Seth Roberts is a psychologist at Berkeley who for the past twelve years has obsessively kept data on himself in an effort to generate and test new ideas. In a recent paper in Behavioral and Brain Sciences he explains some of his methods and findings (a number of comments, most of which I think are blah, blah, blah are also included).
Roberts, for example, drank 5 liters (!) of water every day for 4 months to test a theory of weight loss (he lost weight but he couldn’t keep up the drinking!). He also began standing for more than 8 hours a day, initially to test the affect on weight loss but instead he found that standing, especially 10 hours or more a day, dramatically improved his sleep. Eventually, he did find a novel form of weight loss involving fructose water (read the paper). Some of his findings seem bizarre, such as watching faces on tv in the morning improved his mood the next day but lowered it that night.
It’s tempting to dismiss all of this (especially before reading the paper and looking at the care with which Roberts kept his data) and clearly, I wouldn’t take any experiment with 1 subject as definitive. Roberts, however, is making the case that careful measurement of self-response is a way of generating new ideas. Roberts, for example, did not set out to test the idea that viewing faces improved mood this was a surprising discovery.
A virtue of self-experimentation is that it doesn’t take a million dollar lab and a bevy of graduate students, with some willpower and a willingness to carefully document and measure results, anyone can do cutting-edge science.