother Justine. I’d like to offer what little information I have to try to answer some of the questions that were posted about Seth’s death. We’re told that we’ll get a full coroner’s report in about 6 months. In the meantime we were given only “Cause A: Occlusive coronary artery disease” and “Other significant conditions: cardiomegaly.”

Most of you won’t be surprised to learn that Seth had not visited his doctor in Berkeley in many years, and, responding to a recent question, said that he hadn’t been to a doctor during his stay in Beijing either. We are left with 3 sets of paper records. The earliest, dated 2009, reports a Coronary Calcium (Agatston score) screening which he discussed here last October. He obtained a second screening 1-1/2 year later. The first report showed his coronary artery occlusion to be about average for a man his age, with an accompanying risk of heart attack, but no cardiomegaly. The second report, following his conclusion that butter was beneficial for him, and his heavy ingestion of it, showed an improvement in his score: “Most people get about 25% worse each year. My second scan showed regression (= improvement). It was 40% better (less) than expected (a 25% increase).” The report showed the calcification to be unevenly distributed, with most found in his left main coronary artery, and none in all but one of the other arteries. Again, no heart enlargement was reported.

The second medical report set, done in December 2011, was from Beijing and covered an exam that may have been required by his employer, Tsinghua University. This included a physical exam, an x-ray and EKG. All reports were negative, i.e., no abnormal findings and no cardiomegaly.

The third set of reports, from a laboratory in St. Charles, Ill., used data collected in Berkeley. They list toxic and essential elements in his hair. The latest report, dated July 18, 2013, showed one element rated “high.” This was mercury, “found to correlate with a 9% increase in AMI [acute myocardial infarction]” according to the report. His level was assumed to indicate exposure gained from eating fish. Presumably Beijing’s toxic smog contributed directly both to the mercury level of the fish that he ate there, and to the level in his hair.

The only information about his blood pressure was in the Beijing report where it was recorded at 117/87. I could find no information about cholesterol levels, though it has not been a familial problem. Of the remaining Framingham Study risk factors: Seth did not smoke or have diabetes. He was not overweight and was physically active. Seth’s father died of a heart attack at 72.

Of course, I can’t end this posting without sending my deepest thanks for all of the kind notes posted here. They were hurtful to read because of the reminding. They were healing to read because of the solace gained from learning about his friends and that he was able to help many people.



Hello, this is Seth’s sister, Amy, with the sad news that Seth died on Saturday, April 26, 2014. He collapsed while hiking near his home in Berkeley, CA. He had asked that any memorial gifts be made to Amnesty International. Thank you to all for following and sharing Seth’s work.

Value of Salt Reduction Supported by Four Studies

For a long time, researchers have found links between high sodium intake and higher blood pressure, and between higher blood pressure and increased risk of stroke. At the same time, critics, including Gary Taubes, have argued that the data do not support the idea that most people should reduce their salt intake. Continue reading “Value of Salt Reduction Supported by Four Studies”

“Dawn of Genomic Medicine”

According to the headline of a Yahoo News article, “the dawning of the age of genomic medicine” is upon us. There has been little impact of genomics but “that is finally changing,” says Julie Steenhuysen, the author of the article.

I was curious how this would be argued. Here’s how:

Sambrookes had been very athletic as a young teen, but as she matured, she noticed a heaviness in her legs. By age 20, running left her tired. At 40, she needed a pacemaker, just like her mother did at that age.

“I started thinking there is something to this,” said Sambrookes, now 56, who lives in Michigan City, Indiana.

After some dead ends, she found McNally, who cast a wide net, testing for more than two dozen genes that could account for Sambrookes’ heart and muscle problems.

The culprit turned out to be a mutation in a gene called Lamin that causes Limb-girdle muscular dystrophy. The disease can cause weakness and wasting of the muscles between the shoulders and knees. The mutation can also cause electrical disturbances of the heart.

McNally recommended Sambrookes replace her pacemaker with an implantable cardiac defibrillator that could protect against sudden cardiac death.

That proved to be the right call. Last August, Sambrookes’ heart stopped three times. Each time, the defibrillator shocked her back to life.

“She literally tried to die three times,” McNally recalls of her patient. “It still takes my breath away.”

Because someone recommended a pacemaker be replaced with a defibrillator, genomic medicine is a good idea. The benefits of genomic medicine must remain elusive if you have to use such a poor example to support it.

