There were many funny things about Leah Goodman’s claim in Newsweek that a California engineer invented bitcoin. One was her observation that he put two spaces after a period — just like the inventor of bitcoin. Another was her observation that his relatives said he was “brilliant”, without giving any examples. His brilliance had remained perfectly hidden — until now. A third was her conclusion that he was obsessed with secrecy and distrusted government — just like the inventor of bitcoin (according to her). Felix Salmon was quite wrong when he said there are some very strange coincidences and the pieces of her argument “fit elegantly together”. Actually, her argument is worthless from top to bottom. Salmon was right, however, when he said that the engineer’s English shows he couldn’t possibly have invented bitcoin. As Salmon says, Goodman ignored this itty-bitty problem.
Who is the inventor of bitcoin? I’m sure it’s Nick Szabo, a former law professor at George Washington University. This idea first surfaced a few months ago in an anonymous blog post based on textual analysis. Szabo used certain phrases in the original bitcoin description far more than a bunch of other possible candidates. That is real evidence. The hypothesis that Szabo is the inventor passes several other tests as well: Continue reading “Nick Szabo is Satoshi Nakamoto, the Inventor of Bitcoin”
Yesterday I posted Kristen Marcum’s list of general rules she’d learned from this blog. (For example, “be skeptical of experts.”) Behind her list, I think there is one idea, slightly hidden from view:
non-experts can discover important things about health
By non-experts I mean people who are not health professionals. People who do not make a living from health research. By discover I mean learn from data for the first time, actually discover — in contrast to learn from an expert. By important I mean stuff that matters to many people. (It’s obvious that studying yourself you can help yourself.) I haven’t heard anyone else say this, although it isn’t far from the Quantified Self movement.
The first example of this rule was the work of Richard Bernstein, an engineer with diabetes. In the 1960s, he pioneered home blood glucose testing, now enormously important. Another example, I hope, is my work. I used self-tracking and self-experimentation to find important new cause-effect relationships in several areas — new ways to sleep better or lose weight, for example. I believe my conclusions will turn out be true for many people, not just me, because they fit well with research done with other people and animals. I’m a professional scientist, which obviously helped, but not a health researcher. Continue reading “Lessons of This Blog (2nd of 2)”
A reader named Nicole, who lives in Washington D.C., writes:
I have been an avid follower of Seth’s blog since Boingboing.net first posted something about or by him. And when I heard that my brother was planning to get my niece’s tonsils removed, I remembered the Boingboing article Seth wrote about tonsils and their important, if not completely understood, role as part of our immune system. So I sent that article along. My brother responded quickly with: “Wow, thanks. I won’t be getting her tonsils out any time soon.”
Nice to hear!
Patrick Tucker, an editor at The Futurist, posted a request on the Quantified Self Forums for “astounding” predictions based on self-quantification. He is writing a book about using data to make predictions.
Here are examples from my self-measurement:
1. Drinking sugar water causes weight loss. The self-quantification was measuring my weight. It began when I found a new way to lose weight, which pushed me to try to explain why it worked. The explanation I came up with — a new theory of weight control — made two predictions that via self-experimentation I found to be true. That gave me faith in the theory. Then the theory suggested a really surprising conclusion, that loss of appetite during a trip to Paris was due to the sugar-sweetened soft drinks I had been drinking. If so, drinking sugar water should cause weight loss. (The nearly-universal belief is that sugar causes weight gain, of course.) I tested this prediction and it was true. More.
2. Seeing faces in the morning improves mood the next day (but not the same day). This is so surprising I’ll spell it out: Seeing faces Monday morning improves my mood on Tuesday but not Monday. For years I measured my sleep trying to reduce early awakening. Finally I figured out that not eating breakfast helped. There was no breakfast during the Stone Age; this led me to take seriously the idea that other non-Stone-Age aspects of my life were also hurting my sleep. That was one reason I decided to watch to watch a certain TV show one morning. It had no immediate effect. However, the next morning I woke up feeling great. Via self-measurement of mood, I determined it was the faces on TV that produced the effect, confirmed the effect many times, and learned what details of the situation (e.g., face size) controlled the effect. More.
3. One-legged standing improves sleep. Via self-measurement I determined that how much I stood during a day controlled how well I slept. If I stood a long time, I slept better. Ten years later I woke one day after having slept much better than usual. The previous day had been unusual in many ways. One of them was so tiny that at first I overlooked it: I had stood on one leg a few times. Just for a few minutes. Yet it turned out that it was the one-legged standing that had improved my sleep. Without the previous work on ordinary standing I would have ignored the one-legged standing — it seemed trivial.
