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Seth Roberts has died (sethroberts.net)
168 points by martharotter on April 28, 2014 | hide | past | favorite | 130 comments

For those of us who don't know who Seth Roberts is, who is Seth Roberts?

He was basically "the quantified self guy". He's done all kinds of crazy experiments on himself that he called "n=1 studies". In fact, the first thing I wondered when I saw this headline is whether or not it was related to some new experiment he was doing on himself.

Like the other commenters here, I will miss Seth's writing. He shared so much and influenced so many others. He had both the curiosity and the courage to try crazy things and shared what he learned with the world. RIP, Seth.

In fact, the first thing I wondered when I saw this headline is whether or not it was related to some new experiment he was doing on himself.

Well, there are "rumors" of links between eating too much fat and cardiovascular diseases, and he was abusing butter as of late...

And there are also rumors of no links whatsoever: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18615352

Well, the overwhelming majorities of publications see a link, the fact that some see none IMHO shows the limited usefulness of those epidemiological studies way too many parameters to be close to a controlled experience...

The author of that paper your linked, Uffe Ravnskov (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uffe_Ravnskov) seems to be part of a small minority holding this belief.

This is a good but short summary of some of Seth's projects, from an old blog post of his.



He was well known for self experimentation and writing the book, "The Shangri-La Diet".

Forgive me, but I'm having trouble understanding why his death is significant for a crowd such as Hacker news? I didn't know about him, and I don't mean to talk ill of the dead, but from a quick google it would seem he's mostly just a dietary quack? Even if he wasn't a quack, I still don't really get his relevance.

Self experimentation is very much in spirit with Hacker News. I think he was a great inspiration.

There are some odd comments on his blog. See, eg:

I know this is a rough time, but I’d like to ask: if you don’t already know for certain, please preserve any evidence, digital and physical, that might indicate why he died. If it was the result of one of his self-experiments, then I think he would want us to know.

Not really that odd considering his line of work. I'm sure a number of people have replicated his experiments on themselves and are now understandably concerned.

I down voted your comment because it is my understanding the only requirement for a post on hacker news is that it is deeply interesting. The idea that the poster child for quantified self, a movement intent on maximizing the application of current scientific knowledge for health and self improvement, died at 60, is deeply interesting to me.

It sounds to me like he was a bit of a food hacker. Probably a slight stretch but I can see the relevance.

That could be it. His blog is also full of all kinds of harmful medical advice not backed by any kind of knowledge of the subjects much less any kind of science. Generally not the kind of of crowd hacker news "associates" with.

"advice not backed by"

There is a well known separation between the theorist and the experimentalist mindset. He was one of the best of the experimentalists. A "soft science" guy with the math and computing skills to teach the "hard science" guys a lesson or two, despite the poor reputation of soft science guys in that area. My possibly mistaken observation is you're trying to apply theoretician morality (consensus building, rabid conformity, name dropping) to a guy who was nearly the cultural archetype of the ideal ultimate experimentalist.

Not surprisingly all his posts began with "So I temporarily doubled my daily butter intake while taking standardized psych intelligence tests before, during, and after the dietary change and the results were ..." and practically none of his blog posts began with "Like everyone else, I agree with Dr Phil's strategies for weight loss and anyone who doesn't agree with everyone else, all of the time, is inherently wrong ..."

Your judgment of his work is accurate and correct if you use theoretician criteria on his work. But he was focused on the near exact opposite, in experimentalism. And if you use the more appropriate experimentalist criteria on his experiments, he was Awesome for a soft sciences guy and could teach the supposedly elite math/CS skilled hard science guys, a thing or two about data analysis and presentation.

> There is a well known separation between the theorist and the experimentalist mindset. He was one of the best of the experimentalists.

He was a terrible experimentalist. He never used randomization or blinding; he never took into account any covariates like travel or smog (he lived in China and flew back and forth! and would still report A/B/A comparisons); he didn't even try to correct for time trends; and all of this was deliberate since he knew why you need good methodology and how abandoning all this stuff leads to systematically false results, and he went and did it all anyway. Roberts as critic was very different (and much superior to) Roberts as experimentalist.

I think "harmful" is subjective here. A diet recommended by "experts" and governments that suggests >50% "good" carbs is healthy is also subjective to me and the data backing it could also be described as "not back by any kind of knowledge...".

