Gweek 077: Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Chef

David and I interviewed Tim Ferriss, author of the new book The 4-Hour Chef. This is Tim's third book. He's also the author of: The 4-Hour Workweek, and The 4-Hour Body.

Tim is a broad-spectrum enthusiast and his sense of curiosity drives him to learn about and participate in a dizzyingly large number of activities. He’s developed a system of sorts to quickly pick up enough skills and knowledge to understand, participate in, and appreciate crafts and practices such as learning languages, game hunting, martial arts, body building, tango dancing, and startup investment. His latest book, The 4-Hour Chef, reflects Tim’s interest in the culinary arts, but more importantly, it describes how Tim goes about learning new skills in a way that others can use to pursue their own interests.

We talked about many things, including smart drugs, the Paleo Diet vs the Slow Carb Diet, and a strange experience in China.

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  1. “broad-spectrum enthusiast”

    I can hear you working so hard not to say dilettante. But to be fair, Tim Ferriss is extremely successful, not some bored rich guy with no persistence.

  2. 672 pages. Seems a bit long for a book about streamlining learning, as if it doesn’t follow its own premise.

    From the earlier excerpt on BoingBoing I thought it would be just the kind of book I’d be interested in, but I browsed through it and was put off by the divergent narrative style and length of the book. Additionally, the author seems to give too much credence to anecdotes as proof even though they are not sound evidence.

    “The lowest volume, the lowest frequency, the fewest changes that get us our desired result is what I label the minimal effective dose (MED). It’s a broad concept that applies to almost any field. Here are a few eclectic but tested examples:
    * Fat loss MED= consume 30g of protein within 30 minutes of waking up. Dozens of readers have lost 100+ lbs each; thousands more have lost 10-100 lbs.

    Uh, yes, and thousands more who wore cotton crew socks lost the same amount  of weight. (And thousands more crew sock wears had no change or gained weight, as we can reasonably assume is also true of the 30g of protein people who’s negative anecdotes are not reported.)

    And this one:

    “To overcome female weight-​loss plateaus, MED=five minutes of kettlebell swings, three times per week.  Tracy Reifkind, for example, lost 120+ lbs as a 40-something mother of two. “

    Really? An anecdote about “female weight-loss plateaus”? Really? The kind of non-representative anecdote cited is the same kind now banned from advertising because they are not sound evidence of a general effect.

    Correlation does not equal causality nor are anecdotes proof of causality. The author doesn’t cite any scientific study for his claims, to show that there are any proven causal relationships behind his claimed “MEDs” and alleged weight loss as opposed to what *seem* to be causal relationships based on our built in cognitive biases, instead the author provides a slew of anecdotes. Is there any reason to presume that a 15 total of minutes of exercise per week had a causal relationship with a 120 pound weight loss? That is a very strong claim with no strong evidence to back it up.

    Science is the tool we use to separate out what is true from what merely seems to be true, and the author seems to mix what is true with what seems to be true with abandon, making the book useless to me.

    1. I understand what you are saying, Hegelian. I love anecdotes and like trying out people’s advice and ideas. I lost about 30 pounds of fat and gained 15-20 lbs of muscle following Tim’s advice. I enjoy hearing about his ideas and experiments!

      1. Understandable. I can see why you find a kindred spirit with Ferriss in terms of hacking.

         However, with hardware and software hacking there isn’t so much question of causality, of whether the result is due to the hardware or software you created, or say in the plans in a Maker article. Nor are there the same kinds of potential health issues in experimenting as there are with claims about health issues. With the kind of self-health hacking Ferriss so extensively self-promotes about he has a sample size of one, which is not a good sample to create strong conclusions from, and yet Ferriss does exactly that, over and over again, touting unproven anecdotes as if the a causal relationship is proven as fact. I think that is a bad thing to do when making health claims.

        My objections to making strong claims of fact about healthcare issues where no sound proof exists apply to other authors as well, but Ferriss is such a strong self-promoter, and has beguiled many very smart people with his intelligence and energy, that I think it is especially important to point it out when he does it.

        I’m not getting the sense that you specifically defend his dubious claim that a woman lost 120 pounds because of 15 minutes a week of exercise (and the implied claim that others can get similar results), only that you found some of what he said worked for you. If that is the case I wish that BB’s blog posts would reflect the fascination you have with Ferriss and the success that you personally attribute to his suggestions but also some appropriate caveats. IIRC, I’ve read BB contributors say that BB isn’t journalism, or words to that effect but I disagree. In this world we are all journalists to one extent or another, and big and successful sites like BB all the more so.

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