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Soylent halts sales of its powder as customers keep getting sick (latimes.com)
745 points by whitepoplar on Oct 28, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 1021 comments

Soylent made such a big deal of being a "tech company", and boasted about their overdesigned web infrastructure for a business that did two transactions a minute.

What they didn't have is advanced technology on the production side. They write about "sending samples out" to external labs. It's not like they had an automated lab constantly sampling their production line and posting the results to the web. There are production line testing machines for biological contamination and for elemental analysis. About 80% of food plants have in-house testing facilities. What's Soylent got?

One of the biggest flaws of the tech industry is the belief that being a tech expert is enough to disrupt other industries in which they don't have any expertise. Sometimes they get lucky and it works despite something like Uber's or Airbnb's total ignorance of the law. Sometimes it fails like with numerous cryptocurrency companies relearning why the finance industry has so many dang regulations. Seems like Soylent is falling in the latter camp.

This is definitely something I'm facing. I have a pretty deep interest in farming and have a bunch of approaches for "disrupting" it. But you know what my hangups are? Penetrating the culture and getting involved with the industry. Case in point -- where's the best place to buy zoysia seeds? Amazon? eBay? Some random mom and pop place with a ecommerce page? No. The best place to go is to "Bill" who is friends of friends of friends. Who won't take cold calls. Who doesn't sell wholesale. Who only finds new customers once a year at the local fair and he only shows up after 5. For the blue ribbon ceremony on prized pigs. Why is he the best? 99.999% reliability on seeds. It's 100, but he'll never claim that. Price? 1/10th of anything I can find online.

What's rough is you can't just google this stuff. It takes knowledge and experience in these industries to know what's up. We believe we can do a lot with technology but we're going to make a lot of BAD decisions getting there.

What's rough is you can't just google this stuff

Now we call that "rough". Back in the day, that was just how it was. Vernor Vinge, who popularized "The Singularity," observed this phenomenon in his Sci-Fi book Rainbow's End. Now it's possible for the government-business complex to effectively suppress knowledge while technically not suppressing anything. Now, just make it sufficiently hard to search. As far as the general populace goes, it might as well not exist.

Sounds like there's asymmetrical information, a great place for a startup to break into. Or create a better marketplace for seeds!

The question is there really anything to "disrupt" and is the market worth it for a startup?

I live on a horse farm and as a result, need to buy hay. Our main "hay guy" is a farmer and his son who lives about 1/2 hour away, has great prices and charges a low fee (usually: sometimes he doesn't bother charging) for delivery. There are online hay markets, and Craigslist.

They don't bother with any of that. They just ask us to tell other horse owners about them so they have a market. When I drop by to pickup some hay, they are almost never there: I leave cash in the mailbox. If I don't have exact change and I overpay by $5, he gives it to me the next time.

There are many, many, many people who are perfectly happy doing business like this. They like their work, make enough money at it (going by the shiny new tractors!), and have no desire to get online or grow their business.

I have more anecdotes about other similar people I've dealt with just this week alone, but you get my point: many of these markets aren't remotely large enough to interest a VC and the participants only want to do business face to face.

Good story. =)

So much success in business is still meeting face to face with people, building interpersonal connections, and performing classic networking. When I'm mentoring younger family members and friends, I stress this a lot.

I'm not knocking e-commerce, but you cannot underestimate the power that a friendly 5 minute conversation has.

I dare say this is probably what separates very successful people from the rest.

It really is not what you know, but who you know, even in 2016.

I think I enjoy the idea of that sort of success far more than the guy banging out code 16 hours a day, 7 days a week.

It takes far more skill and experience to be human than it does to write code.

  skill and experience 

And socio-economic privilege, and luck.

Reading this story I think the opportunity here is in testing the nutrient levels of the hay.

He is your hay guy and he provides a fantastic personal service, but is his product of the highest quality for feeding to horses? Even if "highest" is not the correct measure, just knowing the nutrient levels and, in patricular for hay to feed performance horses, the protein level, will greatly assist in formulating a correctly balanced diet for the stock.

Therefore, a quick, easy to use test for obtaining the nutrient values could be really valuable to either the supplier, in order to provide confidence and value to the buyer pre-purchase, or to the buyer post-purchase. Each cut of hay is likely to be different.

Maybe a quick convenient analyser like this already exists, but my view is not to disrupt the farming industry but rather to provide added value for stronger outcomes in general.

Do people who buy hay for horses actually have this problem? Do they really care about the highest quality? If they do then maybe it is a good idea (there are other things to consider like market size). If they do not have this problem, then it is a bad idea by default no matter how good it sounds on paper.

The first test of this idea is to interview a dozen or so customers of hay for horses and determine if they really care about quality. And be careful, sometimes people say one thing and do another so you can't necessarily trust their answers to your questions.

If you were an expert in the hay for horses field then you would already know the answer, and that is one reason, among many, why it is hard for non-experts to break into the field.

People who breed or train horses for performance sports (racing, endurance, eventing, dressage etc) absolutely do care about the nutrient content and balance of their horses' diet.

There is an ongoing debate regarding feeding high protein hay to performance horses in training.

"Alfalfa hay contains too much protein. a. Excess protein in the diets of race or endurance horseswill slow performance."


"Protein remains one of the first concerns of horse owners and trainers when they’re buying feed, even though as a nutrient, protein really doesn’t merit all that attention! For years, the racing community labored under the misconception that more protein in the diet equaled more energy for a racehorse. Fortunately, we now know that just isn’t the case. Not only is protein a poor energy source, but some researchers believe a protein excess in the diet actually can compromise a young horse’s performance...."


"Owners should rely on forage analysis as the primary method of determining the appropriate hay for horses."


I'd venture to say the reason there is 100% reliability is due to the personal and "non-corporate" aspect to the way he does business. When you stop having face-to-face transactions and stop seeing your customers the interest in maintaining quality plummets. People become numbers.

Also, p2p transactions work so well and are cheap because of the lack of middle-men taking unnecessary "fees".

Coming from the Farm culture/environment growing up, I can support this idea that it is in part the "non-corporate" aspect. It's very very much the personal, non-technological, Stay out of my business, get off my lawn, view points and feelings that drive some of this.

In many cases you have a "handshake and your word is your honor" system in place that drives business forward. No one is stressing about much, beyond the weather, and they have a more peaceful perspective on life in general.

That CERTAINLY has room for some technological improvement, but would have to be done in a very careful, well thought out and implemented way. Case in point, if it quits working or requires data fulltime (try getting data/cell/internet on a 10,000 acre farm in the middle of nowhere), then you will fail because even if you CAN convince a large portion of farmers to adopt the tech, once they start having enough problems with it? Out it goes, back to paper, phone calls, and a handshake.

Yes. Come to Puerto Rico, where I'm working in coffee. Never in my life have I had so much human contact.

The founder of Soylent clearly believes he's an expert in many, many fields: http://robrhinehart.com/?p=1331

BTW, anyone know a good word for this attitude? I wouldn't call it hybris, though it's closely related. It's a mix of arrogance, over confidence, ignorance, plus more and very prevalent in SV.

> BTW, anyone know a good word for this attitude?

Got you, brah -

Dilettantism: a person having a superficial interest in an art or field of knowledge without investing the usually required effort. See also: dabbler.


Just plain polymath will do fine, seeing as the last time anyone could make legitimate claim to this title was probably 500 years ago.

I agree with you in principle that they're rather rare. But there's been a few in that time-span.

The most recent that comes to mind? Read about Bruce Dickinson: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bruce_Dickinson

Reading that I see musician who did a solo album and some other bands, common, who flys planes... common in actors, and is an entrepeneur.. in beer (food), all super common for someone who has made money.

I don't see a broad range here, this sounds super common, how much crap does Michael Jordan or John Travolta have in common with this guy.

I don't see: patents, masters degrees (not too hard), charities, news articles, really anything that shows he's able to just pick up anything quickly.

What about someone like Bill Gates? Programmer and businessman, sure but he also knows a fuck ton about infectious diseases and global politics and all kinds of other things.

A fuck ton in this case is probably less than an undergraduate (micro) biologist. Hardly a polymath unless he was producing new research in the field.

Buckminster Fuller?

Renaissance dilletant

I was going to say "amateurish" but I think your "dilettantism" is spot-on.


not trying to make a fuss out of it, but i feel like assuming the users use of "brah" is gendered is something we should try to avoid. unless you know the poster, in that case disregard this.

i feel honored that this was the first comment you decided to write on HN. love seeing quality discussion like this, keep em coming!

I can't believe it was flagged!

Got it brah

Ah, what I do with programming. But I'm actually trying to gain deeper knowledge.

At least he's been eating his own product almost exclusively when at home according to that blog post. This gave me a positive impression at the start of the blog post and I was agreeing with what he said initially, but then it went downhill.

I would not want to get rid of my kitchen and I would absolutely never replace my food with Soylent, especially now that I've heard of all the people getting sick from it. Also, Gawker said [1] that nutritionists say that Soylent is not a sufficient replacement for a real diet.

I do not agree that shopping for groceries is a nightmare. It might be in the big grocery stores in the US but in my country and city most grocery stores are pretty small, so I just drop by there a couple of times a week, pick up some food, pay for it and then I'm on my way home which is practically next door to the closest store (110 meters apart to be exact).

At that point I did not bother to read the rest of the blog post.