Harmful? No - you can't state that with any quantitative facts, what you've stated is pure postulation. The first thing I thought when I read this is that Seth's work and studies will be used as a scape goat to discredit the high cholesterol / high fat intake perspective on diet unfortunately.

"Generally not the kind of of crowd hacker news "associates" with." - It seems you haven't been here long.

I wasn't really talking about his dietary recommendations, although those are probably harmful as well. I was talking more about his nonsense about the stuff he says about, for instance, pregnancy gingivitis. It's obvious he has absolutely no knowledge about the subject and he makes up his theories on the fly based on hunches. That alone makes me reasonably sure he's not very trustworthy. He routinely dismisses scientific findings and replaces them with his "n=1" nonsense. For someone who seemed to have at least somewhat of an influence, that's a very dangerous position to take.

> "Generally not the kind of of crowd hacker news "associates" with." - It seems you haven't been here long.

Good job on the passive aggressive attack there. Let me retort with "what are you, twelve?". Equally as convincing an argument I hope.

I am unsure why you say, "not backed by any kind of knowledge of the subjects" -- is it because his PhD is in Psychology and not Biology/Medicine? Do you believe that he can't have an opinion and share his n=1 research just because he isn't part of the AgriPharma Industrial Complex? He's very clear about his methodology and results -- this is exactly the type of transparent experimentation and learning that I come to this site to hear about.

I don't know - there seem to be a fair number of people on HN very interested in these sorts of things going by the support for Soylent and so on.

As I understand it, it's as that is based on real research and not what someone feels it should be.

Haven't tried it myself, but open to it at some point.

Seth Roberts' 'diet' seems to be based on eating things with and without a flavour at different times; a bit of a WTF to say the least.

"a bit of a WTF to say the least."

Perhaps I can help clarify it a bit. Note that I liked the guy and his attitude (although I never met him) but have never embraced his research, may as well get biases out of the way.

As a psych prof he became very interested in WHY people get hungry. If you can control when and what you desire to eat, then you can eat whatever you desire whenever you want, yet you can trivially control your nutrition / weight.

Needless to say the hair shirt crowd and the neo puritan crowd see this as a direct attack against their core beliefs, no improvement should be possible, should be allowed, should even be non sin ful to think about, without agonizing suffering. Who is being rationally scientific and who is suffering from a mental illness impairing their day to day lifestyle is an interesting question where I have an intense bias.

Personally via experience I agree with most of his general theories although I disagree or have no opinion WRT some of his techniques and choices. For example I have a very low refined carb low grain low sugar diet, and the idea of eating a sickeningly sweet snickers bar now is kinda nauseous, so although I could trivially afford, obtain, and eat an entire box of snickers bars, there's no way I'd do it other than a survival situation, although as a young-ish adult I gobbled those things up with predictable results.

Seth's theories about how to get to that kind of ... mental state or whatever ... might sound a little weird. But they worked for him, and seem appropriate for a psych professor to professionally comment on, so he's probably completely correct, however weird it may sound. A psych prof commenting on psychological state (at least WRT appetite) probably has more wisdom than any CS/IT guy on HN commenting on a psych topic...

The controversy is all in the application. His theory seems sound, now its all people freaking out about how it can be (mis)applied. That's where all the screaming is happening, no one at a professional level seems to disparage his actual theoretical psych work.

Its like debating the morals and ethics of Maxwells equations in a debate about net neutrality. Maxwell's probably right; doesn't imply much one way or another about the morality of the position purchased for the FCC. Although both topics are certainly in the same field of human endeavor.

Harmful medical advice? It might be less proven, but the science of "fat is bad" is far from overwhelming. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18615352

I'm certainly not going to suggest that Seth Roberts' ideas are gospel, but given the evidently poorly-supported and indeed sometimes harmful nature of some of the advice we've been given, with great assurance, by the official experts on diet I'm not sure who it would be crazier to pay attention to.

He was a body hacker / life hacker.

"Dietary quack" is a reasonably sizable chunk of HN audience.

I guess a lot of people around here subscribe to various "life extension" diet regimes. There are many related posts in any case. I think the OP may be a critic of Mr. Robert's regime posting in a moment of schadenfreude.

