A Somewhat Depressing Survey

I chanced across a rather depressing survey on attitudes and knowledge of serious anti-aging research yesterday:

The following information results from a poll conducted on a local (U.S.) information web site between January 2003 and February 2004. 465 people responded.

The poll showed that the majority of people (69 %) think that there will never be any meaningful treatment of the root cause of aging or that such treatments are only a very distant possibility. Most people are unaware of evidence that aging might be very treatable in the relatively short term and believe in a variety of (mostly) scientifically unpopular theories regarding the cause of aging. These attitudes have predictable results regarding the popularity of publicly funded anti-aging research.

This is one of the brick walls that we advocates are banging our heads against. Public support for anti-aging research is absolutely necessary, yet such support requires educational efforts that demonstrate real anti-aging medicine to be possible.

This survey is connected to an online book entitled "The Evolution of Aging: How Darwin's Dilemma is Affecting Your Chance for a Longer and Healthier Life" by a fellow named Theodore C. Goldsmith. The name doesn't ring any bells, but he does claim that Joao Magalhaes - who I do know and who generously contributed an article to the Longevity Meme - has commented on the manuscript. So I'll give him the benefit of the doubt while I peruse the book...so much to read and so little time to do it in.

The book keynote:

Is aging, as most people think, a fundamental, totally unalterable fact of life? Or, is aging actually like a universal, but potentially highly treatable, genetic disease? Darwin's dilemma, a little known quirk of the theory of evolution has for more than 140 years led researchers toward considering aging as inescapable, but recent discoveries and new theoretical work indicate that major medical intervention in the aging process may in fact be possible in the relatively near future.

The author takes us on a fascinating tour of the evolution of aging theories from Darwin to the present and includes descriptions of the applicable discoveries and the politics of anti-aging research.

Take a look and see what you think.


People who care about this issue (which remarkably, is not everyone) are forever walking a tightrope between two forms of fatalism.

We are not fated to die after a "normal" life span. This is still the fatalism of most of the general public. Either they remain unaware of anti-aging research, or they believe that advances will come too late to help people living today, or they just don't believe that something so momentous could happen.

Those who become interested in anti-aging research ? those who have perhaps read a book or two on the subject - sometimes are guilty of believing that negligible senescence is inevitable. I tend to fall into this position if I'm not careful. The problems to be solved are complex, but they are just problems. We are not talking magic here.

History has momentum. While the small things of history will always be a surprise (the O.J. trial for example), larger things often are telegraphed years in advance. 9/11 was proceeded by increasingly brazen attacks on American targets and even a prior attack on the World Trade Center itself. Clearly this clash of civilizations was brewing for some time.

Likewise there are signs now that true anti-aging treatments may be developed in time to help people living today. Exponential trends and current development give me reason to believe that many alive today could be alive in a couple of hundred years.

But I try to remember that this is not inevitable. While it would probably take a civilization-shattering event to put off indefinite life spans forever, smaller tragedies could postpone this technology long enough to doom people living today. It could be something as simple as poor funding decisions, or the public turning away from the field after being burned by some promising treatment.

Posted by: Stephen Gordon at July 21st, 2004 9:11 AM

I think it's a great book. Informative, interesting and easy to read. Would certainly recommend it to others interested in evolution and aging.

Posted by: Alex Kofman at July 26th, 2004 7:03 PM

I have, with meny others in the Western world, are helping to create a powerful incentive to develope indefinite life spans for all. I refuse to reproduce! Why should I just be a vehicle for the selfish gene to essentially jump fromm body to body through out eternity with no regard for the emmerging consciousness in each jump that have to come to terms with, not just mortal demise, but the decline in physical, mental abilities, enjoyment of sex (with birthcontrol), and the usual suffering associated with the last few years of life. Not to mention if that isn't bad enough, but, even up to now, we have failed in most cases to develope civilizations that care about the human beings who live in them. But by not reproducing at a rate that will keep native populations stable in Europe and, now Japan and 14 other Asian nations, the incentives for the governments of these countries to develope healthy indefinite life spans will be greater and greater. What we need is what I call a birth strike! We refuse to subject those who are not yet conscious to just go through the birth/school/work-reproduction/death cycle!

Posted by: chris at January 23rd, 2005 7:51 PM

Chris: That is one of the better ideas I have heard in the past few years. Precisely: governments, corporations, and various other established social institutions encourage reproduction because they need cheap labor. An excellent negotiation tool could be refusal to reproduce, thereby denying these institutions the steady stream of cheap, under-appreciated labor which they had taken for granted before.

Posted by: Joe at February 22nd, 2007 11:27 AM

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