- Japan is shrinking. How will it survive? The Japanese are healthier than people in other rich countries — that is one thing the rest of us can learn from them. A second is visual design. A third is perfectionism, or rather, how to instill perfectionism.
- Quantified Self conference in China. A small error: I didn’t say “”Self-tracking and experimentation supports personal science.” I said “QS [= the QS movement] supports personal science”.
- Is the QS movement a fad? “I see a lot of measuring but not much improvement.” A better question is: Do you see any improvement? All big things started small.
- the invention of DNA fingerprinting
- pork fat: the new health food
Archive for the 'quantified self movement' Category
Why Quantified Self Matters is the title of a talk I gave yesterday at a Quantified Self conference in Beijing. I gave six examples of things I’d discovered via self-tracking and self-experiment (self-centered moi?), such as how to lose weight (the Shangri-La Diet) and be in a better mood. I said that the Quantified Self movement matters because it supports that sort of thing, i.e., personal science, which has several advantages over professional science. The Quantified Self movement supports learning from data, in contrast to trusting experts.
If I’d had more time, I would have said that personal science and professional science have different strengths. Personal science is good at both the beginning of research (when a new idea has not yet been discovered) and the end of research (when a new idea, after having been confirmed, is applied in everyday life). It is a good way to come up with plausible new ideas and a good way to develop them (assess their plausibility when they are still not very plausible, figure out the best dose, the best treatment details). That’s the beginning of research. Personal science is also a good way to take accepted ideas and apply them in everyday life (e.g., a medical treatment, an idea about deficiency disease) because it fully allows for human diversity (e.g., a medicine that works for most people doesn’t work for you, you have an allergy, whatever). That’s the end of research.
Professional science works well, better than personal science, when an idea is in a middle range of plausibility — quite plausible but not yet fully accepted. At that point it fits a professional scientist’s budget. Their research must be expensive (Veblen might have coined the term conspicuous research, in addition to “conspicuous consumption” and “conspicuous leisure”) and only quite plausible ideas are worth expensive tests. It also fits their other needs, such as avoidance of “crazy” ideas and a steady stream of publishable results (because ideas that are quite plausible are likely to produce usable results when tested). Professional science is also better than personal science for studying all sorts of “useless” topics. They aren’t actually useless but the value is too obscure and perhaps the research too expensive for people to study them on their own (e.g., I did research on how rats measure time).
In other words, the Quantified Self movement matters because it gives all of us a new scientific tool. A way to easily see where the scientific tools we already have cannot easily see.
What surprised me most about my self-experimental discoveries was that they were outside my area of expertise (animal learning). I discovered how to sleep better but I’m not a sleep researcher. I discovered how to improve my mood but I’m not a mood researcher. I discovered that flaxseed oil improved brain function but I’m not a nutrition researcher. And so on. This is not supposed to happen. Chemistry professors are not supposed to advance physics. Long ago, this rule was broken. Mendel was not a biologist, Wegener (continental drift) was not a geologist. It hasn’t been broken in the last 100 years. As knowledge increases, the “gains due to specialization” — the advantage of specialists over everyone else within their area of expertise — is supposed to increase. The advantage, and its growth, seem inevitable. It occurs, say economists, because specialized knowledge (e.g., what physicists know that the rest of us, including chemists, don’t know) increases. My theory of human evolution centers on the idea that humans have evolved to specialize and trade. In my life I use thousands of things made by specialists that I couldn’t begin to make myself.
Here we have two things. 1. A general rule (specialists have a big advantage, within their specialty, over the rest of us) that is overwhelmingly true. 2. An exception (my work). How can this be explained? What can we learn from it? I’ve tried to answer these questions but I can add to what I said in that paper. The power of specialization is clearly enormous. Adam Smith, who called specialization “division of labor”, was right. The existence of an exception to the general rule suggests there are forces pushing in the opposite direction (toward specialists being worse than the rest of us in their area of expertise) that can be more powerful than the power of specialization. Given the power of specialization, the countervailing forces must be remarkably strong. Can we learn more about them? Can we harness them? Can we increase them? The power of specialization has been increasing for thousands of years. How strong the countervailing forces may become is unclear.
The more you’ve read this blog, the more you know what I think the countervailing forces are. Some of them weaken specialists: 1. Professors prefer to be useless rather than useful (Veblen). 2. A large fraction (99%?) of health care workers have no interest in remedies that do not allow them to make money. 3. Medical school professors are terrible scientists. 4. Restrictions on research. Some of them strengthen the rest of us: 1. Data storage and analysis have become very cheap. 2. It is easier for non-scientists to read the scientific literature. 3. No one cares more about your health than you. These are examples. The list could be much longer. What’s interesting is not the critique of health care, which is pretty obvious, but the apparent power of these forces, which isn’t obvious at all.
I want to learn more about this. I want learn how to use these opposing forces and, if possible, increase them. One way to do this is find more exceptions to the general rule, that is, find more people who have improved their health beyond expert advice. I have found some examples. To find more, to learn more about them, and to encourage this sort of thing (DIY Health), I offer the opportunity to guest-blog here.