I think it's very bad form to hypothesize on the OP's motives, when it's entirely possible s/he is just someone who lost a friend.

I flagged your comment because it contains an ad hominem attack on the submitter.

If you spend a fair amount of time sitting in front of these computers; you should take a slight interest in nutrition. Or, I guess you strap your ipad to your mountian bike when coding? I myself don't feel sitting in front of a computer is healthy. I do try to limit my caloric intake.

What does this has to do with cooky dietary ideas?

Thanks. I have heard of that in passing.

Sounds like a broscientist.

Inventor of the "Shanghai-la" diet, among other things:


Shanghai is a different place than Shangri-La. For starters, the former exists.

If you're interested in the link between ADHD and food. There's evidence ( sofar all research confirms this and most experiments included double blind tests) that food triggers ADHD. http://peer.ccsd.cnrs.fr/docs/00/47/80/60/PDF/PEER_stage2_10...

All those experiments start with a very restricted diet and then they start adding apples, pork.... The restricted diet consists of what is considered safe food. ( A pear for example) Double blind means that nor the participants nor the observers know which of the two groups follows the highly restricted diet. The participants are young children.

The article you cite has not a double blind experiment:

> The parents and teachers who filled in the questionnaires could not be blinded as they had to supervise the food intake of the child and knew whether the child was following an elimination diet.

Do you have a reference of a similar article with a double blind test?

Another question: Pears, apples and quinces are very related plants. Why pears are safe and apple not? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malinae

This article gives an overview: http://www.adhdenvoeding.nl/cms/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/A...

In the first table, second column (RCTtype) everything starting with DB is a double blind trial. (5 in total)

Pears/Apples? It has something to do with the hypo-allergenic qualities of pears, rice, turkey and most vegetables. But I'm not a food scientist.

And you won't tell us which foods are evil?

Seth Roberts: "The unreasonable effectiveness of my self-experimentation"


Seth Roberts: "The Growth of Personal Science: Implications for Statistics" (pdf)


When I first met Seth he was an assistant professor of psychology at UC Berkeley. At the time he wrote all his code in APL, and couldn't figure out why anyone would use anything else. More recently he used R. To everyone calling him "not a hacker," he was hacking on code before a lot of you were born, though his code was mostly for his own purposes.

I'm a decent R user, have done many self-experiments myself, and read & commented on Roberts's blog for years; I have no idea about APL, but I think you overestimate how much hacking on R code Roberts was able to do - he had a lot of trouble programming the reaction-time code for his Buttermind experiments and I don't recall him ever reporting more complex analyses than a linear model.

Looks like the blog is down now, the linked to post says simply "Hello, this is Seth’s sister, Amy, with the sad news that Seth died on Saturday, April 26, 2014. He collapsed while hiking near his home in Berkeley, CA. He had asked that any memorial gifts be made to Amnesty International. Thank you to all for following and sharing Seth’s work."

-- http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:http://...

I had the pleasure of knowing Seth personally and am deeply saddened to hear this news.

I was fortunate enough to publish Seth's final column this morning.


You owe it to your readers to say that Seth's death is a warning to those who would flaunt conventional medical wisdom, as he clearly did.

Anyone who stakes their life on a single published meta-analysis is unwise. Anyone who puts faith in a single assessor of cardiac risk, coronary CT, is unwise. It is ironic that the most apt assessment of Seth's life and death comes from a margarine commercial popular in the 1970s: "It's not nice to fool Mother Nature."

> You owe it to your readers to say that Seth's death is a warning to those who would flaunt conventional medical wisdom, as he clearly did.

Your comments in this thread are inappropriate and untimely. We do not yet know what caused Seth's collapse, and to jump to blame his experiments because you disagree with his methods is shortsighted.

They are completely appropriate and very timely. "Collapsed while hiking." The only way that can happen is with an interruption in blood flow, which means a clot or a bleed. If you want, I can go into details, but with his butter and his omega habits, he was putting himself at risk for both, contradictory as that may sound.

> "Collapsed while hiking." The only way that can happen is with an interruption in blood flow, which means a clot or a bleed. If you want, I can go into details, but with his butter and his omega habits, he was putting himself at risk for both, contradictory as that may sound.