“We Need Only One Santa”: My Answer to Grand Health Promises

“We need only one Santa” is a line from a video by Icelandic’s Best Party, which won enough support that its leader, Jon Gnarr, became mayor.

“We need only one Santa” would have been a good response to any big health promise in the last 20 years. Not one has come true, just as there is no Santa Claus. “Beating cancer now is a realistic ambition because, at long last, we largely know its true genetic and chemical characteristics,” wrote James D. Watson, co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, in 2009. We need only one Santa, Dr. Watson.

At the NIH, “one of our biggest projects is the BRAIN initiative . . . We are bringing together the best and the brightest people from a variety of disciplines to figure out, over the next 10 years, exactly how the brain works,” said Francis Collins, head of the NIH, a few days ago. We need only one Santa, Dr. Collins.

The Great Prostate Hoax by Richard Ablin

A recent study in the BMJ concluded that the massive breast cancer “prevention” program — having women get annual mammograms — had done more harm than good. Women were randomly assigned to get mammograms plus self-exam or self-exam alone. The death rate from breast cancer was the same in the two groups. However, women in the mammogram group were told they had cancer and received very painful and expensive treatment far more often than women in the other group. This being modern medicine, the true situation is even worse than what you read in any article about the (very negative) study. One critic has said that the randomization was not done properly. If true, this means that medical researchers, even when told exactly what to do, don’t do it, in ways that make a multi-million dollar study useless. In spite of billions of dollars and billions of hours spent on mammograms and billions of pink ribbons, we still know practically nothing about the environmental causes of breast cancer. (I suspect bad sleep is a major cause. Shift work is associated with breast cancer.)

A new book (to be published in March), titled The Great Prostate Hoax: How the PSA Test was Hijacked by Big Medicine and Caused a Public Health Disaster says that prostate cancer screening is no better. The book is by Richard Ablin, who discovered the prostate-specific protein used in the screening test. The trouble with the PSA test is simple. First, the reading is often high for reasons that have nothing to do with cancer. Second, prostate cancer is common (cancer increases as the fourth power of age) and usually benign.

In an interview, Ablin made some good points:

 The US Food and Drug Administration failed in its duty to the public: its advisers warned that routine PSA screening would cause a public health disaster, but it was approved under pressure from advocacy groups and drug companies. . . . The unfortunate reality is that no current data show that men who undergo PSA screening live longer than men who decide against it.

A few years ago Ablin wrote an op-ed about this.

The Idealist: Jeffrey Sachs and the Quest to End Poverty by Nina Munk

After I finished The Idealist: Jeffrey Sachs and the Quest to End Poverty by Nina Munk, I thought of something a graduate student in English had told me: A little Derrida goes a long way and a lot of Derrida goes a little way. It was literally true. A few sentences by Derrida, you could think about for days, maybe productively. A whole book by him was baffling and irritating. A lot of Jeffrey Sachs goes a little way, I thought.

When it came out (2005), I thought The End of Poverty by Sachs was the ravings of a lunatic. Munk’s book shows I was right but I had to admit that George Soros giving Sachs $100 million or whatever to put his ideas into practice (to “test” them) was considerably more interesting than the activities of the other billionaires Munk had written about before Sachs. Soros had an advisory board whose reaction to Sachs’s ideas was the same as mine but Soros overruled them. Soros was right. A tiny bit was learned from spending all that money, which is better than learning nothing. Certainly I learned more than if the money had been used to buy a private jet.

As an assistant professor doing animal learning experiments, I saw over and over that it was incredibly hard to learn anything. Anything. No doubt all science professors who are honest learn this. But then I saw something that is less easy to see: If doing the “right” thing pays off worse than we expect — Sachs’s flamboyant failure in Africa is an example — then doing the “wrong” thing should pay off better. If spending an enormous amount of money we learn less than expected, then when we spend very little money we should learn more than expected. This is the upside of ignorance. The less you know, the easier it is to learn more. And we know much less than famous professors, such as Sachs, say we know.

My personal science is the polar opposite of what Sachs did. He tried to help others (poor Africans), I try to help myself. He tries to help people he knows almost nothing about, I try to help myself — and I know a lot about myself. He tried to do something big (end poverty). I try to do something small (e.g., sleep better). What he did cost millions of dollars. What I do costs nothing. I can test a new idea about how to sleep better in days. Sachs took years to test his ideas. For me, failure costs almost nothing. Sachs’s failure cost him years of his life. You have to be an extraordinary person with great talent to do what Sachs did. Whereas anyone can do personal science.

