Seth Roberts on QS + Paleo

Seth Roberts offers an interesting perspective on how he has been able to accelerate his own self-discovery. He suggests combining the QS rigor of self-experimentation with the Paleo ideas on diet, exercise, and lifestyle. Seth believes both QS and Paleo communities can benefit by learning from each other. In the video below, he also compares his experiences at the Ancestral Health Conference and the Quantified Self conference. (Filmed at the Quantified Self Silicon Valley meetup at Stanford’s Calming Technologies lab.)

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8 Responses to Seth Roberts on QS + Paleo

  1. haig says:

    Being a follower of both QS and paleo I’ve thought about this topic for a while, and I feel that the distinction between the Paleo and QS movements is really the difference between explanation (theories) and observation (data). Science needs theories, without them it is not science, it is, at best pre-science or just the initial steps of the scientific method. Ironically, the data-driven mode of exploration that QSers engage in is often less scientific than the Paleo folks who rely much less on quantification. This is a huge meme in the paleo community, they have a deep distrust of observational studies, and they blame unthoughtful and premature quantification for the prevalence of erroneous theories such as the lipid hypothesis.

    What QSers should take away from the Paleo movement is that if you want to make any type of actual progress you need to base your data collection and quantification on a foundation of reasonable hypotheses and use experimentation to iterate upon them until you arrive at robust theories. In other words, QSers should be doing science not stamp collecting.

    • Seth Roberts says:

      I mostly agree. I wouldn’t say you “need” to base your data collection on what people already know but I completely agree that it helps enormously. I have made progress both ways — with and without heavy use of pre-existing knowledge.


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  6. Collin says:

    Very interesting talk. I am just curious how someone can claim a study conducted with a sample size of one is “100 times better” than someone else’s study. I do not know anything about the other study mentioned, but I do know that a study based on n=1 cannot be considered scientific proof. And sure, he hears from people who have lost weight drinking the sugar water he prescribed, but it is quite possible there are 100 times as many people who didn’t email him because they didn’t see any positive results and decided to try something else. I think the QS stuff is very interesting and helpful on a personal level, but it seems like a stretch to generalize your results to others.

  7. Seth Roberts says:

    I have two responses.

    1. Sample size isn’t everything. Sure, a study with n=1 isn’t “scientific proof”. Nor is any other study, in my experience. “Scientific proof” has always required many studies. New scientific ideas have very often started with n = 1 experiments or observations. Later, larger experiments or observations were done. Both — the initial n=1 observation and the later n = many observations — were necessary for the new idea to be discovered and confirmed.

    2. The history of biology teaches there are few exceptions to general rules. See any biology textbook. For example, a textbook might say “lymphocytes fight germs”. This means no serious exceptions have ever been found to that rule. So, as matter of biological history, the person who managed to figure out one particular lymphocyte does turned out to have figured out what they all do. Biology textbooks have thousands of statements like “lymphocytes fight infection” meaning that this sequence of events (you can generalize from one to all, or nearly all) has happened thousands of times. There is no shadow hidden history of biology that teaches otherwise.


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