[1]: http://gizmodo.com/rob-rhineharts-latest-attempt-to-make-you...

That gizmodo article's only "source" of nutritionists is from this article [1] (another article on the same site). That article's only source of nutritionists is someone who just called them up before Soylent was even on the market, and while none of those nutritionists had examined the product.

Many cats and dogs will eat the same food source almost exclusively for most of their lives without any ill effect. Obviously Soylent is having problems right now, but outright dismissing the mere possibility of a healthy "people-kibble" by those nutritionists seems rather unscientific.

[1] http://io9.gizmodo.com/could-soylent-really-replace-all-of-t...

In addition, I'd also point out that the term "nutritionist" doesn't even mean anything is most jurisdictions, as highlighted by the following anecdote:

"A demonstration of the ease in which it is possible to become an accredited nutritionist can be seen in Dr Ben Goldacre's successful application to have his dead cat Hettie accredited as a certified professional member of the American Association of Nutritional Consultants" [1]

I'd typically listen to what a Dietitian has to say about nutrition, but not anyone calling themselves a nutritionist.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nutritionist#Regulation_of_the...

> In addition, I'd also point out that the term "nutritionist" doesn't even mean anything is most jurisdictions

That bears repeating. Dietitian actually means something, whereas nutrition doesn't. Dara O'Briain has a nice way of describing the difference: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YMvMb90hem8

   I'd also point out that the term "nutritionist" doesn't even mean anything is most jurisdictions
As someone who is living with someone becoming an accredited "Nutritionist" I can assure you this is not the case. There is an extreme amount of scientific research and cellular biology that is studied. This may not be the case for all nutritionist courses, but to dismiss an entire field because of one case is extremely ignorant.

BUT.. this is Hacker News where coders go to confirm each other's biases about the world at large and remind each other how much knowledge you can have by sitting behind your work desk.

Multi choice online testing is not extreme research. A phd is research, a masters is research.

She may well be taking some courses but let's not devalue these words.

A dietitian is at least masters qualified that is what people were pointing out.

A) Maybe you're in a jurisdiction where it actually does mean something? That exception is clearly defined in the sentence you quoted.

B) The claim is not that nutritionists are useless, it's that (in most jurisdictions) the word is useless. The fact that you know a non-useless one does not disprove the claim.

Most dogs and cat's however are domesticated and have been eating a mostly single-source diet for many many generations... some adaptation has occurred. There is a reason they don't give zoo animals kibble (aside from the herbivores who naturally focus on a single food source, and the pellets are made from that food source). Lions don't get kibble, and they don't even get a single kind of meat, they rotate their food, because if they dont, the lions become depressed and sluggish and sick. We're meant to eat a variety of food - the variety stimulates our internal biome which has more effect over us than just how we digest our food - our gut is basically a second brain and has a direct effect on our mood and our brain chemistry, and can even influence our thinking process (this is how when you eat something that makes you sick, you naturally avoid that thing for a while)

This isn't remotely true.

Look at the wiki article on dog food [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dog_food#History] - diets for dogs have been ad hoc and varied for thousands of years. I'd argue that it is only with the advent of kibble (in the late C19) and canned cat/dog food (in the early C20) that pets started eating single-source diets.

I do not think that this is enough time for adaption, and any selective breeding has been focused on other attributes rather than diet.

> Many cats and dogs will eat the same food source almost exclusively for most of their lives without any ill effect.

Where "without any ill effect" includes tooth decay, obesity, and death from kidney damage among others.

> Where "without any ill effect" includes tooth decay, obesity, and death from kidney damage among others.

Tooth decay: giving your dogs something hard to chew on is essential if you don't relish the idea of brushing your dogs' teeth. If they're not gnawing on actual bones, their teeth aren't get cleaned. Hard chew toys are a good substitute. The only dog I've had with tooth troubles didn't like chewing hard things.

Obesity: that's not a result of an unvaried diet, that's a result of eating too much and/or not enough exercise for the amount of food being given.

Kidney damage: I find it's surprisingly hard to find unbiased information around this that isn't published by pro- and anti-commercial dog food organizations. Even within that subset, documented facts seem rare, and articles read more like scare advertisements to encourage $PREFERRED_FEEDING_METHOD[1]. Anecdotally: after six dogs and three cats that have all lived somewhat to significantly longer than the breed average life span while being fed largely the same food for their entire lives... kidney troubles have never been a problem for us.

1.The closest to consistent info that I could find were statements that high vegetable protein content can cause kidney troubles in older dogs. Even these only showed up on a) "Feed your dog all natural" blog-type-things, b) specialty dog food sellers/manufacturer sites, c) copy lifted from these places largely verbatim and deposited onto other sites.

> kidney troubles have never been a problem for us.

Congratulations on your robust good health! How about your pets?

Certainly not all cats and dogs experience all of those things. All you've done is highlighted the possibility for a nutritionally unsuitable meal source. Obviously it's possible to construct a food which does not meet our nutritional needs, many Americans have managed that themselves. That does not however dismiss the existence of pets which live long and healthy lives, or the possibility of an analogous fodo source for humans.

Pets that live long and healthy lives do not eat a single form of "kibble". Obesity and health problems in pets is a very well known issue (talk to any vet and they'll tell you all about it) and it's mostly due to overfeeding by owners and not enough variety in diet. Doesn't that sound eerily familiar to the problems with human food consumption?

There are so many health problems in the tech industry, why are we creating more and making businesses out of it?

I often hear testimonials from owners who say "I have been feeding this food for 14 years and my dog looks great!" I think that there could be such a thing as a good enough people kibble the same as I believe that many dogs live healthy and happy lives eating one kind of dog food all their lives. This is not to say that I believe all dogs could eat the same exact kibble all their lives and be perfectly healthy. Full Disclosure: I have owned a pet store for the last 8 months after getting tired of programming.

I'd like to hear more about your exit.

I had been itchy for quite a while in the field and thanks to a very generous boss and a wife who could put up with a very low standard of living, was able to do some farming part time last year. I realized that while I grew up on a farm, the area I lived in, didn't have enough of a farming network to allow getting started slow. It was all or nothing and I didn't like the prospects of either actually. If I would have been successful, I would have worked like crazy and not been home much. If I would have failed, it would be the same except for no fun at all. The pet store was up for sale and I did the figures and realized that if it all goes down in flames, I could still code myself out of the hole if needed. This gave me the courage to give it a try. I work much harder now in some ways and in other ways I work less. Hanging out and talking to people is now part of my job description. Working with animals and figuring out what makes them tick is also part of my job. People regularly show up and ask my opinion on what they should do with their dog itching and hot spots and stuff. Often, simply switching away from a cheap bottom dollar food to a better product is the answer and is far less expensive than a vet visit. OK done.....

I know I could "code myself out of a hole" too and have reduced my CoL significantly so I guess I just have to continue waiting for the right opportunity. Thanks for sharing!

In addition to what other people said: changing dog food is often accompanied by horrible diarrhea, up through the mid 90s dog shit turned bone and grew hair and canine coprophagia is usually attributed to insufficient nutrition. So you know: dog food, we're still figuring it out.

> At least he's been eating his own product almost exclusively when at home according to that blog post.

I'd note that he got anemia early on in his Soylent journey because he forgot iron was a basic nutrient.

I'd note that many people in my social circle and family forget that iron is a basic nutrient. It happens. People forget that sodium is as well, especially with all of the talk about how bad salt is for you.

Presumably the Soylent guy ought to be held to a higher standard of knowing what "basic nutrients" are, as he actively promotes himself as an expert on the topic and encourages people to buy his drink full of "all basic nutrients." If your friends and family aren't doing that, their ignorance is excusable.

I thought it was sulfur:


I love grocery shopping and cooking. It provides mental relief from the day's grind. The sites and sounds at a good grocery store are stimulating. Wegmans comes to mind.

The prion disease rumours circulating on Twitter about Soylent are really disturbing.

Prion disease has a case-fatality rate of 100%. That's not an estimate or approximation and it's not rounded up. They are also untreatable.

There are only five well studied prion diseases (because of their rarity). Two are exclusively heritable: fatal-familial insomnia and Gerstmann–Sträussler–Scheinker syndrome. One, Kuru, is transmitted via cannibalism.

The incubation times are extremely long. Some estimates for Kuru go up to 20-50 years.

The most prevalent form of prion disease in humans is new variant Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease (nvCJD) or Human Mad Cow which has a lag of about 10 years based on CDC data. It is transmitted by eating tainted beef products. Let me stress that this is extremely rare: there have been 3 confirmed cases in the United States.

It is extremely unlikely that Soylent is a vector for prion disease, especially since it's been vegan since version 1.2 and never contained beef as an ingredient. Even if it somehow contained tainted beef, given that it's been available for less than 3 years, it's extremely unlikely that any cases of nvCJD (of which there have only a few in the last decade) or any other cases of prion disease were caused by Soylent.

There is good reason to question the safety of Soylent given its record but "prion disease rumors circulating on Twitter" are utterly ridiculous.

Trolling? Soylent -> Soylent green -> Movie where you grind up poor people and turn them into food -> Cannibalism -> Known vectors for prion diseases.

Can you elaborate on these rumors?

Read on Twitter a while ago about a guy who ate almost nothing but Soylent for two months and started getting joint pain and trembling, and was falling over a lot. Then there was a comment by someone on Reddit who started having seizures and anxiety and blamed Soylent. Seems crazy that people are just eating nothing but this stuff for months on end and not thinking about the consequences.