Interview with Mr. Heisenbug

Although the blog Mr. Heisenbug (“Respect the microbiota”) is quite new, I have learned a lot from it, especially about the importance of fiber. I interviewed the blogger:

SETH Tell me about yourself, such as your background relevant to your blog.

HEISENBUG  My name is Shant Mesrobian. My professional/academic background has no relation to the content of the blog. My background is in tech/politics/publishing. The blog is just a side hobby and is produced from independent research. (I’m a “non-expert” as you might call it.) Continue reading “Interview with Mr. Heisenbug”

Criticism of My View of Education: My Answer

My criticism of college education can be boiled down to this: It is too much one-size-fits-all. It takes too little account of differences between students. Those differences are no accident. They reflect the fact that a good economy needs to produce many different things. Human nature has been shaped to provide exactly that.

Bryan Caplan posted about this, and one reader (Tim of Angle) replied:

Roberts is criticizing colleges for not doing something that they aren’t really trying to do. . . . Our educational model is built around hiring teachers who are (supposedly) good at thing X and paying them to train other people to do thing X. Nobody claims that the way the teacher does thing X is the only way to do thing X, nor even the best way to do thing X; what colleges do claim is that the way the teacher does thing X is a successful way to do thing X, and it hopes that the teacher can train students to do thing X competently at least the way the teacher does thing X.

I was discussing undergraduate education at Berkeley. Berkeley professors are hired mainly based on their ability to do research. Undergraduate classes are not about training researchers (= the next generation of professors at research universities, such as Berkeley); that’s what graduate school is for.

In most Berkeley undergraduate classes, professors aren’t teaching students to “do” anything, at least anything that most of us would recognize as “doing”. (Engineering, art, architecture, foreign language and perhaps statistics classes are exceptions.) In most classes, students are introduced to an important fraction of an academic field. In a social psychology class, for example, they learn about social psychology research. The class is not about how to do social psychology. It is about what has been done and what has been learned. If the class consisted entirely of students who wanted to become psychology professors, that would be fine. In fact, only a small fraction of Berkeley psychology majors (5%?) go to graduate school in psychology. The students in most Berkeley classes (outside of the more vocational areas, such as engineering) will go on to do many different jobs. Few in any class will become professors.

I think one theory of higher education is close to what Tim of Angle says. The practice, at least at elite universities such as Berkeley, is quite different.

A different theory of higher education revolves around signalling. College performance provides a useful signal to future employers, that’s why it exists in present form. At Berkeley, I never heard this motivation (will this provide a good signal to employers?) brought up in discussions about grading or anything else. It’s utterly clear, on the other hand, that where you go to college (Harvard versus College of Marin) is indeed a powerful signal to employers and, yes, if you can go to Prestigious College X, you really should. How many “axes of excellence” there should be — how many separate categories or dimensions we should use to rank colleges — is a different discussion.

Women and Body Fat (Ancestral Health Symposium 2013)

One of the best talks at the 2013 Ancestral Health Symposium was by Will Lassek, a retired doctor. Here’s the abstract:

One puzzle is why human males have such a strong preference for women with hourglass figures and low weights that can compromise fertility. The second is why slender young women typically have about one third of their weight in body fat, more than bears starting to hibernate, and why human infants are also very fat. Finally, why do women typically gain another twenty pounds or more during their reproductive years? The answer may lie in the roles that fat plays in providing essential fatty acids needed for the growth of a very large brain and in regulating overall fetal growth.

His answer to the first question was that death during childbirth was a serious danger. Women of lower weight give birth to babies with smaller heads — less likely to cause death. Wider hips means a larger birth canal. Women gain weight after their first birth because their birth canal is wider — the optimal baby size has gone up. A variety of data supported these ideas. Lessek’s answer to the first question is quite different than what evolutionary psychologists have said.

Scrivener for Windows Review

After hearing several people, including James Fallows (” the single best bargain ever offered in the software world”), praise Scrivener, a software program for writing, I tried it again. I had tried it a year ago, but there were so many bugs I quickly stopped. There were fewer bugs this time, but my experience was not good.

The free-trial copy says you can use it for “30 non-consecutive days”. I didn’t know what that meant. I was told it means “30 separate days before the trial expires — the trial is measured in “days of use”, rather than elapsed time since installation”. Someone thought that would be clear? I suggest “30 not-necessarily-consecutive days” plus an explanation of what that means.