This is not science. You are drawing a conclusion to support your own preconceived medical notions based on incredibly limited evidence.

The world does not need more armchair coroners, claiming they've determined causes of death in comment threads hours after someone has passed.

Yes, exactly, everyone has anecdotes. I knew someone who did "all the right things," as recommended by the most mainstream medical advice, ate low fat, exercised, kept track of his bloodwork, etc., and dropped dead on a hike right around the same age. It happens.

Doing all the right things won't guarantee survival to age 100, 80, 60, or even 40. I think about it like this: We're all born with a genetically determined maximum life span that is unknown to us. Our environment and our choices cannot extend it -- they can only shorten it. It's great that your friend did all the right things, because he would likely have died sooner if he hadn't. Ultimately, he got a raw deal, and I wish medical science had been able to do better for him. There are a lot of dedicated, smart, honest people working to improve our understanding of disease and its prevention so stories like your friend's will end at age 90. n=1 experiments are useful for hypothesis generation, but they can never answer a non-trivial question.

Seth had high quality health cover provided by UC Berkeley, and availed himself of routine checkups, including cholesterol counts. He reported that his numbers had been going down since he started this regime.

His unusual diet may have been connected to his death, and it's certainly reason for concern, but you don't know anything about the causality.

We know for certain that Seth had coronary artery disease. How? Because he had a non-zero score on his coronary CT scan. It is not normal to have calcified coronary arteries -- at any age. It may be so common as to be the statistical norm, but coronary calcification is never physiologically normal. Coronary artery disease is responsible for about half of all deaths in the United States. Seth may have had "quality health cover," but we know he still developed coronary disease. Remember, too, that sudden unexpected death is the first symptom in 20% of cases of coronary artery disease. This is a terrible problem that the field is working hard to solve.

If his condition was the statistical norm, how can you attribute it to his unusual diet?

Death is not the statistical norm at age 60 in the United States among the upper middle class.

You don't know what killed him.

> "Collapsed while hiking." The only way that can happen is with an interruption in blood flow, which means a clot or a bleed.

or just due to plain old heatstroke and/or going beyond your physical limit (on that given day and for you given overall condition for that day). You should at least have mentioned whether you know this hills. I hike a lot in the East Bay, and if i remember the Sat was pretty sunny.

I met Seth a few times and I remember one time he asked to go hiking in a fairly unsafe area when it was getting dark.

Please. "Plain old heatstroke" -- in northern California in springtime? The high temperature for that day was 63 degrees, according to: http://www.timeanddate.com/weather/usa/berkeley/historic

It was not heatstroke.

"Going beyond your physical limit" -- what, exactly, does that mean? Thousands of times a day, people get on treadmills in cardiologists' offices, and are taken to their physical limit with a "maximal effort stress test." Even this doesn't precipitate life-threatening complications unless cardiovascular disease is present.

There are some genetic blood disorders that can cause sudden death during extremely heavy exertion (e.g. professional football drills) at altitude, but they are very rare in caucasians, and Berkeley's hills don't qualify as "altitude."

Your comment is the most insensitive, self-righteous, arrogant, dismissive comment I have ever seen online! For God's sake--the man died! Have you no compassion for his loss or what his family may be feeling? It appears that you think you have some incredible wisdom about the causes of death or health. SHAME ON YOU! Here's something to think about: No one gets out alive or without tragedy and suffering in life.It is the human condition! So when your health crisis hits or some other life tragedy, please remember vividly your words and callousness about Seth.

It's true that Seth tried all sorts of wacky self-experiments, but it's worth keeping in mind why. Most of them were inspired by the fact that he wasn't sleeping well. He tried all these odd magical remedies - standing on one leg, "morning faces" and nighttime honey are a few I recall offhand - because he had a medical symptom: the inability to sleep well, for which he could find no satisfactory conventional remedy. So he started collecting statistics while trying unconventional remedies, some of which seemed to help.

So perhaps what finally killed Seth relates not to his experimental treatments, but to whatever underlying preexisting conditions inspired him to invest such effort. Seems worth considering, anyway.

Hey, I got an idea. Instead of engaging in virtually baseless speculation and jumping to conclusions, why don't you go fuck yourself?

You may be right about what killed him, asshole, but how about you let his body get cold first before you start tut-tutting and wagging your finger?

