Commenting on Leonard Hayflick

In the wake of some of Leonard Hayflick's comments relating to the current "summer offensive on anti-aging medicine" by the mainstream gerontology community, a few people on the CryoNet mailing list had harsh things to say. Despite his position and history in aging research, Leonard Hayflick has views on healthy life extension that are quite close to those of Leon Kass - in other words, he is opposed to the idea of extending the healthy human life span. To quote a post from Aubrey de Grey:

First, David is quite right that Hayflick (whom I know well) thinks it would be a bad idea to cure aging. However, Hayflick and Kass are not in a minority here -- as we all know, this is the general view, and more to the point, I can report that it is the general view among biologists. Among biogerontologists the situation is different -- there is a general agreement that aging is a bad thing, and Hayflick and Holliday are in a minority -- but to call Hayflick or Holliday biogerontologists is rather a stretch since they have not been active in the lab for over a decade.

He goes on to make a few more points:

Most importantly, Hayflick and Kass matter far less than they may seem to in this. The reason they don't matter is that none of the scientific community pay them the faintest attention, and ultimately it's what the scientists feel is possible and desirable that determines what progress is made. So, the people who really matter in this are those who not only agree with Hayflick about what is possible but also have the ear of the biogerontology community -- especially if they very clearly disagree with Hayflick about the desirability. An authoritative voice that says "it would be brilliant to cure aging, yes, but we can't, not for many many decades, whatever you may hear from dangerous ignorami like Aubrey de Grey" is a far, far greater barrier to progress than any high-profile comments by people with no current authority in the field. Worse, such people don't say this in print -- only in private, behind closed doors, thereby making their message all the more difficult to challenge.

This ties in with Aubrey de Grey's explanation regarding the way in which new science is forced upon the old guard in his field. The hardest part of the process is getting the opposition to engage in a public debate on the merits of your ideas.

It has to be said that I disagree on the point of how seriously we should be taking opposition to healthy life extension. We'll be kicking ourselves later if we dismiss the efforts of Kass to impose his pro-death views (and death itself) on the rest of us only to find an organized movement growing around his views. I see a future of government-imposed limits on life span and access to medicine as all too possible at the moment.

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