When I imported material from Microsoft Word — the most common possible import — links were lost. I filed a bug report. I got an answer: “Unfortunately that’s the reality of importing: some information can be lost when you move from one file format to another.” Well, yes, but how about fixing the bug? I asked. In reply, I was told that Scrivener for Windows was the work of one person and that the import software was third-party. “We are constantly striving to find new [import software], and to make improvements on our own, where we can,” said the spokesperson for Scrivener.

I used Scrivener for about two weeks. Then, trying to put a quotation block in my text, I found that particular formatting is not available. It has been a long time since I came across writing software that did not include quotation blocks. The final straw. I went back to Microsoft Word.

In a way, it’s a miracle I lasted two weeks, given the difference in resources invested in Microsoft Word and Scrivener for Windows.





Practical Use of Our Liking For Complex Flavors

People like complex flavors. I suppose this is why I prefer black tea to green tea. My evolutionary explanation is that this preference caused our ancestors to eat more bacteria-laden food. Bacteria make food taste more complex and bacteria-laden food are healthier than bacteria-free food.

Phil Alexander sent me a story from this book that illustrates this preference:

We entered the saloon. Not a customer was there — a very surprising fact, considering that it was New Year’s Eve. The only person in sight was the bartender who paced back and forth in front of the bar like a caged beast.

“Well, whatta you want?” he asked savagely.

“Why, we just want a little New Year’s drink,” I returned. Winterbill was too surprised to say anything.

“Mix ’em yourself,” the bartender replied. “I’m through with the saloon business.”

“If you feel that way about it,” I said, “why don’t you sell out?”

“Well, the first guy who offers me $300 can have the works.”

Somewhat amused and thinking he must be joking, I retorted, “I’ll give you $300 — provided it includes all your stock, the cash register, and other equipment.”

“Mister, you’ve bought yourself a saloon!” he snapped. “I’ll not only include all the stock and equipment — I’ll throw in a full barrel of whiskey I’ve got in the basement.”

Winterbill now joined in the fun and began to take an inventory.

The owner took off his apron and handed it to me. “Gimme the three hundred bucks.”

I gave him the money, still believing it was a joke. He put the money into his pocket, got his hat and coat and departed. To our complete bewilderment, we found ourselves in the saloon business.

A few minutes later, our first customer came in. He evidently had not made our place his first stop. I hurriedly put the apron over my evening clothes and asked for his order.

“Martini,” he said in a thick voice.

“Martini,” I repeated to Winterbill.

“Stall him!” Winterbill whispered.

“Coming right up,” I told the customer. He didn’t mind waiting. He was at the stage where he wanted to talk and so proceeded to do.

Meanwhile Winterbill racked his brain, for he had only the vaguest idea how to mix a Martini. He finally settled upon a recipe. He put a dash of everything from the numerous bottles behind the bar into one drink. I stirred it up and handed it to the customer. We watched anxiously while he drank it down.

“That was good!” he exclaimed. “Best Martini I ever tasted. Mix me another.”

Again Winterbill started to mix.

“How do you feel?” I inquired, none too sure of the consequences.

“Me?” asked the customer. “Fine. Never felt better in my life.”

He didn’t show any bad results after the second drink, and we both were relieved. As time went on more customers came in. They ordered whiskey sours, Manhattans, and Martinis. Winterbill had just one formula and that’s what he gave them all. Nobody complained.

. . . By the time we closed that night we had taken in more than the whole outfit cost us!

Better Balance and Gums From Flaxseed Oil

When I took flaxseed oil capsules for reasons connected with the Shangri-La Diet, I noticed, to my surprise, that my balance improved. The next time I saw my dentist, he told me that my gums were much better. A reader of this blog named Chuck Currie has noticed the same things.

I ran across a reference to your book again which led me to your website. And, like I said, from there to Mark Sisson and all the rest.

I had already ran across information about flax oil and cholesterol and heart health. So I started taking two tablespoons a day [of flaxseed oil] – morning and night. I noticed my balance improvement while doing yoga, but thought it was due to practice. After reading several paleo blogs, I switched to fish oil – one table spoon a day in the morning. Then after reading some other studies regarding possible negative effects of over-consumption of fish oil, I stopped that also.

