Interview with Seth Roberts

Justin Wehr asked me some interview questions and decided not to publish my answers. I thought they were good questions. Here they are, reworded slightly, and my answers.

QUESTION Of the experimental treatments you have studied, which ones have the most positive effect on your life?

ANSWER From more to less effect:

  • Effect of morning faces on mood
  • Effect of fermented food on health
  • (tie) Effect of animal fat on health
  • (tie) Effect of omega-3 on health
  • Weight-control experiments.

QUESTION What about everyone else?

ANSWER  It depends on how far in the future you look. The morning faces stuff is the most important, I’m sure, but it’s also the hardest to implement. The fermented food stuff is easy to implement. It’s easy to eat more yogurt. So I believe that in the short term, the fermented foods stuff will have the most effect on others, in the long term, the faces stuff.

QUESTION Much of your research is related to the idea that we get sick because we live differently now than long ago. Can you explain this? Are there exceptions?

ANSWER Our genes were shaped to work well in one environment. Now our environment is quite different. All sorts of things go wrong — we don’t eat an optimal diet, for example — and our bodies malfunction in all sorts of ways. The exception is that once we know what an optimal diet (or environment) is we can assure it. For example, we can make sure we get the optimal amount of Vitamin C. The health problems caused by progress can be fixed, in other words, and we can emerge in better shape than ever before.

QUESTION How much time a day do you spend on self-experimentation?

ANSWER About ten minutes. Measuring various things, such as blood pressure and brain function.

QUESTION Why do few people self-experiment?

ANSWER Millions of people self-experiment. For example, millions of fat people try many different ways to lose weight. Professional scientists (e.g., med-school professors) do not self-experiment, at least publicly, because it is low-status, because it is frowned upon (by their colleagues), because it might be hard to publish the results, and because it won’t help them get grants.

QUESTION How do you determine an appropriate dosage for treatments that might have a good effect on what you measure but a bad effect on other things? For example, maybe animal fat is good for sleep but bad for other things.

ANSWER I don’t worry about it. Just as all electric appliances are designed to use the same house current, I’m sure all parts of our body are designed to work best with the same diet.

QUESTION Could advances in medical technologies (such as regenerative medicine) replace the need to live healthily? For example, if we could easily replace livers, maybe people could drink more.

ANSWER Not likely. Except that the more we know about nutrition the more we can replace our ancestors’ diet with a diet made up of the necessary nutrients. For example, I drink flaxseed oil to get omega-3. I’m sure our long-ago ancestors got omega-3 in other ways. So I no longer need to be like them. Basic nutrition isn’t medical technology, but it is a way in which it is easier to be healthy.

QUESTION What don’t you know, but wish you did?

ANSWER How to make book-writing as addictive as Wii Tennis.

6 Responses to “Interview with Seth Roberts”

  1. epistemocrat Says:

    Good questions and answers, indeed. The last answer made me laugh.

  2. Andrew Gelman Says:

    Seth: I’m glad you posted this. I find it so irritating when people interview me and then don’t use the interview or don’t even thank me for my time. It makes perfect sense–I run lots of regressions but don’t use most of them, so, similarly, an interview can gather lots of information and publish only some of it. Still, it’s annoying.

  3. Justin Wehr Says:

    Thanks, Seth. I like the re-phrasings, and glad you added some bulk to your answers. I will link to this later, but probably better on your blog anyway — your readers will appreciate this more than mine.

    I would still really like to see you develop the first two questions. *How much* do they improve your life and potentially other people’s lives?

    Thanks again.

  4. Caleb Says:

    We really need a website who’s raison d’etre is to organize and provide links to online videos appropriate for morning face viewing. I have a “Face Videos” folder on my desktop in which I try and keep a que of such downloaded videos, but it’s often in danger of running out. Seriously, someone with web skills should start this up; once the layout was up most of the linked content could be user submitted.

    Have you experimented using video with two faces? I’ve started using such videos, and have noticed a much stronger effect than using a mirror or a video with a single speaker.

    Bloggingheads.tv contains a ton of these type of videos, with two bloggers recording an hour long dialogue they have with their webcams. On my 24 inch monitor, the heads seem to come out just about the right size when I put the video on full screen.

    My theory on why it works so much better is that it simulates rich social interaction much better, with a back and forth conversation to follow, and the monitoring of how facial expressions are changing in reaction to what’s being said, engaging a lot more of the brain than when I view just one face.

  5. seth Says:

    No I haven’t tried videos with 2 faces. That’s fascinating that you get a stronger effect.

    I think two faces is more likely to resemble the ancestral situation. I doubt people just talked to one person at a time. I imagine a few people got together and talked — about their dreams, for example.

  6. q Says:

    have you tried laughter yoga?