Seth Douglass Roberts (1953–2014) was an American psychologist and “autogynephilia” activist. A fan of psychologist J. Michael Bailey of Northwestern University, Roberts stated Bailey’s controversial 2003 book The Man Who Would Be Queen was “a masterpiece” and “the most impressive professorial truth-telling in my lifetime.”
Roberts graduated from Reed College and received a Ph.D. in experimental psychology from Brown University. His research was mostly in the areas of Cognition, Brain, and Behavior: depression, mood, sleep, human circadian rhythms, weight control, and animal learning. Roberts served as a psychology professor in the notably conservative department at UC Berkeley.
In late March 1998, Bailey and Roberts both presented at the Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics. Bailey promoted his “gay gene” work, and Roberts presented on “neuroticism and self-esteem as indices of the vulnerability to major depression in women.”
Roberts was on leave in 2003 but took the time to write a breathless review for Bailey’s book on Amazon.com. After getting many 1-star reviews, Bailey had asked all of his friends give his book a high rating in mid-April 2003, and by three weeks later, several of them obliged with 5-star reviews, the highest rating. This is the only book review Roberts ever made on Amazon.com under that account:
a masterpiece, May 6, 2003
Seth Roberts (Berkeley, California USA)
This is the best book about psychology for a general audience I have ever seen. And I’ve seen a lot of them. When I taught introductory psychology, I used to assign several books of this sort, so I was always keeping an eye out.
It is extremely well written; it is based on excellent research; and its subject is complex, powerful, and poignant. That’s why it is so good. If How The Mind Works deserves to be a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize then Bailey deserves a Nobel Prize in Literature.
Roberts also had a correspondence with Deirdre McCloskey after Alice Dreger and Benedict Carey teamed up to present Bailey as a “scientist under siege.” McCloskey had previously published her review “Queer Science” in Reason in 2003.
A self-proclaimed diet guru who sold a diet book called the “Shangri-La Diet,” Roberts recommended drinking oil and personally ate unhealthy amounts of butter, claiming it had health benefits. On January 4, 2014 Roberts boasted:
I eat a half stick (60 g) of butter daily. It improves my brain speed. After I gave a talk about this, a cardiologist in the audience said I was killing myself. I said I thought my experimental data was more persuasive than epidemiology, with its many questionable assumptions. The new data suggests I was right — butter does not increase heart attacks. It also supports my belief that by learning what makes my brain work best, I will improve my health in other ways (such as reduce heart attack risk).
Roberts collapsed and died a few months later. The cause of death was ruled “occlusive coronary artery disease” and “cardiomegaly.” His final column was written just before his death and published posthumously, titled “Butter Makes Me Smarter.”
McCloskey D (2007). McCloskey’s Back-and-Forth with Seth Roberts on the Bailey Controversy.
Slack G (March 2007). The self-experimenter. The Scientist, vol. 21, issue 3, p. 24.
Seth Roberts (sethroberts.net)
- Archive from date of death
- Roberts S (2009). Plot your data. Nutrition, vol. 25, pp. 608-611.
- Roberts S (2008). McCloskey and me: A back-and-forth. Archives of Sexual Behavior, vol. 37, pp. 485-488.
- Roberts S (2008). Transform your data. Nutrition, vol. 24, pp. 492-494.
- Gelman A, Roberts S (2007). Weight loss, self-experimentation, and web trials: A conversation. Chance, vol. 20, no. 4, pp. 59-63.
- Roberts S (2007). Something is better than nothing. Nutrition, vol. 23, pp. 911-912.
- Roberts S (2006). Dealing with scientific fraud: A proposal.. Public Health Nutrition, vol. 9, pp. 664-665. later version.
- Roberts S, Gharib A (2006). Variation of bar-press duration: Where do new responses come from? Behavioural Processes, vol. 72, pp. 215-223.
- Sternberg S, Roberts S (2006). Nutritional supplements and infection in the elderly: Why do the findings conflict? Nutrition Journal, vol. 5.
- Roberts S (2005). Diversity in learning. Ideas That Matter , vol. 3, no. 3, pp. 39-43. Longer version (with different title: “What do students want?”).
- Roberts S (2005). Guest-blogs at www.freakonomics.com: Pleased to Meet You, Dietary Non-Advice, Freakonomics and Me, Acne, The Elephant Speaks, Thank You.
- Roberts S (2004). Self-experimentation as a source of new ideas: Examples about sleep, mood, health, and weight. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, vol. 27, pp. 227-262. replications. Excerpt in Harper’s.
- Gharib A, Gade C, Roberts S (2004). Control of variation by reward probability. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Behavior Processes, vol. 30, pp. 271-282.
- Roberts S, Sternberg S (2003). Do nutritional supplements improve cognitive function in the elderly? Nutrition, vol. 19, pp. 976-980.
- Carpenter KJ, Roberts S, Sternberg S (2003). Nutrition and immune function: Problems with a 1992 report. The Lancet, vol. 361, p. 2247.
- Roberts S, Pashler H (2002). Reply to Rodgers & Rowe (2002). Psychological Review, vol. 109, pp. 605-607.
- Roberts S, Temple N (2002). Medical research: A bettor’s guide. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, vol. 23, pp. 231-232.
- Roberts S (2001). Surprises from self-experimentation: Sleep, mood, and weight. Chance, vol. 14, no. 2, pp. 7-12.
- Gharib A, Derby S, Roberts S (2001). Timing and the control of variation. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Behavior Processes, vol. 27, pp. 165-178.
- Roberts S, Pashler H (2000). How persuasive is a good fit? A comment on theory testing. Psychological Review, vol. 107, pp. 358-367.
- Roberts S, Neuringer, A (1998). Self-experimentation. In K. A. Lattal and M. Perrone (Eds.), Handbook of research methods in human operant behavior (pp. 619-655). New York: Plenum.
- Roberts S, Sternberg S (1993). The meaning of additive reaction-time effects: Tests of three alternatives. In D. E. Meyer and S. Kornblum (Eds.) Attention and Performance XIV: Synergies in Experimental Psychology, Artificial Intelligence, and Cognitive Neuroscience. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. pp. 611-653. abstract and table of contents
- Roberts S (1987). Less-than-expected variability in evidence for three stages in memory formation. Behavioral Neuroscience, vol. 101, pp. 120-125.