During this time I really became a strict paleo/primal eater and exerciser. No carbs other than leafy greens and non-starchy vegs. No more chronic cardio. Stopped swimming due to shoulder issues. Started using kettlebells and body weight tabata exercise. Went back and forth on supplementation. My weight dropped to below 120. [He’s 5 feet 8 inches tall.]

I was getting totally confused on what was legit and what was BS. Sure I lost weight, but I must have looked sick because people were asking if I was all right. I think they thought I had cancer or AIDS. I felt great though. No more 2 o’clock naps and I slept great. Then I read Kurt Harris’s 2.0 blog and that set me straight – and straight back to your blog.

It made me think, OK what works on the individual level, not the hypothesis level. I had also noticed that my balance had deteriorated (I thought it was because I stopped doing yoga) and my gums were bleeding again – I had forgotten that they had stopped bleeding. [After he switched from flaxseed oil to fish oil, his balance slowly got worse.] Sort of back to basics. Sun, lots of it, or D3 – 10,000 units (I am sitting in the sun as I type this on my iPhone). Omega 3 – your posts about flax oil made sense – [sudden release of short-chain omega-3 causes] slow release [of long-chain omega-3] – and is more sustainable than cold water fish and fish oil. Magnesium at night for better sleep and muscle cramps. (when I first went full paleo, I suffered from terrible leg cramps during the night until I found magnesium). And extra butter – beyond cooking with it.

I tested the flax/balance question by continuing to not practice yoga or any other balancing exercises and [measure my balance] just using my ability to wash my feet in the shower without leaning against the wall – which had been my normal habit before my first improvement and then again when it went away. After about a week – perfect balance – both washing and drying my feet. Also, no gum bleeding. So as some would say, “the shit works”.

[He added later:] I can definitely say, with a high degree of confidence, that my balance is not as good when taking fish oil as it is when taking flax oil. Fish oil does provide a small improvement over not supplementing any omega-3. But the big improvement comes with flax oil.

Earwax Transplant Story

I think this actually happened:

A man came to the [University of Pittsburgh] clinic with a chronic infection in his left ear. He told doctors that other doctors had tried everything: anti-fungal drops, antibiotics, and many other treatments. The Pittsburgh doctors gave him additional antibiotics. The patient came back to the clinic a week later and said he was cured. The clinic doctors told him they were glad they had helped him. He said: “You didn’t. I suffered so much after your drugs I took some earwax from my right ear and put it in my diseased left. In two days I was fine, infection cured.” . . . The good ear contained good bacteria that killed off the bad in the bad ear.

I predict that people will eventually realize that the 2005 Nobel Prize for “ulcers are caused by bacteria” was a big mistake.

Thanks to Mark Griffith.

Omega-6 is Bad For You

For a long time, nutrition experts have told us to replace saturated fats (solid at room temperature) with polyunsaturated fats (liquid at room temperature). One polyunsaturated fat is omega-6. Omega-6 is found in large amounts in corn oil, soybean oil, and most other vegetable oils (flaxseed oil is the big exception). According to Eat Drink and Be Healthy (2001) by Walter Willett (and “co-developed with the Harvard School of Public Health”), “replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats is a safe, proven, and delicious way to cut the rates of heart disease” (p. 71). “Plenty of proof for the benefits of unsaturated fats” says a paragraph heading (p. 71). Willett failed to distinguish between omega-3 and omega-6.

A recent study in the BMJ shows how wrong Willett (and thousands like him) were. This study began with the assumption that omega-3 and omega-6 might have different effects, so it was a good idea to try to measure the effect of omega-6 separately.

They reanalyzed data from a study done in Sydney Australia from 1966 to 1973.The study had two groups: (a) a group of men not told to change their diet and (b) a group of men told to eat more omega-6 by eating more safflower oil (and reducing saturated fat intake, keeping overall fat intake roughly constant). The hope was that the change would reduce heart disease, as everyone said.

As these studies go, it was relatively small, only about 500 subjects. The main results:

Compared with the control group, the intervention group had an increased risk of all cause mortality (17.6% v 11.8% [emphasis added]; hazard ratio 1.62 (95% confidence interval 1.00 to 2.64); P=0.051), cardiovascular mortality (17.2% v 11.0%; 1.70 (1.03 to 2.80); P=0.037), and mortality from coronary heart disease (16.3% v 10.1%; 1.74 (1.04 to 2.92); P=0.036).

A 50% increase in death rate! The safflower oil was so damaging that even this small study yielded significant differences.

