As regular readers know, my goal is to win a Nobel Prize. I don't care which one. I'm just in it for the money. Last night I came up with an idea that should get it done.

This idea targets The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. I don't have any relevant education in those fields, and I haven't done any research, so I know I need to come up with something big to get the judges past their bias for competence. My idea needs to cure a whole lot of problems. Anything less would be begging for the award committee to snub me once again.

My idea is this: A web site that collects extremely detailed lifestyle habits from volunteers all over the world, including the type of food they eat, how they exercise, exposure to sunlight, and lots of other things. These volunteers will also enter data on any health problems they encounter, from a sniffle to a broken hip. The data would be available to the general public, without association to the identities of the people, so amateur researchers can mine for patterns. For example, we might find that people who have a diet rich in a particular vitamin or mineral don't get cataracts, or tinnitus, or shin splints, or whatever.

This idea is cobbled together from several other ideas floating around in the ether. Most recently, I was wondering why my allergies inexplicably went away in the past year. The only thing I changed, as far as I know, is taking magnesium supplements, and there is some scientific evidence to believe that could help. But it might be something else, such as drinking more Diet Coke than usual. If the database I described already existed, doctors could check to see if people who take magnesium supplements, or drink lots of Diet Coke, have fewer allergies.

I read a book called The China Study that is a lot like this concept, but with less detail than I am proposing, and limited to China. The data from China showed that people who ate a plant-based diet hardly ever got the most common killer diseases such as heart disease, cancer, or diabetes. This past month you might have seen a number of media reports about other research that supports that same point. Wouldn't you like to know if most of the health benefit shown in The China Study came from particular plants? Personally, I don't want to eat any more kelp than I need to.

The other source of inspiration for my idea is the stories about amateur astronomers who have been given access to the vast unviewed archive of pictures of space, so they can help find any anomalies. You'd think that would be boring work that no one would volunteer to do, but apparently so many people are volunteering that the servers initially couldn't hold the load. I think that in a world of 6 billion people, it wouldn't be hard to find a few million who are willing to record their lives in great detail, knowing it would have so much benefit to humanity. And volunteers might end up finding solutions to their own health problems along the way.

The database would do more than discover what prevents health problems. It would also tell you what lifestyle elements promote good moods, or lead to high performance at work, in school, or in sports. It might tell you what elevates testosterone, what improves sex lives, and what keeps you looking younger. The potential is vast.

I'm hoping the idea is so good that someone will build the web site. If you decide to do it, I promise to thank you by name when I am in Stockholm accepting my award.

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Jul 1, 2008
You know, this sort of database would also help track down more immediate public health issues, like finding the source of E. Coli outbreaks, or the more recent outbreak of Salmonella which may or may not have been the tomatoes.
Jul 1, 2008
You should examine the ads on your site more closely. Today, while reading Dilbert on the fast site, I saw one that read, "Click here to learn the secrets of teeth whitening that your dentist doesn't want you to know." Putting what are clearly hoax ads on your site is an insult to the intelligence of all your readers, and you should stop it. If your ad provider won't filter them out for you, then you should use a different provider. I've never seen this sort of thing from Google ads.
Jul 1, 2008
I love this idea. It's logical and it could really work.

As for the truthiness (Colbert word), I don't see what people would have to gain from lying. The quizzes I've seen about "true age" and your exercise habits are simply not detailed enough. You can't ask "how many times do you eat red meat in a week?" You have to ask how many hamburgers, steaks, spaghetti sauce with meat, hot dogs, etc etc they ate because people don't think of hamburgers or spaghetti sauce as red meat. Only vegetarians think that way.
Jul 1, 2008
Your database would be entirely worthless. You would use volunteers, which means mainly narcissistic hypochondriacs would be in the database. Thus, some of the data would be false and the rest would statistically not be applicable to the general populace. And, even if you could get a statistialy random sample of people, many would be starting in the middle of their lives with no data before that, and some of them would forget to insert some data sometimes. The result is would be a large amount of meaningless data and no nobel prize. And, as bbudha pointed out, if you did win a nobel proze, you'd be in the same company as Jimmy "persecution of women and minorities isn't so bad" Carter and Al "everyone must stop emitting carbon except me" Gore, among other jerks. Why is that your goal in life?
Jul 1, 2008
When you trust everyone, you can trust no one. (Except me, Scott. Please contact me privately about some great financial investments.)
Jul 1, 2008
How are you going to stop fakery?

