Keynote: Seth Roberts and the rise of personal science

May 28, 2011

Seth Roberts describes the single experience in grad school that sparked the decades long self tracking/experimentation that led him to be one of the faces of Quantified Self and today’s keynote speaker.

It started with acne. Personal experimentation proved more effective at getting rid of it than a doctor’s protocol. Eureka!

Seth goes on to tell us about the rise of personal science, with several instances of his own experimentation.

The rise of personal science:

The power of personal science is growing. Today, we can much more easily gather data, from the web and from ourselves.

Three flavors of personal science:

1. Engineering (e.g. development of a home glucose monitor)

2. Scholarship (e.g. woman treats Restless Leg Syndrome with high dose of niacin, which her son read about online. Woman tries it and a day later, her RLS disappears)

3. Basic Science (e.g. the development of The Shangri-La Diet and successful weight loss through self experimentation, seeing faces early in the morning sets up a circadian oscillation in mood, standing on one leg to exhaustion several times improves sleep, butter consumption improves arithmetic)

Why is personal science innovating while professional science is stagnating?

Requirements for useful discovery:

The probability of useful discovery is a function of

(material resources)




(desire to be useful)

Professional scientists, while rich in resources and knowledge, lack freedom and the desire to be useful, and have limited time to work on projects. Personal scientists have increasing resources and knowledge, unlimited time, and high freedom and desire to be useful.

Q. Why does personal science matter?

A. Personal scientists are more likely to make useful discoveries than professional scientists.

We are the first wave of personal scientists. We are lucky to be there. Usually, the first wave in an army gets slaughtered. Thankfully, it’s the opposite for us. We get all the glory.

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