4. Butter is healthy. I found that butter improved how fast I can do arithmetic problems. No doubt it improves brain function measured in other ways. Because the optimum nutrition for the brain will be close to the optimum nutrition for the rest of the body — at least, this is what I believe — I predict that butter will turn out to be healthy for my whole body, not just my brain.
5. Mainstream Vitamin D research is all messed up. Via self-measurement I confirmed Tara Grant’s conclusion that taking Vitamin D3 in the morning (rather than later) improved her sleep. It improved my sleep, too. When I had taken it at other times of day I had noticed nothing. Apparently the timing of Vitamin D — the time of day that you take it — matters enormously. Take it at the right time in the morning: obvious good effect. Take it late in the evening: obvious bad effect. Vitamin D researchers haven’t realized this. They have neither controlled when Vitamin D is taken (in experiments) nor measured when it is taken (in surveys). Because timing matters so much it is as if they have done their research failing to control or measure dose. If you fail to control/measure dose, whatever conclusion you reach (good/no effect/bad) depends entirely on what dose your subjects happened to take. And you have no idea what dose that is.
The newly-released climate scientist emails (called Climategate 2.0) from University of East Anglia (Phil Jones) and elsewhere (Michael Mann and others) show that top climate scientists agree with me. Like me (see my posts on global warming), they think the evidence that humans have caused dangerous global warming is weaker than claimed. Unfortunately for the rest of us, they kept their doubts to themselves: “I just refused to give an exclusive interview to SPIEGEL because I will not cause damage for climate science.”
This is a big reason I have found self-experimentation useful. It showed me that experts exaggerate, that they overstate their certainty. At first I was shocked. My first useful self-experimental results were about acne. I found that one of the two drugs my dermatologist had prescribed didn’t work. He hadn’t said This might not work. He didn’t try to find out if it worked. He appeared surprised (and said “why did you do that?”) when I told him it didn’t work. Another useful self-experimental result was breakfast caused me to wake up too early. Breakfast is widely praised by dieticians (“the most important meal of the day”). I have never heard a dietician say It could hurt your sleep or even a modest There’s a lot we don’t know. My discoveries about morning faces and mood are utterly different than what psychiatrists and psychotherapists say about depression.
As anyone paying attention has noticed, it isn’t just climate scientists, doctors, dieticians, psychiatrists, and psychotherapists. How can you tell when an expert is exaggerating? His lips move. There are two types of journalism: 1. Trusts experts. 2. Doesn’t trust experts. I suggest using colored headlines to make them easy to distinguish: red = trusts experts, green = doesn’t trust experts.
A reader of this blog started taking flaxseed oil, half a stick of butter daily, and yogurt. “This works wonders,” he wrote me. “It feels like lubricant to the mind.”
When The Shangri-La Diet was published (2006), I enjoyed checking its Amazon rank. The rank got worse. I checked less often. Eventually it was usually above 100,000 and I barely checked at all.
A few months ago, I noticed it was much better than I expected — maybe 40,000. How did that happen? Were sales improving? To find out, I subscribed to RankTracer, which records Amazon rank every hour and plots the results. Continue reading “The Curious Amazon Rank of The Shangri-La Diet“
For an article about self-experimentation and self-tracking to appear in Men’s Fitness UK this summer, Mark Bailey sent me several questions.
In what ways have the results of your self-experimentation directly affected your daily life e.g. health / work / lifestyle changes?
- Acne. My dermatologist prescribed two medicines. I found that one worked , the other didn’t.
- Weight. Found new ways to lose weight (e.g., nose-clipping).
- Sleep. Found new ways to sleep more deeply, avoid early awakening (e.g., one-legged standing).
- Mood, energy, serenity. Found that morning faces make me more cheerful, more energetic, and more serene.
- Productivity. After I started to track when I was working, I discovered that a certain feedback system made me work more, goof off less.
- Inflammation. Self-experimentation led me to take flaxseed oil. In the right dose — which I determined via self-experimentation — it greatly reduces inflammation. As a result, my gums are pink instead of red. They no longer bleed when I floss.
- Balance, reflexes. Flaxseed oil improved my balance and quickened my reflexes — I catch what I would have dropped.
- Blood sugar. I found that walking a lot improves my blood sugar level.
- Mental clarity. I found that flaxseed oil and butter improve how well my brain works in several ways.
Changes 1-6 are/were obvious. The rest are more subtle.
