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Seth RobertsRSS Feed of this column.

I am a professor of psychology at UC Berkeley and author of Read More »


Andrew Gelman astutely noted that the three researchers (Michel Cabanac, Anthony Sclafani, and Israel Ramirez) whose work I used the most to come up with the Shangri-La Diet were not at Harvard or Yale or Rockefeller University. Isn’t that where breakthrough research is supposed to come from? This wasn’t the only way that development of the Shangri-La Diet was not quite “right”:

1. The research of Cabanac et al. got little recognition. The set point idea arose in the 1950s, or even earlier. In the 1970s, Cabanac saw very clearly that your set point depends on what you eat. With Rabe, he did an excellent experiment supporting this view. Not one weight-control researcher took note. No other lab built on this work.

A just-published article in the American Journal of Epidemiology reports a very clear negative correlation between colorectal cancer and omega-3 consumption. It describes the results of a case-control study done in Scotland from 1999 to 2006. The investigators hoped to recruit all cases of colorectal cancer coming for surgery in Scotland; they managed to recruit about half of them and ended up with about 1500 “cases.” Each case was paired with a healthy control matched for age, sex, and residence. Then they compared the diets of the two groups. This is the approach that first linked smoking and lung cancer.

The ability of patients to try experimental drugs outside of clinical trials has a lot in common with self-experimentation. The former empowers the patient; the latter empowers the amateur scientist. Another form of health-related empowerment is to allow people to buy and sell organs. Of course, some people are against this:

The first experts were shamans, an occupational category that eventually divided into doctors and priests. As the Catholic Church became more and more powerful, abuses of priestly power became more and more apparent and upsetting, leading to the Protestant Reformation.

The word is black-and-white-ism. For instance:

Paul Berman’s chief problem as a thinker is black-and-white-ism, and this is a good example of his failure to make subtle distinctions.

In a TED talk, Stewart Brand pointed out that all over the world, poor villages — the same villages that Jeffrey Sachs seems to want to preserve — are vanishing. The people who lived in them have moved to squatter cities, where, according to Brand, there is zero unemployment and a much better life. Because Jeffrey Sachs’ interest in poor African villages seems to be recent, I am not surprised that he may end up on the wrong side of the helped/didn’t help ledger.