It's outrageously unlikely that either of those people had a prion disease. See my reply to your previous comment for details. The median duration of CJD (which is the most similar to nvCJD and the best proxy for the statistic I could find easilty) is 4 months. That's duration of the disease before death. If the commenter had those symptoms because of prion disease, I'd estimate a greater than 50% chance he'll be dead by February. Again, it's extremely unlikely that he had prion disease.

I'm anti-Soylent, but I'm not sure I'd classify "two random anonymous internet anecdotes" as "disturbing".

Prion diseases usually take longer than the couple of months to develop symptoms.

"I have not set foot in a grocery store in years. Nevermore will I bumble through endless confusing aisles like a pack-donkey searching for feed while the smell of rotting flesh fills my nostrils and fluorescent lights sear my eyeballs and sappy love songs torture my ears. Grocery shopping is a multisensory living nightmare."

This kind of writing is insufferable.

My favorite is when he talks about his enlightened post-kitchen lifestyle.

"I think it was a bit presumptuous for the architect to assume I wanted a kitchen with my apartment and make me pay for it. My home is a place of peace. I don’t want to live with red hot heating elements and razor sharp knives. That sounds like a torture chamber."

Did this dude just leave the stove on all the time and keep the knives pointed up next to the fridge or something?

Yeah, so presumptuous of the architect to assume he'd want a kitchen. I'll bet this architect also dared to assume he'd want a toilet.

I think when we get intensely focused and emotionally invested, we tend to think our work is the answer to the world's problems and every other way of doing things is flawed.

For instance, Sergey Brin claiming Google Glass would prevent the "emasculating" effect of smart phones....[1]

[1] http://www.cnn.com/2013/02/28/tech/innovation/brin-google-gl...

Now included with Soylent: antimatter suppositories! Never use the toilet again!

Looks clear now however that opting for the toilet was a prescient move.

You just have to read it in the voice of a stage actor clearly overdoing it on a dramatic soliloquy. Not sure if you're into comedians, but Paul F. Tompkins does this pretty frequently and well.

That said, it's still insufferable, just mildly entertaining as well.

This reminds me of the "Rails is Omakase" video ripping on DHH: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E99FnoYqoII

It doesn't even have decent scansion tho.

Not everyone wants to read through life like Nathan Lane.

Or Jon Lovitz.


Good Lord. Anybody using the word "nevermore" outside of a discussion of Poe is 99% likely to be someone I won't get along with.

Hey, and when writers of newyorker.com do it, it is called "fantastic journalism"…

You seriously can't dustinguish between his writing and that of in the New Yorker?

This guy is obviously smart and has some interesting ideas, but unfortunately a lot of them are very disagreeable to most people. I could barely get past his rant against having a kitchen and using retail stores.

I have nothing wrong with a meal replacement like soylent (and the many other products that are basically the same thing on the market), but his ideas and his motivation behind it are disturbing. I'm all for optimization but this isn't the kind of world I would want to live in.

He seems to have obsessive compulsive tendencies so severe that he can't eat food (e.g. "Kitchens are dirty") combined with some narcissism...

The irony is that a mildly dirty kitchen is actually good for you - you get exposure to a greater amount of bacterial diversity, which keeps your immune system functioning properly, and gives you an opportunity to pick up some beneficial microbes that can aid in digestion.

> "Kitchens are dirty"

I don't get that logic. Your toilet is probably cleaner than your kitchen or phone. Doesn't mean you'd eat off your toilet. Besides, you can always clean your kitchen.

Probably? Like over a 50% chance? How did you reach that estimate?

Just a Google search of places dirtier than the toilet

from the summary to the first hit:

>These surfaces have more germs than the average toilet seat, and you've likely ...

That's a quantitative "analyses", not qualitative, but "dirtier" implies both. Go drink out of the toilet, if you believe that, I will not.

Judging by many of the comments on here that think the problem has been obvious all along, I'd call it Hacker News Syndrome.

Everyone else's job is easier than my job.

It's not a bad attitude though.

Experts with authority granted to them in the form of titles have failed us, and keep failing us in so many areas. Ranging from nutrition to psychology, we really shouldn't put their work on a pedestal. Techies are a smart bunch on average and can stomach a lot more complexity than the average joe. It makes sense for them to try to pick up stuff outside of their line of work.

Take Elon Musk as the most successful example. Deferring to experts is a poor substitute for thinking for yourself.

There's a difference between "thinking for yourself" and "uncritically discouting past work". And that's the difference between asking yourself whether power poses really work and and coming in kicking doors, yelling that psychology is bullshit. First one is engaging in very much reasonable level of critical thought, whereas the second is just thinking "Dunning-Kruger is okay, when I do it".

On a side note, I don't quite get what Elon Musk has to do with this. Isn't hea millionaire paying big bucks for expert engineering talent to put his rockets up in the air?

I'm not saying Psychology is bullshit, why would you frame what I said as such? I think it's in general super interesting. I'm just saying that you can gain a lot more from it by evaluating things critically than you can from swallowing anything and everything that's in vogue uncritically because some authority figure tells you it's the Truth.

Also, to nitpick, Dunning-Kruger is certainly ok when the top performers do it, if you care to look at the actual graph[1].

Elon Musk is very much involved in the engineering of his projects, he's not a Steve Jobs-style CEO. As tomp pointed out[2], Elon was willing to look at things outside of his area of expertise, and guess what, he actually managed to learn quite a lot about those things.

[1] http://i.imgur.com/bJXQWRY.jpg

[2] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=12814851

I mentioned power poses and psychology because it occurred to me as an example since you happened to mention psychology. I don't personally have any knowledge regarding your attitudes towards psychology nor did I intend to frame what you said in any way.

Prior findings must be indeed critically evaluated. That's not the issue. The issue is refusing to even acknowledge them or to acknowledge current field wisdom due to some unwarranted sense of superiority. Taking the dangerous and daring approach to crossing expertise fields instead of being careful is fine, of course. Everyone is free to do whatever they want! But if the daring do fail, they will look like complete asses. They had been given plenty of warning before hand.

And, this is the key and the real reason why I'm saying all this, the daring will fail more often than the careful. The most frequent reason why people try to enter a new field is because they think they might have some superior insight on the matter, whereas the development of each field is chiefly constrained by the amount of data available to it. Ideas are never in short supply relative to data. This isn't to say that outsiders can't make meaningful contributions, or that cross-field collaboration is useless, far from it. But that there isn't much that can done beyond what's warranted by the data.

I'll pass up the opportunity to talk about Musk, because I don't feel I'm qualified to do it.

But as for your nitpick: I don't see why top performers incorrectly gauging their own ability would be "okay". They would pass up great opportunities because they perceive their ability to be lower than what it actually is, and they might experience unwarranted anxiety and feelings of inadequacy (something like an impostor syndrome) if they incorrectly perceive their ability to be lower that that of their peers. There are many ways in which this might not be "okay".

I think you have an imaginary view of what Musks thinking process is like. The reality is he pays top dollar for experts in every field on his interest or that will advance some other goal of his.

> Deferring to experts is a poor substitute for thinking for yourself.

Not deferring to experts when you posses surface level knowledge (or less) of a subject is a sure-fire way to shoot yourself in the foot.

He is just being a cynic thinking he is a intellectual skeptic.

Cynic : Cynics are distrustful of any advice or information that they do not agree with themselves. Cynics do not accept any claim that challenges their belief system.

"Being skeptical, not cynical, helps us in forming beliefs that are in agreement with evidence."


That's quite a conclusion, given so little data. Priors may vary I guess.

No their was plenty of data. I run into cynics all the time that just doubts everything "Experts" says and their arguments are not about the actual data or implementation of the data.

The biggest I've run into are people who believe in homeopathy. Give them all the evidence that it doesn't work and they'll disregard it in favor of their anecdotal evidence combined with confirmation bias.

I think it's a really common form of irrationality (or cognitive bias?). Antivaxers, 9/11 truthers, moon landing skeptics, Holocaust skeptics, etc. are the same way. I think part of the appeal is that it's more comforting for them to believe in BS than live with the existential angst of the uncertainty and the unknowability of so much of life/reality/other people, but for whatever reason they can't see that motivation within themselves.

My point is that they are NO skeptics but cynics

In this particular case, the experts have not only been wrong, but been deadly wrong for the last thirty years. Nutrition has been revealed to be woo-woo pseudoscience after mountains of recent research has debunked the lipid hypothesis for heart disease.

Reinhart has NO obligation to heed the "wisdom" of people who have been killing us with sugar for decades now. We should have nothing but contempt for these charlatans.

Great, so you've discounted one tradition of food advice, although it is far from clear whom, exactly, you're discounting - you start talking about what sounds like dietitians, but end talking about what sounds like processed food manufacturers. But never mind.

Now you have a search problem. Which dilettante do you want to listen to? A techie making a protein shake that makes people sick is far from your only option. As best I can tell, most folks tend to choose diet fads based on a messy set of priors and an aesthetic judgement about the surrounding marketing.

It makes market sense to me that something like Soylent would find a niche; there is a segment that finds eating a hassle, and so an anti-food with hints of Jetsons-food-capsule, from-the-future marketing has a place alongside all the other goofy food fads.