Continue reading “Seth Roberts Interview About Self-Experimentation”
On my Psychology Today blog someone left a surprising comment about why the Shangri-La Diet isn’t more popular:
Seth, I’ll tell you why. Because we are majorly competitive bitches, we women who care about our appearance. I’m 41, I have three children and I am a size 6. I fit into my wedding dress and the jeans I wore in college. How? Shangri-La. And there is no way in hell I am going to share my secret with anyone.
Went to the movies this weekend with a group of friends. They had the usual movie fare, I ordered a cup of tea (bag on the side), added two tablespoons of sugar (put the teabag in my purse for later), sipped it slowly throughout the movie, had not ONE craving for the popcorn or nachos or M&M’s everyone else was scarfing. I went home and had a light dinner and felt terrific!
Sounds more like an ad than an actual comment, but it could hardly be more vivid and I believe it.
I will always remember the day (today) my work appeared in a graphic-design magazine.
During the last half of 2010, I noticed today, hits at the Shangri-La Diet forums steadily increased. The number of hits went from about 300,000 in July to about 500,000 in December.
Before that the number of hits had steadily declined from a high of about 900,000 in August 2009. The number of hits had tended to be higher in the summer so the recent increase is counter-seasonal.
I am looking forward to reading Wrong: Why Experts Keep Failing Us â€” And How to Know When Not to Trust Them by David Freedman because of this sentence in an excerpt:
Cancer experts shake their heads today over the ways in which generations of predecessors wasted decades hunting down the mythical environmental or viral roots of most cancers, before pronouncing as a sure thing the more recent theory [that] cancer is caused by mutations in a small number of genes â€” a theory that, as weâ€™ll see, has yielded almost no benefits to patients after two decades.
He’s referring to the oncogene theory of cancer, for which Michael Bishop and Harold Varmus won a Nobel Prize in 1989.Â I made a similar comment at a dinner:
Several years ago, at a big Thanksgiving dinner in an Oakland loft, I told the woman sitting next to me, a genetic counselor, what a travesty the Biology [Nobel] prizes were. The discovery that smoking causes lung cancer had improved the lives of millions of people, I said [yet the discoverers hadn’t gotten a Nobel Prize]; the discovery of so-called oncogenes hadnâ€™t improved the life of even one person. She replied that she was the sister of [Harold Varmus]. The next day I learned she complained I had been rude!
I’m glad Freedman agrees with me. My low opinion of oncogene theory didn’t prevent Varmus from becoming head of the National Institutes of Health, whose recent budget was about $30 billion/year.
Thanks to Kathy Tucker.
This comment was made recently on an earlier post:
I am so glad I found this blog.
My daughter has had coughing fits for 24 months (she’s 5 1/2 yo).
Inhalers, several doctors, nothing helped. She routinely coughed until vomiting. After one 10 hour coughing fit I reached my limit and scoured the web.
After putting in her whole medical history as search qualifiers I found this [post]. The prior eczema and antibiotics were key indicators.
After 3 days of drinking 1 probiotic shake a day, she showed very marked improvement. After 1 week, no symptoms. This is a girl who’s been unable to run and play for 2 years. Who woke up coughing and gagging most nights.
After 6 weeks of the same regimen, she still shows no symptoms and is running and playing full blast.
The pulmonary specialist discounts the results we’ve seen as a fluke . . . we’ll see. Previously my daughter’s lung capacity was measured at 47% of expected.
“Unable to run and play for 2 years”! I’m impressed. Not only (a) the improvement is huge, but also (b) it resembles verification of a prediction, not just something a theory can explain, (c) it wasn’t obvious to “several doctors” or (d) the rest of the Internet, and (e) after it happened it was dismissed by an expert, even though the evidence for causality is excellent. The verification aspect reminds me of Pale Fire:
If on some nameless island Captain Schmidt
Sees a new animal and captures it,
And if, a little later, Captain Smith
Brings back a skin, that island is no myth.
A friend writes:
I remember reading on your blog about more socks as a cure for Athlete’s Foot and I had a fungal infection on my foot from climbing around barefoot outside, I think. I tried using two different antifungal creams. They didn’t work. To be honest I didn’t use them for the recommended time cuz it’s a huge fucking hassle. You have to put it on your feet, let it dry, rub it in blah blah blah. And it’s kinda gross to use. So I went to Uniqlo [a Japanese clothing store] and bought like 20 pairs of extra socks and forgot about it. But when I wash socks the washed ones get put in the back of the drawer so the effect is the socks I wear spend like 3-4 days away from my feet every time. Anyway, the infection COMPLETELY disappeared. There is a weird sense of satisfaction from this kind of cure. It feels like just by doing some small things ‘right’ all these health issues can be fixed.
