My friend and Wired writer extraordinaire Gary Wolf has been researching people who self-experiment . He recently discovered a fascinating "champion of self-experimentation" named Seth Roberts, an emeritus professor of psychology at UC Berkeley.
Does standing up a lot during the day reduce susceptibility to colds? Go ahead and doubt it; I did. But Roberts has data to back it up, and while it would be foolish to believe that standing up a lot during the day would eliminate colds across an entire population -- foolish, that is, without experiments to prove it -- Roberts' own practice of standing up a lot has a lot more empirical back-up than many of the more "sensible" things we naively believe.
Here's anther one: for a long time Roberts had a problem with his sleep. He woke too early, could not go back to sleep, and then was tired in the morning. He tried different ways to cure this problem until, through a combination of coincidence, experiment and analysis of the data, he discovered an expected correlation: his problem disappeared when he skipped breakfast. He cured his early awakening by not eating until 11 a.m.
The idea that skipping breakfast may reduce early awakening was, wrote Roberts, "a new idea in sleep research." Strangely, Roberts was not hungry in the wee hours when he was troubled by early awakening, which lead him to suspect that it was not discomfort that roused him, but rather some glitch in his sleep cycle caused by anticipation of food.
You can download a PDF of Roberts' paper, Self-experimentation as a source of new ideas: Ten examples about sleep, mood, health, and weight.
Ziya Tong is a veteran science reporter who spent years hosting Discovery's flagship science program, Daily Planet: it's the sort of job that gives you a very broad, interdisciplinary view of the sciences, and it shows in her debut book, The Reality Bubble: Blind Spots, Hidden Truths, and the Dangerous Illusions that Shape Our World, […]
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