There is a war being fought over the meaning of "anti-aging" and (to a lesser extent) "life extension." It's fought with words and funding between and within a number of different factions within the business and scientific community. You can see views from the scientific community expressed in a recent SAGE Crossroads webcast.
A recent skirmish in this war - in the context of the Silver Fleece award made by Jay Olshansky to A4M at International Conference on Longevity - was mentioned at the Longevity Meme, complete with further links for your perusal. This was a fairly typical exchange of views, but involved some of the players in the wider war who are of more interest to advocates for serious research into understanding and curing aging.
On the one side, we have Jay Olshansky, regarded as one of the more conservative gerontologists. He has said that radical extension of the healthy human life span is impossible in the near term, and maybe also in the long term. This is an extreme position that Jay Olshansky must defend within his own field. Moderate gerontologists like Stephen Austad (with whom Oleshansky has a well-known public bet on healthy life extension) and forward-looking biogerontologists like our own Aubrey de Grey hold that large gains in healthy longevity are possible within our lifetimes.
On the other side, we have the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine (A4M), often represented in the media by Ronald Klatz. I will admit to being confused by the actions of A4M; they seem to straddle the new school and old school worlds in the community. For example, A4M was an early donor to the Methuselah Mouse Prize and Ronald Klatz speaks out in support of therapeutic cloning, stem cell research and regenerative medicine as tools that will extend the healthy human life span. On the other hand, A4M runs anti-aging conferences that are widely reviled in the scientific community due to the presence of vendors from the fraudulent and adventurous marketing school of "anti-aging" pills, potions and crystals. At the same time, Ronald Klatz has expressed the desire to see the "marketeers" vanish from the industry, and recognizes the great harm they are doing to scientific progress.
Olshansky views A4M as doing great damage to legitimate research and science. The founders of A4M view Olshansky as an entrenched member of an establishment unwilling to grant legitimacy to any of the "anti-aging" industry, no matter what evidence is offered or views espoused.
This war is being fought over money, but money takes second place to the perception of legitimacy. It is this perception of legitimacy that determines funding for scientific research and revenues for businesses. Scientists feel, quite rightly, that the noise and nonsense coming from the "anti-aging" marketplace is damaging the prospects for serious, scientific anti-aging research. If everyone knows that anti-aging means high-priced cream from Revlon marketed to the gullible and brand-aware, no scientist is going to get funding for a proposal that uses the word "anti-aging." Worse than that, people start to assume that real efforts to reverse aging must be impossible.
Businesses in the "anti-aging" marketplace make money from the aura of legitimacy whether or not their products perform as advertised, and so a lot of effort is expended to create and maintain this perception of legitimacy. Those businesspeople who do feel they have working problems carry out their own fight aginst opportunists, frauds and "marketeers" who they feel are damaging their own market. Ironically, this is much the same argument used against these businesses by scientists like Jay Olshansky. The vast amount of money spent on products that claim to turn back the clock demonstrates that people want real anti-aging medicines. The trouble is that these real anti-aging therapies simply don't exist. Or do they? It all depends on how you define "anti-aging."
I've spoken before about "optimizing natural longevity" in the context of trying to draw a distinct line between what you can do now to lead a longer, healthier life, and what will be possible in the future. We can presume that there exists, for each person, some maximum life span that you can reach using the technologies and understanding of today. You can adopt calorie restriction, exercise, keep a good relationship with a physician, and spend an appropriate amount on supplements and healthcare. Each of these items will help you to live longer and in better health than you would otherwise have done. Does this make them "anti-aging," preventative medicine, good maintenance, or merely not damaging yourself quite so much?
If an improved supplement comes onto the market that adds a few years of life through some biochemical mechanism, is that "anti-aging?" How about improvements in general healthcare for the elderly that have the same effect? Or a way to cure heart disease? All of these things are clearly going to extend healthy life span by some amount. We could spend a lot of time arguing one way or another (and proposing further, more ambiguous examples). When Ronald Klatz says "anti-aging," however, I'm fairly sure he doesn't mean the same thing as Jay Olshansky's definition.
One problem is that we don't have any way of measuring effectiveness for a proposed anti-aging treatment, short of waiting for the subject to keel over. This is clearly not the desired experimental approach for those of us who want to see radical life extension in our lifetimes. We need biomarkers for aging: ways of measuring the progression of the aging process in our bodies. Even if we do find aging biomarkers, however, it isn't clear that they will allow accuracy to the point of being able to say "this treatment is giving you an extra two years of healthy life." Car enthusiasts can tell when they're getting that last 10% out of the engine, but you can't determine that sort of thing when examining health and life span.
I'll leave you with this thought to mull over: if we possessed medical technologies that could extend the healthy human life span to 150 years (or more), I think it's a fair bet that we wouldn't be arguing about the semantics of anti-aging and life extension. In large part, this money-fueled argument is entirely due to the absence of working anti-aging medicine that can greatly extend our healthy life span.
This is - once again, not to be repeating myself too much here - why a focus on medical research and funding is vital to healthy life extension. If a tenth of the effort spent on redefining "anti-aging," selling junk, or trying to optimize natural longevity was spent on the medicine of the future, just imagine where we could be by now! The medicine (and lifestyle choices like calorie restriction) that we have access to in the here and now are largely ineffective in the grand scheme of what is possible. Science can do far, far better in the long run, but getting there is going to take work, activism and support. What are you waiting for?