The rise and fall of Seth Roberts and the Shangri-La diet

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2023-11-20 15:00:08

I met Seth Roberts back in the early 1990s when we were both professors at the University of California. He sometimes came to the statistics department seminar and we got to talking about various things; in particular we shared an interest in statistical graphics. Much of my work in this direction eventually went toward the use of graphical displays to understand fitted models. Seth went in another direction and got interested in the role of exploratory data analysis in science, the idea that we could use graphs not just to test or even understand a model but also as the source of new hypotheses. We continued to discuss these issues over the years.

At some point when we were at Berkeley the administration was encouraging the faculty to teach freshman seminars, and I had the idea of teaching a course on left-handedness. I’d just read the book by Stanley Coren and thought it would be fun to go through it with a class, chapter by chapter. But my knowledge of psychology was minimal so I contacted the one person I knew in the psychology department and asked him if he had any suggestions of someone who’d like to teach the course with me. Seth responded that he’d be interested in doing it himself, and we did it.

Seth was an unusual guy—not always in a good way, but some of his positive traits were friendliness, inquisitiveness, and an openness to consider new ideas. He also struggled with mood swings, social awkwardness, and difficulties with sleep, and he attempted to address these problems with self-experimentation.

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