Final Guest-Blog From Seth Roberts

Here is the final post from our guest blogger, Seth Roberts. If you need to get up to speed on Seth’s unorthodox research with weight-loss, mood, acne, and sleep, click here (our N.Y. Times article about him), here (research extras and pix), here (the first round of reader comments), and here, here, here, here, and here for his earlier blog postings.

GUEST BLOGGER:
“Thank You”
by SETH ROBERTS
Sun., Sept. 18

The highlight for me was the acne discussion. So much interest! And all of a sudden, there it was: considerable support for the idea that acne is caused by certain foods. Plus at least one person was able to figure out what those foods were: “For nearly a year, I diligently experimented with different foods/exposures to test their effect on my face [and have] identified about 8-10 seemingly unrelated food triggers … As long as I avoid these triggers, my face is clear. It’s the damnedest list that includes such seemingly innocuous foods as spinach and oatmeal.”

I am happy to help others figure out exactly how he generated his list. His method, which would surely be free, safe, and available to anyone, would help millions, if not tens of millions. I hope to write a book about the use of self-experimentation to solve everyday problems other than obesity, such as acne. The value and underlying logic of such a book could hardly be better put than what one commentator wrote:

“Your approach, OTOH, is setting up experiments (which may derive from the physician- promulgated information) in the universe over which you have control, and to which you have access. The results are highly relevant to that universe. At that point, the information is released so we ‘other universes’ can experiment toward replication to test not the validity of your experiments, but the size and nature of the universe to which such results apply. Now that’s science, in a new democratic variation of the paradigm.”

The acne discussion convinced me that there is room on the web for a site devoted to the use of self-experimentation to solve everyday problems. Maybe there is already an acne site — but a) people interested in doing self-experimentation — perhaps a tiny minority of all acne sufferers because, at least in the beginning, self-experimentation to find non-drug solutions is surely long and complex with uncertain outcome — might benefit from a site more devoted to them; and b) those using self-experimentation to alleviate acne might benefit from contact with people using self-experimentation to solve other problems. Leonard Syme, a Berkeley public health professor, once told me that NIH was poorly organized: Division into institutes by organ and disease (Eye Institute, Cancer Institute, Institute of Mental Health) made little sense if, as was surely the case, different diseases and diseases in different organs had common causes. I hope there is eventually such a site and when there is you will be able to find it by going to www.sethroberts.net. Dubner was surprised I did not have a web page. Why? he asked. No good reason, I said.

You will be able to learn more about my weight-loss ideas and their application by going to www.shangriladiet.com. So far, people in publishing seem to like the title The Shangri-La Diet so that may actually be the title of the weight-loss book I hope to write. I am especially interested in hearing from people who have had trouble finding success with the diet because there is surely room for improvement; and, being human, I would like to hear from people whom it has helped.

Finally, I want to thank Andrew Gelman and Alex Tabarrok who together brought my long eccentric paper to Dubner’s attention. I know Andrew from Berkeley, where we taught a freshman seminar on left-handedness. A reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle visited our class one day, presumably to write about it; and then wrote nothing. I have never met Alex. After Dubner read my paper, he told Levitt about it. “I thought he wouldn’t like it,” Dubner said, “but he did.” Maybe that’s why they’re friends: They like the same things.

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  4. Anonymous says:

    A disappointing series that seems aimed at self-promotion. Roberts comes off as an expert teaser, accomplishing little more than feeding off his 15 minutes of fame.

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  5. I wouldn’t call Seth a “teaser.” There’s tons of information on his self-experiments in his Behavioral and Brain Sciences article (see here). This represents something like 15 years of research, so I think “15 minutes of fame” is taking the short view of things. There are some large issues about how to conduct exploratory scientific studies (and there’s room for debate on these issues). My impression is that Seth was aiming for a conversational, impressionistic tone in his blog entries. You can look to his scientific papers for more precision.

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  6. Anonymous says:

    after being on the atkins diet a few years ago for about 2 months, my skin completely cleared up and became 100% less oily. atkins eliminates a lot of foods from your diet so im guessing that’s the cause. i wish i knew which foods are the culprits w/o having to go on atkins again ;)

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  7. Anonymous says:

    I am skeptical of some of these reports = at any rate, they are far from the full story – because acne can take 6-8 weeks to respond to treatment, and often with eg retina a, there is an initial flareup of acne that was already developing below the surface of the skin, before results kick in. This indicates that your two day latency period between particular foods and acne breakouts is either due to food intensifying an existing problem or to some form of acne, but far from the full story.

    Also, high glycemic diets *are* known to cause acne (which is why the atkins diet might help clear things up).

    I’m pretty discouraged by the fact that you appear unfamiliar with the literature on acne.

    I have started your diet and am giving it a try, but the poor research/scholarship on acne doesn’t speak well for you.

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  8. Anonymous says:

    “I am especially interested in hearing from people who have had trouble finding success with the diet because there is surely room for improvement; and, being human, I would like to hear from people whom it has helped.”

    I’m all in favor of self-experimentation. But may I ask why a research professor at a major university is unable to conduct a formal study to follow up on the self-experimentation???

    Seems to me that you should be able to do that.

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