I just don't see any reason to rank Soylent any higher than macrobiotic hyperlocal kale wonder-juice, either. (I do rank both higher than the colloidal silver thing; as far as I know, neither turns you blue.)

Nutrition experts aren't the ones responsible for the prevalence of sugar and starches in our diet, though:


No, you should definitely listen to what experts have to say. You should then proceed to evaluate it critically. Be mindful of what methodology they use. What assumptions they bake into what they're saying. Ways their model doesn't fit reality. And so on, and so forth. You should seldom defer to them.

Thank you for that.

To add to that, this reminds me of the kind of Epaulettes Feynman talked about in SYJMF -- creating titles, awards and distinctions to create an aura around experts. This kind of "aura" of trust and distinction is something that I think in 100 years we will look back on the same way we look at experts of our past: imagine how you view religious leaders who held the keys to understanding life and the universe, or doctors who did more harm than good.

Here's an anecdote. Post WWII the Nobel Prize was awarded for the lobotomy procedure... Experts with authority and all the fanciest Feynman-epaulettes that the world has dreamt up have failed us, that's a certain fact.

Yes I love how Elon doesn't hire rocket engineers and scientists or consult with NASA. Oh wait he does those things.

If you had read my comment a little more charitably, you might have noticed that I never said you shouldn't consult or listen to experts, but simply that you shouldn't assume someone who is not an expert can't figure things out in a field outside their line of work.

Experts weren't always so kind to Elon[1] either.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8P8UKBAOfGo

On a side note, disregarding experts is most certainly not what Rob Rinehart is doing. They specifically only regard expert, peer-reviewed literature as authoritative sources for formula changes. Trying to depend on your own analysis is a poor substitute for standing on the shoulders of giants.

Elon Musk made himself into an expert.

I would consider him an authority on rocketry.

Kind of proving my point? :) He did have to go aginst the grain though[1].

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8P8UKBAOfGo

He's hardly a typical case.

People who get into graduate physics programs at Stanford rarely are.

And the amount of information one has to add to a solid undergrad education in physics to do rocketry is relatively minor compared to the amount most dilettantes need to add to become an expert.

> Take Elon Musk as the most successful example. Deferring to experts is a poor substitute for thinking for yourself.

I'm not sure what you mean. Elon Musk is an extremely purpose-driven, incredibly intelligent person in addition to being successful. From wikipedia:

'He is the founder, CEO, and CTO of SpaceX; co-founder, CEO, and product architect of Tesla Motors; co-founder and chairman of SolarCity; co-chairman of OpenAI; co-founder of Zip2; and founder of X.com which merged with PayPal of Confinity. As of June 2016, he has an estimated net worth of US$11.5 billion, making him the 83rd wealthiest person in the world. Musk has stated that the goals of SolarCity, Tesla Motors, and SpaceX revolve around his vision to change the world and humanity. His goals include reducing global warming through sustainable energy production and consumption, and reducing the "risk of human extinction" by "making life multiplanetary" by setting up a human colony on Mars. In addition to his primary business pursuits, he has also envisioned a high-speed transportation system known as the Hyperloop, and has proposed a VTOL supersonic jet aircraft with electric fan propulsion, known as the Musk electric jet.'

These are not things that just a "successful" person does. He breaks the mold from tech: the mind of Nikola Tesla but with much more business sense.

S/he means that Elon Musk set up a rocket company and a car/battery company, without previously being an expert in either of these things. Sure, he became an expert by learning, but he also noticed and used many things that earlier experts have missed.

I would call it mania. If I wanted a pejorative, I'd call him euphoric.

As someone who struggled with bipolar for years, his writing reminds me a lot of the shit I used to write in notebooks when manic. I was always convinced I had figured out a way to live a purer, better life without the bullshit everyone else always managed to slog through. And I never even had to sleep, except on the occasional bench in the middle of the day!

> The walls are buzzing. I know this because I have a magnet implanted in my hand and whenever I reach near an outlet I can feel them.

What in the world...?

This has to be satire. Right? Please be satire.

Thanks for sharing this though, I was previously under the impression Soylent was created by someone relatively sane.

I assumed it was satire, considering he's written other tongue-in-cheek posts, like http://robrhinehart.com/?p=1005.

His attitude is at least better informed then many celebrities. And he was a celebrity for a short time.

Engineer's Disease.

Maybe thats the kind of attitude that makes founders good at taking risks, while more careful people would rationalize themselves out of trying new things ?

> BTW, anyone know a good word for this attitude?

Insufferable ;-)

That situation with his house/pod was pretty bizarre too are we sure he isn't slipping mentally?


> Getting rid of my fridge was one of the greatest days of my life.

In my high school they had a lot of words for this attitude, including "faggot", "square", "nerd" and "nerd faggot". As someone who grew up in this environment, I'm very interested in the critiques of people such as myself who allegedly held these attitudes.

This was a fun read, and I found myself agreeing with him on most of the points.

I would call his attitude "confidence in his own ability to reason clearly".

yeah I have two good words: mental illness. the guy is nuts

Dunning-Kruger effect comes to mind.

A hybrid of hubris and chutzpah

Seems to work for Donald Trump

I think that's satire, in the same style of http://robrhinehart.com/?p=1005.


"Fake it 'till you make it."

I kind of like "Hybris" even though I assume it was a typo.

How about "deludbertise"?

In Greek, the "Y" makes an "uu" sound so it's not entirely incorrect - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Upsilon

If I was feeling snarky, I'd offer 'ultracrepidarian'.


I wouldn't call it hybris either :-p

"like with numerous cryptocurrency companies relearning why the finance industry has so many dang regulations."

My wife is into architecture and told me once that "every building code has a tombstone." Every building code is there because someone (or sometimes lots of people) died. Same with vehicle and road regs, etc.

I had a lawyer tell me almost the same thing about equity, finance, and contract law: every standard provision in e.g. a VC deal and every financial regulation is there because somebody perpetuated a fraud or someone got screwed. Many are also there to compensate for large-scale systemic failure modes like runaway financial bubbles that occurred in the past.

These systems are clunky and crufty and ugly and sometimes there is some value in "disrupting" them, but at the same time I think any would-be disrupters have to understand that the content of these laws and customs is the outcome of an evolutionary "Red Queen's race" lasting centuries or more. The code base is ugly but there's a lot of value and information captured in it.

Joel Spolsky's essay about never doing a full rewrite seems eerily appropriate. It should be obvious that systems that have been going and going for centuries will have quirks all over the place.

And then there are the real elephants in the room - YouTube and Facebook.

Basically saying well our platforms allow for infinite content sure, but we can't police all that. Sorry! These are actual arguments made in court.

And then behind the scenes they are running around scared shitless trying to police content - http://www.reuters.com/article/us-facebook-content-insight-i...

The whole thing reminds me of Samuel L Jackson's character in Jurassic Park. Yes the dino's are breeding when they shouldn't, the kids are missing, the fences are broken, the T Rex can't be found but hey as soon as power is back up I can monitor everything from this one magic console. Isn't that amazing?

Micheal Crichton had a good term for it. He called these people thintelligent.

YouTube is the leader in protecting digital content.


This thread seems like it's out to crucify someone and validate some belief that tech CEOs are masters-of-the-universe types instead of assuming Rob hired people to validate his ideas and tweak them which would be the sensible assumption.

If someone has proof that Soylent employs zero nutritionists/food scientists, please enlighten us, because if that's the case, the product never should have gone to market and I'll throw my supply out immediately and go get a refund.

> One of the biggest flaws of the tech industry is the belief that being a tech expert is enough to disrupt other industries in which they don't have any expertise.

One of the biggest flaws of consumers is that they can't tell low tech from high tech. Writing a shiny CRUD website is not high tech.

And most software products are just skins around databases. What's your point?

This notion that some development should be considered "high tech" while other development should be considered "low tech" is one that bothers me, both for its elitism and for its simplemindedness.

Yes, the skills needed to make a pretty CRUD app may be "lower tech" than the skills needed for someone to master, say, machine learning.

But there are also many University professors doing work considered "high tech" who couldn't practically architect or code a basic application to save their lives.

Meanwhile you have CRUD app developers contributing to frameworks that powerfully advance productivity being looked down upon because they only work in "kiddie languages" like Ruby or Javascript. Their work, even when it produces very high value appreciated by millions, is looked down upon as little more than copy-and-paste coding -- with zero appreciation given to how long it takes to develop the heuristics to do this kind of work well.

I don't think this attitude is healthy. A more healthy attitude would be to recognize that value can be created in different ways.

There is no such thing as high or low tech. Technology is applied science, knowledge, methods and strategies to accomplish a goal. That's all.

Focus on the goal and outcome, not the process to get there. And definitely don't "judge" it based on whether it is "high tech" or not.

That's not just a flaw of consumers. It seems to be a problem with lots of people in the industry, including programmers, marketers and investors...

Then again, they can make money out of it, so they probably don't care either.

Why should a consumer care either way?

It's still tech though. Actually, I'd say anything involving computers is still high tech, even when it's not innovative. Shiny CRUD website is not innovative, but it's still on the internet. Well, maybe it's more that it relies on high tech than actually being it.

> Writing a shiny CRUD website is not high tech

Let me know if you still agree with that statement when you write an application for a bank, military use, pharmacological research, a rocket launch, or Wall Street.

AirBnB and Uber are as ignorant of the law as a medicinal marijuana dealer selling in Texas.