I had foot fungus for years, I too tried antifungal creams without success, and the problem cleared up within days when I bought a lot more socks. It has remained cleared-up. You could call it the staging-area problem: Our things act as staging areas for harmful bugs. Another example is getting an eye infection from pillowcases.
Elizabeth Kolbert, the New Yorker staff writer, did not know that Phil Jones, a climate-change scientist, manuevered to keep hidden information that disagreed with his conclusions. Here is what one of the damning emails gathered from the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit said:
From Phil Jones [head of the Climate Research Unit]. To: Michael Mann. Date: May 29, 2008
“Can you delete any emails you may have had with Keith re AR4? Keith will do likewise.”
To keep them from being exposed via a Freedom of Information law. Robin Hanson and Tyler Cowen think this is no big deal. I disagree. Yes, I said before this happened that the consensus was likely to appear stronger than it is and that bloggers were a powerful force toward truth — both of which this episode merely supports rather than reveals. And, yeah, it’s just email; the really damning info is the tree-ring data reanalyzed by Stephen McIntyre.
The reason I think this is important is two-fold. First, this is not a smoking gun. Global warming does not equal the honesty of Phil Jones. But it is a powerful piece of evidence that climate skeptics can use to convince anyone that the consensus isn’t as consensus-y as it appears. Second, it exposes what Kevin Trenberth (a proponent of man-made global warming) really thinks. This is something that few knew until now. Here is what he really thinks:
The fact is that we canâ€™t account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we canâ€™t. The CERES data published in the August BAMS 09 supplement on 2008 shows there should be even more warming: but the data are surely wrong. Our observing system is inadequate.
The data are surely wrong. Trenberth, being human, is going to put the best possible spin on things, the spin most consistent with what he has said many times . . . and this is what he comes up with. Support for the idea of global warming is entirely based on climate models. No one has created a mini-Earth and done experiments. If the data and models don’t agree, there is no reason to believe the models. And if you don’t believe the models you have no reason to believe in global warming. Is Trenberth an ignoramus whose honest assessment of the situation (the models and the data profoundly disagree) should be ignored? Of course not. He doesn’t draw the obvious conclusion (the models are wrong) but nothing prevents the rest of us from doing so.
Just to be clear: I completely agree with Robin’s larger point that this sort of thing supports prediction markets. And I think reduced reliance on fossil fuel would be a very good thing.
Three Things Elizabeth Kolbert Doesn’t Know.
This old comment made me laugh me when I reread it recently:
It was slightly embarrassing when friends would ask how long I had been on [the Shangri-La Diet]. I lied and said a day – it had only been eight hours but, hey, without SLD, I normally would have done a great deal of damage in those 8 hours. It’s now been a week and I’ve lost three pounds. I love the luxury of choosing finer foods now that I’m no longer compelled to eat everything in sight when dinnertime comes around. The Monster has been rocked to sleep
How are they similar? Kenneth Anderson at The Volokh Conspiracy writes:
I have shaved my head completely, as I have discovered from long experience that even if it doesn’t help me discover my spiritual side, it weirdly helps me concentrate. I highly recommend it. I have much coffee, good stuff from Antigua Guatemala. Yerba mate from Paraguay. I have my extralight olive oil re the Seth Roberts diet – to which, although I realize I’m just bragging here – I sincerely credit the loss of 25 pounds [emphasis added] and a wholly unmedicated cholesterol score last week of 128 total and 66 good (!).
All three help you concentrate. (SLD helps you not be distracted by hunger.)
In March, Century posted this on the SLD forums:
I’d like to put my dog on SLD by giving him his calories through sugar cubes. Would that work?
The dog will whine constantly when he’s hungry. He’s pretty old, and at this point, we don’t have the heart to put him on a strict diet. The hope is that with SLD, we won’t have to choose between a happy dog and a healthy dog. If it works, he won’t whine after he’s been fed his normal serving.
Today he posted this:
It’s worked incredibly well. It’s gotten to the point where he won’t whine at all. If I don’t remember to feed him, he won’t eat anything. I haven’t been able to weigh him, so I don’t really know how much weight he has lost, but a number of people have commented on how much thinner he looks. I’ve started to cut back on the sugar.
Any doubt I’ve had that SLD is for real has been erased. It’s unreal how well it’s worked for the dog.
Thanks to Heidi.
This, from the SLD forums, made me laugh:
Ya know its probably NOT placebo. . . . First time I ever did it I could not finish my bowl of oatmeal. Before SLD I had never, not ever, been able to not finish anything.