The authors go on to show that this result (omega-6 is bad for you) is supported by other studies. Walter Willett and countless other experts were quite wrong on the biggest health issue of our time (how to reduce heart disease, the #1 cause of death).

The Pizza Paradox: Home Cooking and Personal Science

Last week I had pizza at the home of my friends Bridget and Carl. It tasted divine. The crust was puffy, chewy and the right amount. The thin-crust bottom was slightly crunchy.  The tomato sauce had depth. The toppings (two kinds of mushrooms, Jerusalem artichokes, zucchini, onions, goat cheese) were tasty, creamy and a little crunchy. It was pretty and three-dimensional. It was easily the best pizza I’d ever had, the best home cooking I’d ever had, and much better than the lamb I’d had at Chez Panisse the night before, although the lamb was excellent. The pizza hadn’t been hard to make nor were the ingredients expensive. Do other people wonder why this is so good? I asked my friends.

At some level I knew why it was so good — why the sauce was so good, for example (see below). The puzzle — let me call it the Pizza Paradox — was that commercial pizza, even at fancy restaurants (such as Chez Panisse), is so much worse. Continue reading “The Pizza Paradox: Home Cooking and Personal Science”

How Meritocratic is Chinese Higher Education?

A friend of mine taught at Harvard for a few years. Her husband needed a job, so he taught a writing class. He said his students were so bad it appeared to be an experiment: How stupid can you be and succeed at Harvard? They had not been admitted based on SAT scores or grades, that was clear. In a recent article called “The Myth of American Meritocracy”, Ron Unz described considerable evidence of exactly what my friend’s husband noticed: Harvard admission not based on the usual “meritocratic” measures, such as SAT scores and grades. For example, he found evidence of an Asian quota. If Asians weren’t penalized for being Asian, far more would be admitted.

In a follow-up article, Unz wrote: Continue reading “How Meritocratic is Chinese Higher Education?”

How to Encourage Personal Science?

I wonder how to encourage personal science (= science done to help yourself or a loved one, usually for health reasons). Please respond in the comments or by emailing me.

An obvious example of personal science is self-measurement (blood tests, acne, sleep, mood, whatever)  done to improve what you’re measuring. Science is more than data collection and the data need not come from you. You might study blogs and forums or the scientific literature to get ideas. Self-measurement and data analysis by non-professionals is much easier than ever before. Other people’s experience and the scientific literature are much more available than ever before. This makes personal science is far more promising than ever before.

Personal science has great promise for reasons that aren’t obvious. It seems to be a balancing act: Personal science has strengths and weakness, professional science has strengths and weaknesses.  I can say that personal scientists can do research much faster than professionals and are less burdened with conflicts of interest (personal scientists care only about finding a solution; professionals care about other things, including publication, grants, prizes, respect, and so on). A professional scientist might reply that professional scientists have more training and support. History overwhelming favors professional science — at least until you realize that Galileo, Darwin, Mendel, and Wegener (continental drift) were not professional scientists. (Galileo was a math professor.) There is very little personal science of any importance.

These arguments (balancing act, examination of history) miss something important. In a way, it isn’t a balancing act. Professional science and personal science do different things. In some ways history supports personal science. Let me give an example. I believe my most important discovery will turn out to be the effect of morning faces on mood. The basic idea that my findings support is that we have a mood control system that requires seeing faces in the morning to work properly. When the system is working properly, we have a circadian rhythm in mood (happy, eager, serene during the day, unhappy, reluctant, irritable at night). The strangest thing is that if you see faces in the morning (e.g, 7 am) they have no noticeable effect until 6 pm the same day. There is a kind of uncanny valley at work here. If you know little about mood research, this will seem unlikely but possible. If you are an average professional mood researcher, it will seem much worse: can’t possibly be true, total nonsense. If you know a lot about depression research, however, you will know that there is considerable supporting research (e.g., in many cases, depression gets better in the evening). It will still seem very unlikely, but not impossible. However, if you’re a professional scientist, it doesn’t matter what you think. You cannot study it. It is too strange to too many people, including your colleagues. You risk ridicule by studying it. If you’re a personal scientist, of course you can study it. You can study anything.