IMHO, Uber has accumulated enough years of practice of law circunvention and political lobbying to earn some expertise badges. Maybe they were ignorant, now they are not.

You could say the same thing about a dealer who started dealing in high school, continued dealing, graduated college, and still not caught.

If ignorance gets you a 30-something billion dollar valuation, then maybe it isn't such a bad strategy after all.

Check back in 30 years. I expect Uber and Airbnb to go the way of all tech stocks...

That's a Pablo Escobar quote?

>One of the biggest flaws of the tech industry is the belief that being a tech expert is enough to disrupt other industries in which they don't have any expertise.

Here's an article elaborating on this sentiment : https://read.reddy.today/read/5/new-entrepreneurs-are-no-lon...

Malcolm Gladwell hosted a podcast recently called "Revisionist History". In one episode, "Generous Orthodoxy" (http://revisionisthistory.com/episodes/09-generous-orthodoxy) that explored dissent, Gladwell states that we must "respect the body we're trying to heal".

I haven't been able to get that statement out of my head since I heard it. It's simple, elegant and slightly profound. It (respect) is also precisely what is missing in the tech industries rallying cry around disruption.

Study and learn why an industry has evolved the way it has before you criticize it as "backwards". In doing so, you may very well gain a deep sense of respect for it.

I think Soylent's failure here wasn't that they tried to do something that they are not experts at, but rather failed to hire actual experts that could assist them in production.

IMO they had a pretty good idea but tried to execute things in a rather vague way instead of consulting the actual experts in this field.

You're laying the schadenfreude on a bit thick, don't you think?

Seems to be just the right thickness.

Any thicker and we'd have to start cutting it into bars and marketing it on a shiny over-designed website.

There really must be a law for everything? That's a slave mentality right there.

Not quite. It's not that there must be a law for everything, it's that there are laws for many things, and often for good reasons. It's not that we always need to regulate new things because new means risky. It's that many new things are actually old things in new guises, and we already know (or should know) what to be concerned about.

Paradox is that US still has no regulations concerning digital privacy, big data and user protection.

People have paid good money to make sure there aren't such laws.

It only has privacy laws based on incidents that have affected people of sufficient status: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Video_Privacy_Protection_Act (and note the little coda in there about Netflix)

The internet moves fast, progress is being made.


...at the same time granting patents on double clicking.

no, law is social contract between peers, not slave=>master.

A contract you had no participation in drafting and never signed, yet you are compelled at gunpoint to uphold it.

Nice spin tho.

As a minor, your parents decided for you, but once you're 18 nothing is stopping you from either trying to re-negotiate the contract (i.e. become politically active) or trying to find a better deal (emigrate). You can also decide to simply unilaterally break the contract (become a criminal) and in practice you could even live without such a contract in a variety of vast areas that are largely uninhabited.

You're not being compelled to accept this contract, but it's such a good deal that few people decide otherwise.

You're right that nothing is stopping you from trying to become politically active or to emigrate, but the chances of doing either successfully are very low.

Politics favors people of certain backgrounds and/or very high charisma. The more substantial the change the higher the level of politics you need to get involved in, and the less likely you are to successfully be involved.

Emigration suffers from the problem that the less money and education you have, the more difficult it is to successfully emigrate. You can't just decide you want to move to a country, they need to decide to let you in. The bar for entry in a lot of countries is very high so it's just not an option for a lot of people.

Yeah, just "become a criminal" and enjoy life in one of our nation's beautiful, gleaming prisons.

This kind of faith in the system is highly disturbing to me.

It's 2016, we have Amended the Constitution so the Senate is democratically ellected, we have live video footage of police brutality for when we are abused...and yet the collective constituency of the nation has to pick between two presidential candidates with the lowest approval ratings in theirown parties that anyone has ever seen. Yet, you try and say that social contract theory applies to an individual? When it clearly can't even apply to the masses? This is the 21st century, this is most likely the best moment in human history. This is the worst evidence for social contract theory. Think about it.

We don't have to choose between two options. Some people are more likely to win than others, but that's to be expected.

well if every generation had to write their laws from scratch we'd never get anything done. You have to accept that as someone coming into an already occupied world that some rules will have been made prior to your birth. You can campaign against them but just don't expect not to be challenged if you break them.

Damn law of gravity!

If you are defining law of gravity in terms of "contract" then you are having some issues.

You can't have a society without having any social constructs.

Nice try at Libertarianism tho.

I am not against society or law. I am against as framing law in the manner GP did.

Just like the constitution.

... you can change laws, we have processes for it. You can also move to a more viable environment for your needs.

Indeed. But law is not a contract. Law is law. That is my only point.

there really IS a law about food safety, because, you know, selling unsafe food can result in mass-scale sickness and death.

I think that Soylent will go down as a cautionary tale for anyone who looks at a field they know very little about and thinks "how hard could it be?". Along with Theranos.

What Soylent should have built to be worth $100+ million is a way to make a food product tailored to a particular person or group of people that's based on automation and nutritional science.

Instead they seem to have a cobbled together amalgam that they don't really understand. If it hits 25% DV down the board and nobody dies then it's a job well done.

We know that different people have different dietary needs. The RDA system is by design generalized, not personalized. The RDA for iron varies between 8mg and 27mg [1] for adults but the DV is 18mg.

Meanwhile Soylent Powder 1.6 provides 5mg per serving [2] and calls that 25% (it's actually 27.78% Soylent, check your math). That's way too much for an adult male if you have any other sources of iron. And it may be way too little if you're a woman with no other sources of iron.

Not to mention that all sources of iron (and other nutrients) aren't absorbed equally. Iron from plants is absorbed half as well as iron from meat -- since Soylent is vegan, should we put a discount on the %DV it says it provides?

This isn't an easy problem to tackle, but building a system that understands nutritional science and adapts the product accordingly would actually be a worthwhile endeavor. It would also mean manufacturing and testing in-house, which Soylent doesn't currently do either. Build something worthwhile, not a slick website hooked up to an outsourced assembly line.

[1] https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iron-HealthProfessional/#h...

[2] http://files.soylent.com/pdf/soylent-nutrition-facts-1-6-en....

It's amazing how the whole marketing aura just goes poof.

Last week, the average commenter would be going on about how the real problem is that people are eating unnecessary food with Soylent.

Well, that was still my first thought when I hit "without other sources of iron". One bottle per day of Soylent can't fix up the variation in the other 75% of your calories. I don't call Wheaties unhealthy for being low on protein, because balanced nutrition has to be calculated across a whole diet.

Having said that, it is alarming that Soylent can't possibly be a balanced replacement for everyone. A custom product would have been an interesting possibility for doing that.

The everything for everyone thing is the cardinal sin with them for me.

If they marketed it as a convenient meal replacement, like a carnation instant breakfast that wasn't a milkshake, it would be different. But they imply that eating food is bad, just drink Soylent.

>I think that Soylent will go down as a cautionary tale for anyone who looks at a field they know very little about and thinks "how hard could it be?". Along with Theranos.

Terrible analogy. Unlike Theranos, Soylent has been shipping their core product to many satisfied customers for over two years. The recent quality control issues are real, and they are troubling, but they don't invalidate Soylent's thesis that an engineered staple food could save people time and money. By contrast, the kind of small-sample blood analysis Theranos aimed to do may never have been possible in the first place, which is why informed investors never touched their product.

>We know that different people have different dietary needs.

Better pull Ensure from all the hospitals then, just to be safe.

> Terrible analogy.

I think it's apt, but of course you're free to disagree. Both companies entered fields with a founding team that lacked any particular expertise -- dropping out of Stanford or a degree in electrical engineering doesn't give you the background to know what's truly possible in nutritional or life sciences.

Theranos and Soylent were both shipping their products to much success not that long ago. Theranos was exposed and shown to be almost wholly smoke and mirrors.

Soylent is unlikely to be that bad off, and as you said their main thesis hasn't been disproven. They also haven't shown that they have done anything novel to meaningfully reach that goal. Their constant reformulations and sales suspensions (this is not the first time) tell me that this isn't a high tech food operation based on years of research and scientific processes. It's some powder being mixed in a warehouse by a contracted company and sold on a fancy website. That's not a breakthrough.

> Better pull Ensure from all the hospitals then, just to be safe.

I don't know if Ensure if significantly better or worse than Soylent. Just because it's from a big company and is an established product doesn't necessarily mean it's any good, but it doesn't necessarily mean it's approach is as shoddy as Soylent's either.

I can say that Ensure has not embraced the one-size-fits-all approach of Soylent [1]. They also don't seem to believe in the 25% DV at-all-costs approach. For example, iron does not seem to be included at all.

[1] https://ensure.com/nutrition-products/compare-meal-replaceme...

Soylent's story was always lackluster.


> I researched every substance the body needs to survive, plus a few extras shown to be beneficial, and purchased all of them in nearly raw chemical form from a variety of sources. The section on the ingredients ended up being quite long so I’ll save that for a future post. The first morning my kitchen looked more like a chemistry lab than a cookery, but I eventually ended up with an thick, odorless, beige liquid. I call it ‘Soylent’. At the time I didn’t know if it was going to kill me

> On day 3 I noticed my heart was racing and my energy level was suddenly dropping ... I check my formula and realize iron is completely absent. I quickly purchase an iron supplement and add it to the mixture the next day. I have to be more careful not to leave anything out.