Dude, I am trying to save lives here. The more people that think his methods were safe, the more people who are going to die. I would even like to save your life, despite your propensity for name-calling. Now is the teachable moment.

Currently there is no evidence for any relation between his methods and his death. The cause of death either hasn't been determined yet or is currently private.

It's already apparent for reasons exclusive of this that experimenting on yourself is a bad idea. However it is fallacious to just assume that his actions led to his death like this and to claim outright like you are is irresponsible.

That troll was over the top, but your comments in this thread are also borderline trolling. We don't know why Seth Roberts died, and your repeated insistence about it is derailing the thread. Please stop.

If I may, I think that you are wrong about this call, Mod.

On the surface and, in the general case, I agree maj0rhn's comments could be seen as borderline trolling. However, in this case we are discussing an untimely and rare sudden death of a very public figure that, very publicly, was engaging in and tacitly touting the health benefits of a practice that the medical community, wisely or not, widely agrees on as a significant risk factor for some of the most common causes of, precisely, sudden death. I think the public/hacker interest case for openly debating the possibility of a link --and the related possibility that those of us who liked to experiment with ourselves and try out Seth's ideas might, just might, have unknowingly exposed ourselves to an increased risk of a rare sudden death--- is fair and proper in this case.

TL;DR this[1] comment sums up my reaction better than the lousy wall of text above.


You didn't hear me, bro. GO FUCK YOURSELF.

Seeing as how, right now, at this moment, YOU HAVE NO FUCKING CLUE what killed him, take your "teachable moment" and shove it up your ass.

Uh, shut up. It's a discussion forum and he expressed an opinion, instead you just hurl insults? While his might fall under the "too soon" yours is just inappropriate.

I'd be really interested in knowing his cause of death. He has had extremely high fat intake due to all his experimentation:


Collapsing during strenuous activity is typically heart failure in my experience.

It happens all the time up here in Canada when people shovel snow.

Almost. I think you're confusing "heart failure" with "myocardial infarction." They are two different diseases. Collapse during exertion can happen in either one, but in Seth's case myocardial infarction is more likely, because people with heart failure generally don't go hiking (their exercise tolerance is too limited).

I may very well have confused the two as I am not an expert in the topic. Thank you for the clarification.

From his last column, linked to above:

"It was nice to know all that but I did wonder: Was I killing myself? Fortunately I could find out. A few months before my butter discovery, I had gotten a “heart scan” – a tomographic x-ray of my circulatory system. These scans are summarized by an Agatston score, a measure of calcification. Your Agatston score is the best predictor of whether you will have a heart attack in the next few years. After a year of eating a half stick of butter every day, I got a second heart scan. Remarkably, my Agatston score had improved (= less calcification), which is rare. Apparently my risk of a heart attack had gone down."

No. Coronary calcification is but one stage in the process of atherosclerosis. So he could have had severe atherosclerosis without extensive calcification. This is why coronary CT is not a perfect test for prediction heart attacks. Furthermore, coronary CT cannot assess the tendency of the blood to clot, which is a function of both local and systemic factors. A useful guideline is that physiology is never as simple as one test or one variable.

In case you're still checking this thread, I just wanted to let you know how much I appreciated your efforts to educate and correct the record. I know a little about this area, and know enough to see you know more than I do. It's a sad, recent phenomenon of software engineers projecting the epistemic structure they deal with day-to-day onto the medical world.

(quick edit) It's profoundly sad to watch http://quantifiedself.com/2010/09/seth-roberts-on-arithmetic... all the way through as a result of this story. It's complicated... maybe it's a failure of medicine, of medical care delivery, education, etc but a room full of educated people laughing off the comments by that person warning of artherosclerosis/stroke and Robert's responses... it's just not a good sign.

This is what I love about HN. The knowledgeable community. Thank you.

According to a Scientific American article [1], he was aged 54 in early 2008, so that puts him at roughly 60 years old, depending on his precise date of birth...

[1] http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=self-experimenter-free-f...

According to the link below he was 52 in 2005.


Any idea why his year of birth does not seem to be publicly known ?

Because no one posted that trivial detail, and he didn't share it on Facebook?