I think the fundamental reason you can improve on what health experts tell you is that you can gather data. Health experts have weakened their position by ignoring vast amounts of data. Three kinds of data are helpful: (a) other people’s experiences, (b) scientific papers and (c) self-measurement (combined with self-experimentation). No doubt (c) is the hardest to collect and the most powerful. I would like to offer one or more people the opportunity to guest-blog here about what happens when they try to do (c). In plain English, I am looking for people who are measuring a health problem and trying to improve on expert advice. For example, trying to lower blood pressure without taking blood pressure medicine. Or counting pimples to figure out what’s causing your acne. Or measuring your mood to test alternatives to anti-depressants. I don’t care what’s measured, so long as it is health-related. (Exception: no weight-loss stories) and you approach these measurements with an open mind (e.g., not trying to promote some product or theory). I am not trying to collect success stories. I am trying to find out what happens when people take this approach.
Guest-blogging may increase your motivation, push you to think more (“I blog, therefore I think“) and give you access to the collective wisdom of readers of this blog (in the comments). If guest-blogging about your experiences and progress (or lack of it) might interest you, contact me with details of what you are doing or plan to do.
- Trying to crowd-source a cure for brain cancer.
- Interview with Aaron Blaisdell about Ancestral Health Symposiums
- Plagiarism Today, a website.
- Plagiarism averted
- Better late than never. By having him do a Fiction Podcast, the editors of The New Yorker finally acknowledge that David Sedaris is a fabulist. Treating his stories as if they actually happened (putting them under Personal History, not Fiction) was a curious editorial decision for a magazine that fact-checks poetry. Step 2 toward more New Yorker editorial honesty: Book excerpts are labelled as such.
- self-experimentation workshop in Silicon Valley
Thanks to Dave Lull.
On the QS forums, Christian Kleineidam asked:
While doing Quantified Self public relations I lately meet the challenge of explaining how our lives are going to change if everything in QS goes the way we want. A lot of what I do in quantified self is about boring details. . . . Let’s imagine a day 20 years in the future and QS is successful. How will that day be different than [now]?
Self-measurement has helped me two ways. (more…)
Last Saturday and Sunday there was an international Quantified Self Conference at Stanford. I attended. In Gary Wolf’s introductory talk, he said there are 70 Quantified Self chapters (New York, London, etc.) and 10,000 members. I was especially impressed because I recently counted about 50 chapters. One new chapter is Quantified Self Beijing. It has its first meeting — in the form of a day-long conference — in nine hours and I haven’t quite finished my talk (“Brain Tracking: Why and How”). Please indulge me while I procrastinate by writing about the Stanford conference. (more…)
- Yoni Donner Quantified Self talk about measuring mental performance. He found he did better after eating than after fasting 21 hours.
- When will machines replace doctors? “When Khosla challenged the assembled sawbones to counter his argument, Liu said, the room was silent.”
- How current reward structures have distorted British science. I wonder if the author, an Oxford professor of psychology, understands how earlier reward structures distorted science.
- Vertos Medical, which makes surgical devices, accuses a professor of surgery “of scientific misconduct and violating “research ethics” by failing, among other things, to follow the study’s original protocol and by independently deciding to follow his patients for added time without seeking agreement from Vertos” (emphasis added). Vertos Medical didn’t like the results of the additional observation so they went nuclear.
- An example of great writing (because it’s full of emotion).
Thanks to Bryan Castañeda and Alex Chernavsky.
- Jane Jacobs, after she got a grant to write her first book, about cities, was invited to lunch by two Harvard/MIT urban studies professors. They wanted her to do a questionnaire survey — that was what they did. “How awful to be a graduate student there,” she thought. “They had no faith in me as an independent thinker.” A CBC interview with Jacobs.
- Successful protest in China against factory pollution.
- Fermented Sriracha (a faux-Asian hot sauce)? More about Sriracha.
- Genetic info about risk of Crohn’s disease fails to produce smoking cessation in smokers at relatively high risk of Crohn’s. (Smoking is a risk factor for Crohn’s.) “These findings . . . do not support the promulgation of commercial DNA based tests,” the authors conclude.
Thanks to Bryan Castañeda.
- Yale cancels China year-abroad program. One reason is that students in Beijing (at Peking University, one of the best universities in the country) learned less Chinese than students at Yale.
- European plagiarism epidemic. “More than a third of a new book for law students on how to write papers properly was plagiarised . . . The authors vowed to find the culprits.”
- Penkowa for Dummies. Complicated scientific fraud.
- Self-tracking difficulties: a fickle and too-demanding exercise tracker. I try to walk 60 minutes/day. It’s easy to track.
Thanks to Anne Weiss.
- Chicago discourages food trucks. “Some of the drivers say police have shooed them away from spaces near a Starbucks or 7-Eleven.” Via Melissa McEwen.
- The Quantified Community by Esther Dyson
- the big business of sleep
- even dim bedroom light may have a bad effect
Thanks to Melody McLaren, Allan Jackson and Bryan Castañeda.