But that isn't what was thought. This guy began experimenting with meal replacement for himself and got an overwhelming response. The thought most involved was let's do this. This is organically cultivated mass self experimentation.

I don't know if this is a clarification comment or a praising comment. Still, mass experimentation is a really really bad idea. We have the FDA for a reason, and that reason is because people are stupid. When a can tells me that it is has 50% more radium than leading competitors in big red bold exciting letters even if is in a Warning box, a lot of the voting public thinks this is then a better product to eat. People are really really dumb. I'm not saying that Soylent is not FDA approved, I'm saying that experimenting on customers is really immoral when it comes to health.

I appreciate the larger point, but the iron example seems pretty unfair.

Soylent is designed to be nutritionally complete as a sole food, or 'neutral' as part of a larger diet. That is, drinking a bottle of Soylent will reduce all of your remaining nutrition needs by the same proportion.

The result is that the balance of a diet hinges on the non-Soylent parts. If the man with too much iron and the woman with too little maintained the same (relative) diet without Soylent, they would still be unhealthy. More broadly, you can't say that a food is inherently unhealthy just because it doesn't fit into a specific slot in your diet. (You could say it's generally unhealthy for having bad nutritional balance, but that's not the case with Soylent.)

The more reasonable criticism here is of Soylent as whole-diet replacement. That's something that Soylent actually can't do, because specific nutrition needs don't vary in lockstep. If one person needs more calcium, and another needs more magnesium, Soylent can't possibly provide like a more flexible diet could.

So I agree that Soylent could have built out a more personalized (or customizable) product, with better results for many users. But I don't think it's fair to appeal to imbalances elsewhere in a diet and demand that Soylent resolve them.

I'll expand a bit more on my point with the iron content of Soylent.

I picked iron out of the list to focus on because it's not water soluble and that makes it more problematic. I bet there are issues across the board with the nutrient content in Soylent.

Excess iron in your diet can be a health problem because your body has no efficient way to dispose of it. The main mechanism for shedding iron is via blood loss! You aren't going to die if you get even 40mg of iron in a day, but consistently ingesting too much iron can be problematic.

This is why you see vitamins with 3000% DV Vitamin C and 10% DV iron -- there's no harm (beyond expensive urine) in excess water soluble Vitamin C, but there can be harm with excess iron.

So if we look at Soylent, with 5mg of iron per serving (IF all of that is actually bio-available), it is not ideal even for the likely majority of its customers (adult men) and even if they only consumed Soylent.

The average adult male only requires an additional 3mg of iron per day, which can easily be exceeded from any number of sources: a multivitamin, a second serving of Soylent, eating a steak, and so on. It's extremely unlikely that the average consumer of Soylent isn't exceeding their daily iron intake (unless they're a woman, especially a pregnant one, in which case they have more wiggle room).

That isn't even considering a non-average adult male, who might need 4mg or 12mg or who knows what.

Excess iron (>20mg) can also cause "gastric upset, constipation, nausea, abdominal pain, vomiting, and faintness" [1] -- which can all be caused by lots of things, but are certainly areas where Soylent has struggled somewhat.

Mainly I just think it's disappointing that Soylent adopted a naive one-size-fits-all approach and doesn't really seem to understand what RDA and %DV are meant to convey. The FDA is faced with an impossible task to provide %DV for all people everywhere without considering any of their personal variables. Soylent should be trying to go a step beyond that, not just blindly targeting those numbers.

[1] https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iron-HealthProfessional/#h...

Unfortunately, Soylent is a broscience experiment that got out of hand.

sigh. :-/

A cautionary tale that produces a fast-growing company now worth at least $100 million dollars? I'll take it.

Here, in a nutshell, is everything that is wrong with the toxic valley startup culture.

I agree with you. I don't support this mentality -- I'm just making fun of it.

Silicon Valley is littered with the corpses of overvalued cautionary tales.

The real measure of success is whether the company becomes a cautionary tale before or after its exit. Just ask Marc Cuban.

That's basically admitting a lot of tech companies have the same mentality as snake oil salesmen.

Well, yeah. Was that ever in dispute?

If you're aiming for a failed company and a pile of cash that makes you feel empty inside, or just a failed company, you're on the right track.

I think of Iomega: $100/share in 1998, $2/share in 2005. There are better investments...

Theranos anyone?

> anyone who looks at a field they know very little about and thinks "how hard could it be?".

I don't think the "how hard could it be?" mindset should be discouraged.

Relevant PG article: http://paulgraham.com/schlep.html

eh, as the first trying to bring science in food science and use microbiology instead of dietary esoterism I'm willing to give them some slack

sure this turn of people getting sick is worrying, because coming late and sudden hints at contamination, and I hope they can mature enough to go past manufacturing problems

but the data they're collecting will be extraordinary for bringing down the layers of encrusted myths about how the body works.

> ... as the first trying to bring science in food science...

I'm pretty sure food science and studies of nutrition have been around a lot longer than Soylent.

Also, I see no reason why they should be cut any slack. It's not just a webapp that experiences downtime. When this goes wrong people get hurt.

I'm pretty sure food science and studies of nutrition have been around a lot longer than Soylent.

I've only read about this in passing, in general histories, but this was one of MIT's early strengths, in the post-Civil War late 19th Century era.

Total parenteral nutrition (TPN) has been used in medicine for a while; it feeds people directly, bypassing the digestive tract and delivering nutrients via an IV. Enteral nutrition (feeding tubes) have been used for a long time as well. Medicine has thought long & hard about how to keep people alive on a liquid diet. It's not a new thing and Soylent is not even close to a "first".

Could you elaborate on the data they are collecting?

The human body with it's organs and molecular pathways is quite a tough black box to crack, and there is not a spark of a doubt that Soylent - and no one else - will not understand it for quite a while.

And then there is human human variations.

The concept was flawed from the very beginning. It's sad to see them fail, and I feel bad for the people that suffer because they believed what was marketing and not hard science.

well human response to soylent is already a huge data set, was used so far to add/remove/rebalance stuff and of course drive recalls.

> there is not a spark of a doubt that Soylent - and no one else - will not understand it for quite a while

I agree but at some point this work should begin somewhere, somehow.

> well human response to soylent is already a huge data set

"People love it" isn't a rigorous double-blind scientific study.

Or it could be the move to using Soy protein in 1.6 (and the bars) and some people are sensitive to that level of it.

I'm not sure the reports say its contamination. Its possible the powder is just incompatible with the digestive system of some people in same way as, say, leafy vegetables or carrageenan affect some people's digestion but not others.

Soylent may be recalling because they don't want to be liable in the _possibility_ of contamination. However, over time, they may find they can make the best product that is compatible with some digestive systems but not others - put a warning on product accordingly.

Cheap, accurate testing of foods for compatibility with a broad range of nutrient absorption rates and microbiomes would be key in engineering foods for everyone. But right now it would just make your food really expensive to the extent its even possible.

It would also be interesting to see whether the suffers are long-term users - there is always the possibility of developing allergies over time. I used to eat and enjoy quite a lot of food that used Quorn as an ingredient - until it started making me vomit uncontrollably.

From the description I'm willing to bet its polyphenols and some of their customers are sensitive - feed me two pots of green tea and I'll projectile vomit.

I wouldn't be surprised if the fact that it's a powder contributes to this. I've vomited from strong green tea on an empty stomach before, but never from green tea with food. Solid food works as a sustained release mechanism for the nutrients/phytochemicals. A sudden burst of polyphenols won't necessarily have the same effect as the same dose spread over time.

Yup - true - if I've eaten it won't make me nauseous, and having food mass (chyme) in your stomach acts as a buffer for absorbtion.

Our experience at MealSquares[1] has been that these external testing services are entirely oriented around the food industries needs for 'check-offs' rather than any concern about whether food is good or even safe for humans. I repeatedly had food science advisors confuesedly tell me 'but it's generally recognized as safe!' when I raised concerns about newly released designer cocktails of preservatives or flavoring agents (MealSquares still has neither). There's also a mini-industry around 'clean labeling' which in practice means food additive companies finding every loophole in the FDA regulations to be able to refer to some crazy concoction as just 'modified starch' and similar on the label. The real rabbit hole is 'processing aids' which don't even need to go on the label but wind up in your food (and our ingredients have to be tested for).

We've found no reasonable way to signal to the market that we are not engaged in these shenanigans partially because 99% of the market isn't even aware of these shenanigans. There's the organic and gmo free sect, but those have often been found to be worse than the alternative in terms of things like carcinogens in the organic pesticides used.

I will say this: several of our friend's kids eat MealSquares. Our advisory panel includes a registered dietician who specialized in meal replacements for many years, an academic nutritionist, and an MD who specializes in obesity research. And we've made changes based on their input. We've also checked in with a pediatrician who does nutrition research for kids. We give a shit.

1. I am one of the founders of http://www.MealSquares.com

A non-preachy education campaign would help. I'd watch a youtube channel with shorts describing how incumbents work within the existing system (no bias, just educate me) and then a small explanation about what MealSquares does at the end.

Off topic, but I just checked out your website. I read the landing page, and it sounds reasonable so far. I saw the "Try Some" link and thought, "Sure, I'll give it a try!" I thought it would lead to a page offering to send me a free (or very cheap, shipping only) sample square. Instead I am asked to pay $90 (!) just to try it (which is different than the $85 price actually on the form.)