Seth Roberts was an innovator, a teacher, an original thinker -- and he was an inspiration to me. I'm reminded of the Grateful Dead t-shirt that says, "They aren't the best at what they do. They're the only ones who do it".

I've been following his Shangri-La diet for over four years now. Here's a page about my results, although it's a bit out of date:


One can't help but wonder if a man so dedicated to self-experimentation was a victim of his own studies. Beware extremes.

Slightly offtopic - The logic around weight "set-points" seems plausible. Has anyone ever had any luck with the Shangri La Diet?

I lost about 20 lbs in 6 months doing it a few years ago. I did find that I had less inclination to snack or eat large meals.

Then I increased cardio, stopped the diet (why? I don't recall), and proceeded to gain it back (while doing 3+ hours/week of cardio). I've tried various things with limited success and been meaning to try Shangri La again.

Personal anecdote, post hoc ergo propter hoc, etc.

Thanks. Always good to hear a first hand account.

Yes. I lost ~30 pounds, down to roughly my ideal weight, kept steady for 2 or 3 years now. It slowly drifts back up during times I'm not doing Shangri La because I'm traveling or whatever, then falls again after.

(I'm going to cut my flaxseed oil consumption on the theory that it might have contributed to his death, as long as I don't hear otherwise, but there are other ways to hack the flavor-calorie association, like wearing a noseclip sometimes when you eat.)

I lost maybe 20 pounds on the diet, but I wasn't religious about following it. I only did it on workdays because it was hard to carry the oil with me, so I just kept the bottle at work.

It did however make me not hungry at all, I would barely eat throughout the day.

It caused social problems though, because at night I still wouldn't be hungry, so I would just sit there at dinner while the family ate, and they would constantly be asking if I was ok.

I stopped losing weight when I hit the set point, and stopped the diet a while after that. Eventually I gained the weight back.

Interestingly, a few years later I started exercising regularly as a way to loose weight, and now I'm once again stuck at the same set point, which is about 15 pounds more than I'd like to be. Still trying to figure out how to lower that set point.

Another anecdote - I tried it for a few weeks in 2007 and didn't have any of the suggested results. No appetite loss, and no weight loss.

Tried both oil and sugar water.

Did you ensure you took the oil / water at least one hour away from ingesting anything with a flavor?

Yep - "The Shangri-La Diet" was pretty specific about that.

I had a some luck with it for a while. The appetite suppression effect was noticeable at first, but eventually wore off - I was still taking the sugar water or oil but not losing weight. The diet is BILLED as "follow these steps and then eat whatever you want whenever you want and you'll still lose weight" - that was not my experience. I still had to diet quite deliberately to lose weight on SLD.

Following the Shangri-la forums, I notice that a lot of people lost SOME weight using his diet but practically nobody reached their ideal weight or anything near it. At best it's one tool in the toolbox, but in no way a "cure" for being overweight. I think the effect is real, and really hope somebody does more rigorous testing to figure out when and how the effect works so the diet can be made more effective/reliable/convenient, to the degree that's possible.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb: "We are considering a memorial a-la-Seth: A memorial one-day conference for all his friends and admirers, organized by his pals: John Durant, Tim Ferris, Tucker Max, Gary Taubes, and other members of that independent thinking clique who connected socially through Seth" https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=1015217680...


I am sad to see this. I only recently learned of the site. I have done my own personal health experiments and had hoped to make contact and what not, but did not get around to it. I imagine a lot of people will say his experiments killed him or believe it even if they don't say it.

I increasingly think there is no point to trying to share such info. If you die under a doctor's care, they say your condition did you in. If you die doing alternative stuff, they say the alternative stuff did you in. It seems pretty no win, in that regard.

I never knew him, yet it feels like a personal loss for me.

I regret not introducing you two. I didn't know either of you but I liked your webpages. His offered some ideas that helped with issues that had been impervious to doctors; yours didn't directly matter to me beyond the encouragement of seeing someone tackling their problems themselves, but that's something. Thanks for sharing them.

Thank you for replying. I am curious why you say mine didn't matter to you. I mean why think it was not relevant to you at all.

I get a lot of feedback from people about all kinds of projects that my work is "too niche" and only serves a tiny population. I don't think that's true at all and I am trying to figure out what I am doing wrong.