For instance, what if the magnesium supplement industry starts floods the database with men who take Mg and get multiple orgasms?
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Jul 1, 2008
Another worm/parasite link from the NYT on the possible benefits of symbiotic relationships.
Jul 1, 2008
By the way...

Caffeine has been shown to reduce allergies and is actually good at controlling very mild asthma....there is caffeine in Diet Coke, right? Or were you imbibing the caffeine free version?
Jul 1, 2008
Just one question regarding this website:

'What Would Dogbert Do?"

Perhaps it might not win a Nobel Prize, but, man, such a website (with no tracking who inputs what) would be SO MUCH FUN!!!!

Just think! Soon, it could be returning results that eating potato chips and sitting on a sofa are the two factors most contributing to longevity and sexual prowess! And that people who exercise die of obesity!

The possibilities are endless!
Jul 1, 2008
scott, maybe you got infected with hookworms

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Jul 1, 2008
Hi Scott,

It sounds like an interesting concept, but that website alone won't get you the Nobel prize. It would end up producing results like all the findings from the Framingham Heart Study, lots of findings based on correlation data with no link to causality. If you took your idea a step further and started funding experimental trials based on findings from your database that might get you somewhere. Even if nothing is proved from all the research you could get the prize for your humanitarian efforts. That is going to cost you some money unless you get some sponsors.

I still think your best bet for a Nobel prize would be in economics. No one understands economics so all you really need to due is create a buzz about any theory for a year or so and people will pay attention. Or make a movie, it worked for Al Gore and I refuse to believe you can't beat Al at his own game.

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Jul 1, 2008
I hate to burst your bubble but this is already in the works, at least in the US. They're called RHIOs (Regional Health Information Organizations). The idea is that a demographic region creates a central repository for health information and ultimately that information could be shared across RHIOs. I could go on and on explaining this but somebody already did a pretty good Wiki article on it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RHIO

It's a massive undertaking and as you can expect, the whole process is slow and inefficient because bureaucrats have a hand in it. Also, you have the wonderful world of HIPAA sticking its nose into things. Maybe if you could find a way to streamline the process we could get things moving.
Jul 1, 2008
Wow. So you get a great idea like this, and all you do is write a blog entry and hope that someone uses it? That's either incredibly conceited or incredibly lazy, and probably some of both. Why don't you invest some of you millions of dollars into actually starting a website like this? Unless it's actually not that great an idea, or you're waiting for some loser to do all the work for you and then sue him for using your idea.
Jul 1, 2008
Close but no cigar. Related ideas are already being worked-on by ANSI-HITSP (http://www.hitsp.org). And, of course, Google and Microsoft are also working on personal health records. This may be disturbing news for those who value their privacy. However, there are those of us -- myself included -- who are working to protect privacy and security. It's a fun job. Want to join the committee?

Jul 1, 2008
1. Since when do you need more money?

2. Assume you're in charge of a corporation making billions off of health damaging products. You find out about a website that's all the rage where you could anonymously submit health data correlated with product use. Hmmmmmmmmmmmm.
Jul 1, 2008
Hmmmm, you may have been scooped by <a href=http://www.bls.gov/tus/">The American Time Use Survey (ATUS)</a>.

Lucky for you, this has recently been defunded.
Jul 1, 2008
In my experience, "healthy lifestyles" people are a highly opinionated, and somewhat prone-to-lying bunch. I don't know that you could rely on volunteers in this particular area to provide accurate data. Seriously, you would have something like Tahitian Noni berry juice become popular and thousands or millions of people would claim that it makes them feel much better on a variety of ailments... for a year or so, until the next trend emerges...
Jul 1, 2008
I'm in it for the money too, so send me a standard agent's contract: 10% of your Nobel winnings. Then you get help.
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Jul 1, 2008
I love the idea - I wish humans were honest.
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Jul 1, 2008
and then I exercised for ...30 minutes...that's the ticket...
and then I made love to Antonia Banderas for 6 hours...
and then we showered for an hour...
then we ate a gourmet meal fit for a king...
but I didn't throw up...
I'm just 70 pound underweight because I make love so much...
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