May I suggest making that link lead to a "free sample" page rather than a "give us $90 before even trying a bite" page? I think you'll get a whole lot more uptake that way.

I recently ordered a sample pack of Meal Squares and I love them! So tasty and so quick. Particularly good with a glass of milk. My boyfriend isn't as much of a fan, but I've been eating at least one a day since we received the sample pack.

A number of my friends are food scientists, it goes beyond the "testing" concept and into the "design" concept. I think Soylent has been a little arrogant about their development process and failed to hire someone with extensive food science experience for the scaling.

There's some constituent ingredient they're using that is either sensitive to a significant portion of the population or contaminated with another thing that is. The best response here is to announce they're hiring someone experienced out of {existing company} to prevent these mistakes in the future.

These guys are literally a danger to society at this point.

Just because you think you're "smart" doesn't mean you can make functional foods without serious expertise. Typical case of over-inflated engineer egos.

Obligatory link from 2013: https://blog.priceplow.com/soylent

Testing is needed at the point where risk is. If something comes from a farm and your job is to decontaminate it - there's point in testing output. If you're running a restaurant you probably don't need your dishwasher to test tap water quality and post results on the website.

Soylent is simply mixing a number of standard powders, most of those already heavily processed.

I think it's quite clear that an ingredient they actually wanted in the formula is causing drama, not that something got contaminated or not up to spec. Testing you suggest would show that "yeah bag contains exactly what we want". But that wouldn't catch the issue of "what we've put in the bag isn't compatible with (some?) human bodies".

FWIW, I can't back this up with a link but I remember a HN thread where the infrastructure was strictly characterized as more of less mostly good enough, not a point of pride

So you have a mostly-good-enough tech to sell a mostly-good-enough product. Then what exactly justifies the $20 mio venture capital?

being the first* there and having a chance of becoming the de-facto monopoly of the industry

*there are food substitute in use already for in-patients with certain conditions, but are pricey, incomplete and not really into the nutrition substitute space, more like into the 'survive a week on this because you can't eat food' space.

Since they're producing an actual food product they arguably have higher costs than most software efforts that get investment backing.

Their main product is their ecommerce tech stack. Soylent is a side project.

Because the world was crying out for another "ecommerce tech stack"?

Put on your tinfoil hat, it's conspiracy time...

I think he's referring to this:


In fairness they have developed an active and engaged online community with customer support that resembles a tech product I can't think of another food product that's done this, it's definitely a part of what's allowed them to take off.

Your critique is based on the assumption that this is something testing could have caught. Toxins, bacterial contamination or something similar.

If it is just an intolerance or allergic reaction exhibited to particular ingredients by a small fraction of the population that is very difficult to test for. Even more so if the magnitude of the reaction depends on processing of the ingredients.

If they are using uncommon ingredients or process them in unusual ways it may be entirely possible that it was simply a previously unknown issue that nobody tests for, i.e. in-house testing could not have caught it either and human beta-testing could be inconclusive due to low prevalence of the intolerance.

I wonder how other large food manufacturers handle such things.

> and boasted about their overdesigned web infrastructure for a business that did two transactions a minute

They made more money with that two transactions than some other high rollers.

I guess one great thing about Soylent threads is bringing all the urban myths around nutrition out into the open. People in this thread believe everything from "people on liquid diets don't poop!" to "if you put some berries in a blender and drink it, you're getting entirely different nutrition from eating the berries raw!" That second one is a bit of a strawman, but it shows how absurd claims that crushing or grinding foods ruins the nutrition sound.

But the main one I want to call out is "Ensure is well-researched", which seems to have reached self-perpetuating status. Go ahead, type terms related to Ensure into PubMed or Google Scholar. I would cite a particular one if any of them turned up anything. The most prominent independent examination of Ensure's nutritional value (that I've found) came when Abbott was forced to settle with the FTC in the late 90s for falsely advertising Ensure as doctor-recommended and useful to drink with an already healthy diet.[0] If you're not interested in reading it, the FTC's main complaints were over false claims about doctor recommendations and the fact that Ensure's advertising compared a single can to a multivitamin.

[0] https://www.ftc.gov/sites/default/files/documents/cases/1997...

> "if you put some berries in a blender and drink it, you're getting entirely different nutrition from eating the berries raw!" That second one is a bit of a strawman, but it shows how absurd claims that crushing or grinding foods ruins the nutrition sound.

Well, for many foods this is 100% true. For instance, it's not the same eating raw garlic, than freshly smashed garlic (<10mins), than garlic smashed 20 minutes ago... because allicin (main active compound of garlic) is unstable and quickly degrades into another compounds...


Yeah, I was gonna say-- pureeing berries severely impacts dietary fiber, which in turn impacts glycemic index, since your body no longer has to work around nearly as much cellulose to get to the sugar. It's a physical process that has an impact on a chemical process. And of course you chew your food, but you can't chew anything nearly so fine as your blender does.

Here's a more concrete analogy-- sawdust is highly flammable. Many times more so than regular old wood. Why? Better oxygenation, higher surface area, lower per-unit thermal mass (which means less energy required to get a particular chip of wood to its combustion point).

> Yeah, I was gonna say-- pureeing berries severely impacts dietary fiber, which in turn impacts glycemic index, since your body no longer has to work around nearly as much cellulose to get to the sugar.

When I first got my Vitamix, I did some cursory web "research" which seemed to imply that blending made no substantive difference in nutritional value of fruits. Do you have a citation for this conclusion?

The general rule of thumb is cooked digests easier than raw, blended easier than cooked, juiced easiest of all. Think of it as automating preexisting parts of the natural digestive cycle-- you chew your food physically for a reason, obviously, starting in the mouth and continuing in the stomach. Cooking denatures protein. Pureeing similarly breaks down dietary fiber into smaller, more digestable chunks. Everything is still there (excepting volatile organic compounds that degrade once exposed to air, etc), it's a physical process, not chemical. But physical transformations have indisputable effects on chemical reactions. That's not controversial.

(Caveat: nutritional science is very much in the wild wild west days. It's a jungle out there, even in peer-reviewed research.)

He doesn't have a citation because he's wrong.

But I do, sunshine. Do you?

Your citation is about starch. A better citation in support of your assertion https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/71495

But does that change the nutritional value of garlic (as opposed to changing just the taste)?

If you lose allicin you lose some nice properties (antimicrobial, antiinflammatory, etc):


But those properties may not be relevant to you when consuming garlic anyway. The vast majority of such studies are showing the properties in isolation (petri-dish).

People love to extrapolate that to "garlic prevents colds", but it doesn't follow. I'm not going to pay to read the full article in this case but you at least have to be careful about this.

> But those properties may not be relevant to you when consuming garlic anyway.

Many of this properties are well known (not so well understood). I posted a random quick example, but there are also studies in vivo (rodent models and humans).


My point was that you have to be careful in general. In the specific case of garlic, I don't draw the conclusion from your second link that it is "well known". There are some promising results for some of the individual diseases, but there are also many caveats. The conclusion states:

"Although it is shown that garlic may have a significant clinical potential either in their own right or as adjuvant therapy in different disorders, however, due to some issues, such as methodological inadequacies, small sample sizes, lack of information regarding dose rationale, variation between efficacy and effectiveness trials, the absence of a placebo comparator, or lack of control groups more standard experiments and researches are needed to confirm the beneficial effect of garlic in various diseases."

> I don't draw the conclusion from your second link that it is "well known".

Then it must be a cultural thing... =) If you read the first sentence in the abstract you can read: "Throughout history, many different cultures have recognized the potential use of garlic for prevention and treatment of different diseases.".

Here in the Mediterranean, garlic is known to be really healthy (along with red wine and olive oil). Many people eat garlic in the morning just for the health benefits, and we even have (famous?) smashed garlic dishes: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aioli

> My point was that you have to be careful in general.

Agree. Sometimes more context/evidence is required. My point is that the bioavailability of compounds in food might differ if the food is presented in raw or elaborated/processed form.

The first sentence is setting the scene, not confirming the hypothesis. If things being "known" by cultural history was sufficient, we wouldn't need to do science. In reality, a good proportion of "known" things are wrong or the very minimum more subtle than expected.

It is also "known" that being physically cold causes colds (Mediterraneans are especially paranoid about this in my experience). The majority of studies show this to be either untrue or borderline.

I do agree that there is clear potential for chopping food to affect it's nutritional value. I would expect chopping alone to be of minimal impact in most cases if no other evidence was available. Elaborate processing is rather different.

It's almost as though breaking down the cell walls of plant material exposes various molecules to oxygen and other compound in air resulting in the possibility for chemical change than would exist it the material was consumed directly.

Unless you swallow your food whole I imagine that your teeth might break down cell walls too.

Aren't you severely grinding it with your teeth, saliva, and gastric acids anyway?

(Honestly asking, I have no idea.)

Correct. Freshly blended food is also no issue.

The first issue is that you don’t immediately consume it after blending, but wait a few minutes or hours.

The second issue is that the grinding with teeth requires you to spend energy, which reduces the energy you gain from the food.

Right, but teeth are natural and a mortar and pestle are not /s

How does rushing it into an acid bath preserve it?

The goal isn't to preserve it forever, the goal is to preserve it long enough to get to the bacteria which can make use of it.

Antimicrobial food would be bad for you as it would harm digestion.

