Tag Archives: self-experimentation
“Science is really about repeatability, about process, about discipline, about characterization, about controlling noise, and there are lot of different mechanisms that we can pull together to tell a story or inform a decision.”- Ian Eslick
This past April we were lucky to host a meeting of researchers, toolmakers, science funders, and government representatives for our first Quantified Self Public Health Symposium. This one-day meeting, and the work leading up to it, helped to shape our thoughts and ideas around what data access means and how it can be used to shape personal and public health. Access can take on a variety of different meanings from being able to obtain a copy of your data, to being able to contribute to and use public data sets. But access doesn’t always have to deal with the transfer of bytes of information. What about access to process, people, and ideas?
At that 2014 Quantified Self Public Health Symposium we were happy to have Ian Eslick join us and give a short talk about personal data and the scientific process. Access to the methods of science and the scientific process is an important piece of the puzzle, especially as personal data become easily captured and more readily understood. Too often, the world of science and research is help up on a pedestal, out of reach for individuals struggling to understand themselves. In this talk, Ian touches on his personal journey of self-experimentation and how access to the “tools of science” can be highly impactful, especially for those battling chronic conditions.
Mark Drangsholt has been dealing with an issue with his heart since he was a young man. Since his early twenties, when he as diagnosed with paroxysmal atrial tachycardia he’s had to deal with irregular heart rhythms. In this talk Mark explains how the transition into adulthood negatively impacted his health and then how he used self-tracking and a focused athletic program to help him reduce his weight and improve his health. Most show&tell talks would end there, but Mark still had the irregular rhythm issue to deal with. After what he describes as an episode that made him think, “This is it. I’m going to die.” he decided it was time to apply his self-tracking process in order to understand his heart rhythm disorder and possible triggers. Mark also decided to go one step further and apply the principles of case-crossover design to his tracking methodology. Watch his talk below and keep reading to learn a bit more about why you might want to consider using case-crossover design in your self-tracking projects and experiments.
The following excerpt from the QS Primer: Case-Crossover Design by Gary Wolf provides a great background for his method:
Mark’s self-tracking data didn’t naturally fit with any of these approaches. To understand whether these triggers actually had an effect on his arrhythmias, he used a special technique originally proposed by the epidemiologists Murray Mittleman and K. Malcolm Maclure. A case-crossover design is a scientific way to answer the question: “Was the patient doing anything unusual just before the onset of the disease?” It is a design that compares the exposure to a certain agent during the interval when the event does not occur to the exposure during the interval when the event occurs.
Using this method, Mark discovered that events linked to his attacks included high intensity exercise, afternoon caffeine, public speaking to large groups, and inadequate sleep on the previous night. While these were not surprising discoveries, it was interesting to him to be able to rigorously analyze them, and see his intuition supported by evidence. “A citizen scientist isn’t even on the conventional evidence pyramid,” Mark notes. “But you can structure a single subject design to raise the level of evidence and it will be more convincing.”
Here at QS Labs we’re here to help everyone, from the experienced researcher to the person who hasn’t done an experiment since they built that model volcano in sixth grade. We also try to listen to our community and we’ve heard many requests from individuals just starting their journey of self-experimentation. Well, I’m happy to announce a brand new bi-monthly section called Quantified Self 101. We’re going to be covering things like how to decide what to track, experiment design, bias, how to interpret your data, and other fun stuff. We also want to here from you. If there is something your struggling with or want to learn more about please leave a comment below or get in touch with us via twitter (@quantifiedself)
For our first post, we’re going to highlight some lessons from our friend Seth Roberts and his great talk on self-experimentation at Show & Tell #5:
Lesson #1: Something is better than nothing. Engaging yourself in some experiment, no matter how flawed it may be, is better than never starting. The best way to learn is to do. So go out and do something!
Lesson #2: When you decide to start something try and do the simplest thing that you think might give you some insight. It’s great to have ambitious ideas, but keeping it simple ensures your experiment is manageable.
Lesson #3: Mistakes are worthwhile. Some of our best knowledge comes from learning from our failures so don’t be afraid of failing. By keeping it simple you also keep the mistakes small and manageable.
Lesson #4: Seek help from others. We have a great network of individuals around the world who are ready and willing to help you on your tracking journey. Find a meetup in your area and don’t be afraid to solicit help!
When I moved to Ireland in 2007, I began to have skin problems. It began gradually and I attributed it to the move, to stress, to late nights drinking with developers and clients, to travel, to whatever excuses I could think of. The stress was multiplied by the anxiety of being embarrassed about how my face looked, but also because my new job in Ireland involved me being on stage in front of large audiences constantly, often several times a week. A year later my skin was perpetually inflamed, red, full of sores and very painful. When one spot would go away, two more would spring up in its place. It was a tough time. I cried a lot.
Frustrated, I went to see my hometown dermatologist while I was home for holidays. He told me that a) this was completely normal and b) there was nothing I could do but go on antibiotics for a year (in addition to spending a fortune on creams and pills). I didn’t believe either of those things.
I was not interested in being on an antibiotic for a year, nor was I interested in Accutane (my best friend has had it multiple times and it hasn’t had long term results, plus it can be risky). What I was interested in was figuring out why this was happening and changing my life to make it stop. I refused to accept my dermatologist’s insistence that what you put in your body has no effect on how you look and feel.
I began systematically cutting things out of my diet to see how I reacted. First chicken and soy, based on a recommendation from a food allergist. Over the course of a year I cut out sugar, gluten, carbs, starches, caffeine, meat, fish until finally the magical month of December 2010 when I cut out dairy. My skin was my own again by New Year’s day this year.
It took a year to figure it out. It was completely worth it. There’s nothing wrong with Irish dairy, it just doesn’t work for me. I drink Americanos instead of lattes now, I don’t eat cereal; none of that is a huge deal. For what it’s worth, I can drink goat’s milk.
A great example of the power of self-experimentation compared to trusting doctors.
At the end of her post she makes a very important point:
Quantified Self isn’t for everyone, but everyone should feel they have the power to change things in their body and their life for the better.
I agree. By learning about examples of people who have done just that — such as Martha — we will come closer to having that power. Right now, as far as I can tell, most people feel helpless. They do what doctors or other experts tell them to do, even if it doesn’t work very well.
Long ago, hardly anyone could read. This left them in the grip of those who could. But eventually came mass literacy, when the benefits of reading finally exceeded the costs (e.g., because more books were available at lower prices). Reading is primitive science: if you read about things that happened, it is information gathering. It resembles doing a survey. Nowadays, almost everyone (in rich countries) reads, but almost no one does experimental science. This leaves them in the grip of those who can do experimental science (e.g., drug companies). I think my work and Martha’s work suggest we are close to another turning point, where, for nonscientists, the benefits of doing experiments exceed the costs.
Thanks to Gary Wolf.
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.)