Your CF treatment didn't seem to have any direct bearing on my own health problems, but I was encouraged by the example. Possibly I was wrong and e.g. I should be more concerned about pH -- I've made this mistake before. (I ruled out a big effect of wheat on me because I hadn't given its removal enough of a chance.)

This is incredibly sad. Such a curious and bright mind.

Seth Roberts wasn't a hacker, but he was friends with Aaron Swartz:


Swartz also wrote about Roberts' Shangri-La Diet on his blog, claiming that through it "losing weight has to be one of the easiest things I’ve ever done":


So that's at least N=2, the number of people on the Shangri La diet who have died prematurely.

I think Seth Roberts was the very definition of a hacker. Not computer hacker. Hacker.

I started the diet about 5 weeks ago. The oil drinking helped to make my cravings tolerable. I quit after 2 weeks because I didn't seem to need the oil any more. My cravings have been under control since without the oil. (I've lost about 3 inches of waist. I've not measured my weight because I don't care about that. I'm feeling lighter and better than I have in about 4 years.)

I think there's value to his theory of set-points, and to the use of unflavored oil as something that breaks the brain's flavor-calorie connection. Nevertheless, I'd be severely concerned by this news if I were still on the diet, or if I were on the diet long-term.

> So that's at least N=2, the number of people on the Shangri La diet who have died prematurely.

I won't say that diet can't lead to suicide but...it was suicide for Swartz, right?

Correct. It was suicide.

I didn't mean to imply he died because of the diet (just like we shouldn't infer that Seth died because of the diet). Apologies if it seemed I implied that.

Nevertheless, it's possible that the diet messed with Aaron's brain.

Personally, I've benefited from the diet. So I'm firmly in Seth's camp. But his death does raise questions.

I didn't think so. I just wanted some clarification.

Exactly. If readers of his blog have also been ingesting huge quantities of omega3 and consuming sticks of butter before going to bed, they deserve to know the details of Seth's "collapse." His grieving family is entitled to some privacy but Seth, after all, chose to make his (potentially dangerous) self-experiments public. He may have inadvertently caused great harm.

Did his diet mess with Swartz's brain? Possibly. I doubt it, though. Being harassed by the DOJ was more than enough to drive anyone to suicide.

Andrew Gelman posts a eulogy: http://andrewgelman.com/2014/04/30/seth-roberts/

What happens to our blogs when we die? I've always thought about this and would like to keep my blog running even in death.

He will be in a book by Mary Roach soon..

Forget the part about chugging olive oil, how about that entire sub-category of his blog dedicated to the belief that pre-natal ultrasounds somehow cause autism? Or the hand-waving away the multiple studies that show that GFCF diets have no proven positive effect on autism symptoms? Or using the word "cure" offhand, based on an n=1 self-report of another diet?


I don't even care about the weight loss and cardiac shit, I think I've seen enough here.

The incidence of miscalibrated/misoperated ultrasound is high enough that people should hesitate to perform frivolous scans, even though it's probably safe enough when done properly. Cause autism? Doubtful. Cause damage? Sure. Why not be careful?

Seth did report a lot of N=very-small anecdotes uncritically. You might say he was encouraging people to do their own N=1.

It's common for innovators to be mocked for their unconventional ideas.


"They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown." - Carl Sagan

It's not "innovation" if it's just crap you spew on a blog.

Double-blind peer-reviewed replicable studies or GTFO.

Yep, those double blind peer-reviewed studies sure worked out for the Wright Brothers.

You appear to be confused as to the difference between science and engineering.

You seem to be confused about the point I'm making, about innovation through self-experimentation.

No, you're still not grasping the difference between those situations. Double-blind trials are required in situations where the results are subtle enough to be colored by personal expectations and biases. Large-scale trials are required when reasonably different conditions (e.g., different human test subjects) could produce radically different results, when it's impossible to tell whether a single test subject is an average or an outlier.

Neither of these conditions apply to the question "Can this airplane fly or not?" There is no subtlety there, no biochemical variations. The plane either flies or it doesn't, and either result is perfectly clear to even the most ignorant layman.

As for peer review, the Wright Brothers had plenty of it: their peers showed up, looked at the plane in flight, and said "Yep, uh-huh, that's flying all right."

Oh tell us please, wise one. About the difference.

