Chapter 1 What is Personal Science?

The term “personal science” was first popularized by the late Seth Roberts, an Emeritus Professor in the Psychology at University of California, Berkeley. His best-selling book1 and popular blog2 insisted that much of modern science is too complicated for its own good, that interesting and practical results are often best achieved through personal experimentation. Through multiple examples from his own self-experiments, he used his own data to show non-obvious treatments for better sleep (skip breakfast), lower depression (faces in the morning), and many other situations.3

Most of the examples in this book are based on over 600 near-daily samples I took of my own microbiome over a three year period. Inspired by an experiment conducted at MIT4, during most of that time I also carefully tracked the food I ate, my sleep, and other variables like activity and location. Most of my near-daily samples were of my gut, but I also regularly tested my skin, nose, and mouth. Since I’m generally healthy, I didn’t have a specific goal in mind other than to try to understand better what these microbes are doing, so many of my tests were taken while undergoing simple experiments, like eating a specific type of food or traveling to a new place. While not necessarily up to the rigorous standards of a formal scientific trial, these “n of 1” studies on myself helped me discover several new interesting facts about my own microbiome, many of which appear to contradict other published studies. In addition, hundreds of people sent me their own test results, letting me compare many different microbiomes. And of course, I also followed the latest developments in scientific publications and the general press as I eagerly tried to learn more.

This book tells you what I learned – and how you can learn too.