Better living through science

by Shannon Palus, BSc’13

“One-sentence summaries to make science relevant to everyday life,” is the one sentence that Jaan Altosaar, BSc’13, chooses when asked to sum up the idea behind his new site. Useful Science ( is an advice-confection factory, designed to help you live life better, smarter and longer.

Altosaar has been building his daily routines on science for years. A study on the benefits of meditation got him sitting in silence regularly. One on seasonal affective disorder, resulted in a new SAD lamp to ward off the mood-dampening effects of Montreal’s bleak winters.

Though his friends grew weary of him starting sentences with “Hey, so there is this cool study…,” Altosaar concluded that plenty of people could benefit from the life-improving tips that scientific research produces on a daily basis.

He recruited a team of like-minded peers – most of them are also recent McGill graduates – and started the site. Together, they read and distill peer-reviewed studies. Their rules for picking what to post: it must be accessible. Nothing negative. Stay away from studies with low sample sizes, or findings that might only be applicable to rats. Always aim to be helpful.

The approach is attracting readers – tens of thousands in the first month alone. More than 4,000 subscribe to Useful Science’s email service. And the site has won over at least one high-profile supporter. In a tweet to his tens of thousands of followers, best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell summed up Useful Science in his own quick-and-to-the-point manner. “It’s genius.”