"calories without smell cause weight loss"

I knew it would be a laugh and a half after that.

Tragic and shows that no matter how healthy your lifestyle, life can still end in unexpected ways much too early.

I can't tell if you're being serious or not, so I will note for other readers that there is a lot of irony in saying this about Seth. His most public experiments were the ingestion of large quantities of olive oil for appetite control and daily butter consumption to aid sleep. A more appropriate sentiment might be to salute Seth for his radical health experiments, and the great risks he assumed in performing them on himself.

The science is not overwhelming that fat is what kills you. The lipid hypothesis may not be correct. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18615352

On the other hand, there is little doubt that overwhelming ingestion of anything will kill you. I'm not sure if it is too much or how long he kept it up, but 60g of butter sounds a lot to me.

So the traditional wisdom from what I remember is 20% fat, 30% protein and 50% carbs. 1000 calories a day from carbs means 250 grams of carbs a day. That sounds like a lot too.

my bad, i just glanced over his page and info and figured he was a proponent of a healthy lifestyle.

He was, but he had no idea what is was, and tried to discover a new kind of healthy lifestyle.

"but he had no idea what is was"

In that, he was like us all. Unlike many of us, he was open minded and brave enough to experiment.

Report of the death of a genuinely good scientist, is a cruddy way to start a day. We should have a site rule that this kind of thing is only permissible after 5pm or something.

For a second I thought this was someone affiliated with Soylent...

Collapsed while hiking. That is a cardiovascular death until proven otherwise. In a guy who ate a half a stick of butter every day ... quelle surprise.

Listen to a cardiologist trying to talk Seth out of his course, at around 11 minutes in this 2008 video:


Dr. Mel Siff was a famous scholar in sport science. He hosted a mailing list for a decade that everyone in the field subscribed to. He wrote a comprehensive text on the subject of sport science, Supertraining:


A fitness buff throughout his life, so never straying far from a conventionally healthy diet in the first place, he famously doubled down on conventional wisdom and went on a low fat, vegetarian diet after suffering a heart attack at a young age. He did everything right, according to establishment wisdom. After a few years, at only 58, he died from a heart attack or stroke. Those of us who are skeptical of the diet-heart hypothesis were not surprised.

The point is, it's very easy to support a side with your favorite anecdote.

After decades of motivated science, the support for the diet-heart hypothesis is poor. Stephan Guyenet, a Ph.D. neurobiologist who studies obesity for a living, has a blog where he examines the evidence in detail. Here's a sample:


If you disagree, I'm sure Stephan would welcome you opening a dialogue with him in the comments on his blog. I'd be interested in that.

Mel Siff died in 2003. "Established wisdom" at that time did not recommend a low-fat diet at all. He apparently wrote in one of his books that "nutritional scientists" recommend a diet of 10% fat, but that was never the recommendation of major health organizations or "conventional wisdom". The IOM recommended in 2002 20-35% of calories from fat, for example. In 1990 the recommendation was 30% or less.

It seems that Mel Siff didn't follow a low fat vegetarian diet himself, based on his response to a critical article about him: (full response here: http://www.somasimple.com/forums/showthread.php?t=6558 )

Interestingly, I cannot recall anyone by the name of Glassman ever staying in the Siff household or studying me in the laboratory to examine my eating habits, so I am intrigued to know where he found this inside information. The abbreviated tale of my cardiac rehab programme (http://www.worldfitness.org/drmelsiff.html) certainly said nothing about my specific breakdown of macronutrients in my diet.

Had he read a little more carefully what I wrote, he would have noticed that my diet comprises something like 50-60% lipids (no fried foods, no transfats, no animal fat, plenty of fish) and under 30% carbohydrates (no refined carbs) and hasn't deviated much from that sort of balance for many years - I have never been a lover of high carb diets and have eaten little or no sugar (other than about 1-2 tablespoons of honey or a few servings of fruit a day). Where on earth does he obtain that nonsense from about my diet?

So, he says there he ate about 50-60% fat. It's strange though that he says "no animal fat" but plenty of fish, which is of course animal fat.

Nice appeal to authority without a shred of evidence.

Edit: downvotes? Where is the evidence of what actually killed Seth? What makes a 'cardiologist' correct here, vs a scientist?

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