Not quite true. Antimicrobial doesn't mean quite what you think; it means anti-some-microbes. Honey, for instance, has several antimicrobial or antibiotic aspects. Some honey is so because enzymes in it produce hydrogen peroxide, while other honey is so for different reasons, not fully understood. If you feed mice a lot of honey, their intestinal flora rebalance -- in one study, for instance, feeding mice honey as a food supplement increased their bifidobacteria and lactobacilli counts. This is actually probably good for digestion.

Feed mice a new diet of any kind and their gut will rebalance.

We cannot assume that the environment is innocuous. Our atmosphere is full of nitrogen, oxygen and other chemical compounds able to produce a reaction and modify molecules in any food.


"An active ingredient (AI) is the ingredient in a pharmaceutical drug that is biologically active. " Does it also reduce the amount of rainbows and unicorns? Your own wikipedia link does not say eating garlic is helpful to humans.

Sorry, I meant "active compound"...

> Your own wikipedia link does not say eating garlic is helpful to humans.

As you may know, you shouldn't look in wikipedia for that kind of information... here you go:

"Recent studies support the effects of garlic and its extracts in a wide range of applications. These studies raised the possibility of revival of garlic therapeutic values in different diseases. Different compounds in garlic are thought to reduce the risk for cardiovascular diseases, have anti-tumor and anti-microbial effects, and show benefit on high blood glucose concentration."


But the point here is (in case you missed it): eating smashed food != eating raw food

I thought the biggest problem with blending stuff is the quantity I'll be having compared to having just one unit of something. For example, I wouldn't eat 3 oranges in a row but I would definitely drink them if blended.

Mashed potatoes is a big one for me. Would never eat 5 boiled potatoes, but if I make mashed potatoes out of them I'll happily eat that much and quite possible still want more.

Orange juice has a drastically higher GI than oranges because your body more rapidly absorbs sugar from juice than from pulp. It's not just the quantity.

The process of juicing already leaves some waste out and you are probably also removing the pulp from the juice itself.

OP was talking about the differences between eating a certain food and eating that same thing after liquifying it as a whole.

>I wouldn't eat 3 oranges in a row

I would! I tend to go overboard on fruit if I don't stop myself. Apples, oranges, blueberries, cantaloupe, all so delicious...Not always pleasant for digestion and probably a bit of sugar rush, but do you know of any more serious health effects?

Eating too much sugar has serious long term health effects.

Ignoring the effect on your teeth, it was my understanding that the fibre in fruit helped counteract many of the negative effects of fructose (at least, keeping your insulin in check). I don't have any proof on hand, so perhaps I'm wrong.

There's afaik a rather big difference between freshly squeezed orange juice, and fruit juices that have been pasteurised. I'm not sure there's that big a difference between eating an orange and drinking the juice - other than the simple fact that the orange will contain "more stuff" that is "not sugar" than the juice - hence it'll be easier to increase sugar intake by drinking, say a litre of orange juice a day, and eating some food - rather than eating six(?) large oranges and being reasonably full.

Absolutely. I'm assuming eating an orange would have more fibre than a squeezed orange.

Buying "smooth" (no "bits") juice I would assume is missing most of the fibre.

Fructose is low GI, so there is a small insulin response only.

Ah, you are right. I think I'm misremembering. I'm basing most of what I wrote on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dBnniua6-oM but I watched it years ago and my memory isn't the greatest. (I also didn't fact check the video's content, so... grain of salt and all that, it does seem well sourced though)

The blending idea I've not seen any research to back up what you have said.

Surface area of absorbing fructose could logically affect your body (think Higher GI), as could enzymes in saliva. So while it's the same stuff you might well absorb it in worse ways for your body...

As far as the specific example of blended fruit, I seem to be on solid ground.[0][1] However, starches do change properties depending on form, which is probably similar to what you were getting at with fructose absorption.[2] I was mostly complaining about claims that micronutrients lose bioavailibility when not provided in their "natural" form.

[0] https://www.quora.com/Does-blending-reduce-the-nutritional-c...

[1] http://www.livestrong.com/article/548978-does-fruit-lose-its...

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3046297

Do you tend to swallow raspberries whole, or chew them first?

Are you saying chewing is as effective as blending? Are you saying saliva doesn't have enzymes in it that might affect things?

Point to research or I'll assume you are just making things up! Just to be clear I'm not saying I'm right I'm saying I doubt we have proved it...

I spit in the blender, of course.

Actually that was how some forms of alcohol used to be made, for example sake in Japan.

> The first sake, kuchikami no sake, (口噛みの酒) or "mouth-chewed sake," was made by people chewing rice, chestnuts, millet, and acorns and spitting the mixture into a tub, where the enzymes from saliva converted the starches to sugar. This sweet mixture was then combined with freshly cooked grain and allowed to naturally ferment.

It might seem like a disgusting practice to contemporary eyes, but it does show the power of human saliva and how one should not discount the process of chewing food. Drinking a liquid vs actively chewing, imbibing the chewed food with your saliva, definitely does not lead to the same thing.

From my experience, when people vomit after eating it comes up pretty recognizable.

Everything I do not understand in detail is just an "urban myth".

With nutrition you can safely assume most things you hear are bullshit.

I do not think so. The statement that keto is the best diet even if it causes rectal bleeding sounds reasonable to me [source: HN]. I go now and take a fat-shake. Cheers!

I was on keto. It worked. No rectal bleeding. I also didn't die of various stuff I was supposed to. I'm close to getting jailed though, because I fear that at some point I'll break and punch the next person who tells me that artificial sweeteners cause cancer.

They can cause neuronal damage through excitotoxicity [0][1]. I've never heard of keto before, but I would be wary of aspartame and MSG.

[0] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7854587

[1] http://americannutritionassociation.org/newsletter/review-ex...

The American Nutrition Association is not a credible source. And they're using a discredited source - he's promoted several outright conspiracy theories. (I mean, fucking chemtrails even).

For the downvoters:

Anyone can join the American Nutrition Society as a professional member. Minimal checks are made of professional registration - you just need to paypal the fees.

Russel Blaylock's wikipedia article says:


> Blaylock has endorsed views inconsistent with the scientific consensus, including that food additives such as aspartame and monosodium glutamate (MSG) are excitotoxic in normal doses and that the H1N1 influenza (swine flu) vaccine carries more risk than swine flu itself.

> Advertisements selling the 'Blaylock Wellness Report' at newsmax.com contain claims of additional health dangers, including fluoridated drinking water, fluoridated toothpaste, vaccines, dental amalgam, cholesterol drugs, pesticides, and aluminum cookware.[23]

> In April 2013, Dr. Blaylock entered his endorsement of the chemtrails conspiracy theory on an internet radio program called Linderman Unleashed Radio Show where he cited increased levels of aluminum in water bodies and nature with his common sense observations of the skies. He proposed the conspiratorial and criminal aircraft spraying by governments of nano toxins for some supposed global, emergency purpose

This is a laundry list of woo topics, and it should be obvious that he's no longer a credible source for anything.

It was surprising to me to see that fluoride free toothpastes exist. They're sold regularly at Whole Foods. And you can check on the American Dental Association page which products earn the ADA Seal... none of which avoid inclusion of fluoride.


Fluoride collects in your pineal gland. There is no study (AFAIK) that says it harms the function of the pineal gland, but when I armchair-researched this a few years ago, it seemed no one is quite sure that it is benign.

The most significant benefit from brushing comes from the mechanical action, not from the toothpaste or any compound within. Personally, I use fluoridated toothpastes, but I can understand people who don't.

People like to point to scientific consensus as proof (by authority), but consensus changes with time: Trans fats are no longer good. Fats are no longer bad. Stomach ulcers are now caused by bacteria. Cholesterol intake no longer matters. Dinosaurs are no longer extinct (they are birds now), and had features. Patient zero did not bring HIV to the US.

It may or may not be benign. But I know that fluoride prevents cavities by reinforcing your enamel and that's why the ADA recommends it. So whatever the accumulation of fluoride does to my pineal gland, I'll trade that for the protection fluoride affords.

I know unfluoridated toothpastes are clinically proven to work in cleaning your teeth. But I need anti-cavity protection too.

(My mom's a dental hygienist. She'd kill me if she found a cavity.)

It would be so sad if you get jailed because of an "urban myth".

Someone could at least write a magazine article proving that artificial sweeteners cause incarceration.

Analogous to the fact that it is very hard to study the nutrition and long-term effects of Soylent on a big scale, with a diverse set of people, the same seems to be true for "normal" food. How do you even _define_ a "regular diet"? The exact diet varies from person to person, even from week to week!

Even though we've had "normal diets" for way longer, it is impossible to study those effectively without first closely defining the diet in question (which is effectively the same as feeding Soylent, minus the powderization and conservation).

Following that, it should be much easier to closely examine the effects of Soylent on people than it is to study any other non-standardized form of nutrition. And yet every "fact" about Soylent you read is purely anectodal.

I take it you didn't study food science. It's called oxidation, look it up. Also, some foods are made more bioavailable when soaking and blending, and sprouting, cashews.

Curious what are your thoughts on GMOs.

Wouldn't it be ironic if one of the GMO ingredients in Soylent was causing the kind of allergic reaction that organic activists are always warning about thus proving the hazardness of GMOs. This is sheer speculation but had to share the thought.

Not unlikely, most GMOs are modified to increase resistance of them for pesticides, or for them to produce pesticides themselves.

And these increased pesticides often also cause several reactions in humans.


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