An n=1 Skeptic

I spent last week fixing years worth of grammar errors on this site. Over 300 posts were updated. While fixing the posts I was reacquanted with many of my old n=1 experiments. A lot of what I read made me cringe. Yeah I got a few things wrong. Many of the n=1 experiments that I thought at the time provided insight really didn’t.

When I used to engage in and hear others talk about their n=1 experiments, I thought we were on the path to optimal health. We were taking charge and seeking answers to solve health riddles. Not anymore. Today when I read the biohackers and Quantified Self movement celebrate their n=1 experiments, I am skeptical.

A lot of the n=1 movement is based on the assumption that we all are unique and what works for the majority may not work for the individual and that a well constructed test can prove that fact. But many of the experiments are using small data samples to explain contrarian findings. And those findings often can’t be repeated.

The problem with many of these n=1 tests are we don’t collect enough data and the data we do collect may not be meaningful. If it is meaningful, it might only be meaningful at that time. Unlike machines, humans change. The n=1 test I did in 2012 may have zero relevance to me in 2015. And that is assuming it ever had real insight.


I spent years testing and tracking my health. Most of the information collected was useless.


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  1. Good points – thanks. While you’re at it with grammar fixes, here’s a typo: “I thought we *were* on the path to optimal..” health.

  2. @Glenn – Thanks! Fixed.

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