Personal Science

Sometimes it’s a plastic spoon that you need. And sometimes just washing a spoon can be the best solution.

A couple of weeks ago I said some people taking vitamin D noticed that if they took it later in the day it disturbed their sleep. Because vitamin D mimics sun exposure (which triggers vitamin D production), taking it soon after waking up returned their sleep to a more normal pattern. Possibly, that’s the time of day our bodies evolved to receive sunlight and so sunlight or its substitute, vitamin D, acts as a trigger for our bodies’ clocks.

Personal science tries to make discoveries by tracking results of simple experiments using yourself  as a guinea pig (as a sample group of one). Tracking how dose/timing affect sleep when taking vitamin D is a good fit for personal science.

Big science is done by big labs or companies that generally won’t bother doing research on things that are simple to do or have inexpensive fixes. The more money professional researchers spend the more important and attention grabbing it seems. So for example, looking at how your sleep is affected by when you take vitamin D, is something more suited to personal science because it’d be tough getting funding for research into an inexpensive solution, such as changing the time you take it.

Personal science is not strict science in the sense that there aren’t control groups or disinterested clinical observers, but the results of good personal science can help the experimenter personally and maybe spur others, with the same issues, to replicate the results. For example, Seth Roberts, a university professor, has been doing personal science for some time and picked up on the vitamin D thread and then added his personal findings to the discussion.

And of course, the ideas and results of personal science can always be picked up and pursued by big science practitioners, a trickle up model.

Besides picking a problem you’re interested in and trying to cut down on the number of variables all you need to do personal science is a pen and a notebook to track your daily observations. You may be able to sort out some of your health questions (or not) and maybe have fun too.