This illustrates a structural problem:

2013-02-28 personal & professional science in plausibility space

This graph shows what personal and professional scientists can do. Ideas vary in plausibility from low to high; data gathering (e.g., experiments) varies in cost from low to high. Personal scientists can study ideas of any plausibility, but they have a relatively small budget. Professional scientists can spend much more — in fact, must spend much more. I suppose publishing a cheap experiment would be like wearing cheap clothes. Another limitation of professional scientists is that they can only study ideas of medium plausibility.  Ideas of low plausibility (such as my morning faces idea) are “crazy”. To take them seriously risks ridicule. Even if you don’t care what your colleagues think, there is the additional problem that a test of them is unlikely to pay off. You cannot publish results showing that a low-plausibility idea is wrong. Too obvious. In addition, professional scientists cannot study ideas of high plausibility. Again, the only publishable result would be that your test shows the idea is wrong. That is unlikely to happen. You cannot publish results that show that something that everybody already believes is true.

It is a bad idea for anyone — personal or professional scientist — to spend a lot of resources testing an idea of low or high plausibility. If the idea has low plausibility, the outcome is too likely to be “it’s wrong”. There are a vast number of low-plausibility ideas. No one can afford to spend a lot of money on one of them. Likewise, it’s a bad idea to spend a lot of resources testing an idea of high plausibility because the information value (information/dollar) of the test is likely to be low. If you’re going to spend a lot of money, you should do it only when both possible outcomes (true and false) are plausible.

This graph explains why health science has so badly stagnated — every year, the Nobel Prize in Medicine is given for something relatively trivial — and why personal science can make a big difference. Health science has stagnated because it is impossible for professionals to study ideas of low plausibility. Yet every new idea begins with low plausibility. The Shangri-La Diet is an example (Drink sugar water to lose weight? Are you crazy?). We need personal science to find plausible new ideas. We also need personal science at the other extreme (high plausibility) to customize what we know. Everyone has their quirks and differences. No matter how well-established a solution, it needs to be tailored to you in particular — to what you eat, when you work, where you live, and so on. Professional scientists won’t do that. My personal science started off with customization. I tested various acne drugs that my dermatologist prescribed. It turned out that one of them didn’t work. It worked in general, just not for me. As I did more and more personal science, I started to discover that certain low-plausibility ideas were true. I’d guess that 99.99% of professional scientists never discover that a low-plausibility idea is true. Whereas I’ve made several such discoveries.

Professional scientists need personal scientists to come up with new ideas plausible enough to be worth testing. The rest of us need personal scientists for the sake of our health. We need them to find new solutions and  customize existing ones.




If You Ever Visit Seoul, You Might Want To Skip Bean Table Restaurant

A restaurant near Seoul named Bean Table got a surprisingly bad review:

Then came a massive chicken salad dish, given the number of people we had we over ordered. The patrons we brought were split 50/50 on enjoyment for the chicken. We had so much leftovers and were wasting so much food, I asked the waiter to wrap the leftovers. . . . Asking the waiter to wrap this chicken came with a resounding “no”, so again to the kitchen to talk to a manager. Actually ended up talking to a chef, a young man who speaks good English, who also declined our request. We had a six year old and a three year old with us and that was the only food they were eating minus the pungent sauce.

Our driver then proceeded to get angry and went to talk to the chef, Sungmo Lee, and surprisingly Mr. Lee and our driver had a conversation that the whole restaurant could hear despite repeated requests by our driver to discuss outside. As that incident occurred being concerned for my family who flew on average 7,000 miles and were picked up for a total driving commute of two hours to come eat at this restaurant I went to calm both parties down. Things progressed from worse to horrible. I identified myself as a food critic, and Mr. Lee proceeded to take that as a threat and stated, “You don’t know who I am.” . . . . My father, a man in his 70′s, tried to speak reason to him only to be found that we were asked to leave.

At the end of the day, police were called, we weren’t allowed to pay the bill till police arrived even after we stated we wished to leave and skip the remaining courses. Police came and scolded Mr. Lee, telling him that if a customer pays for food then containers should be allowed for the customers to take food home. Keep in mind we are talking about cooked chicken, not fish, or tartar, etc. (Mr. Lee’s argument was that there were no take out containers in the restaurant and remained adamant about the no take out policy when we asked the driver to buy some containers). After the police came they asked us to leave while they dealt with Mr. Lee only to find an employee chasing out bus to pay the bill. No discounts, full price and another time suck of 20-30 minutes and the rest of the meal was safely kept in their fridge due to their “no takeout” policy. . . .

Before all of this nonsense came down my whole Korean family all thought that the restaurant was over rated and there was no single outstanding dish.

Until the Internet, stuff like this was never reported.