MIT Technology Review Not Up To Reviewing Healthy Life Extension Technology

It has to be said that I've lost a fair amount of respect for the MIT Technology Review after their recent article and editorial (or two) on Aubrey de Grey and his work. It's one thing to be opposed to healthy life extension on principle - the author of the rather good Popular Science piece on Aubrey de Grey fell into that category - it's quite another to be running off into the blue yonder with ad hominem attacks and unsubstantiated assertions about the science in question. I think that Damien Broderick, author of The Spike and one of the more entertaining folks on the Extropy list says it all better than I can:

This statement is typical yet strange:
I should declare here that I have no desire to live beyond the life span that nature has granted to our species. For reasons that are pragmatic, scientific, demographic, economic, political, social, emotional, and secularly spiritual, I am committed to the notion that both individual fulfillment and the ecological balance of life on this planet are best served by dying when our inherent biology decrees that we do. I am equally committed to making that age as close to our biologically probable maximum of approximately 120 years as modern biomedicine can achieve, and also to efforts at decreasing and compressing the years of morbidity and disabilities now attendant on extreme old age. But I cannot imagine that the consequences of doing a single thing beyond these efforts will be anything but baleful, not only for each of us as an individual, but for every other living creature in our world.

'When our inherent biology decrees'. But pragmatically 'our inherent biology' seemed perfectly content for almost every human in history and prehistory to perish at about half that maximum, if not very much sooner. I deplore this sad hankering after an essentialist 'decree' that allows doctors like Nuland to squeeze the last drop out of what is in nature wildly '*un*natural' while clinging to some masked version of authoritative or 'sacred' prohibition.

Nuland's essay is notable as well for its whiny and reiterated complaints about Aubrey's intelligence and energy. (What a nerve! Being smart! Being confident! Being articulate!) I expect to see this sort of complaint in Halfwits Review, not Technology Review.


But wait, there's more:

But what struck me is that he is a troll. For all de Grey's vaulting ambitions, what Sherwin Nuland saw from the outside was pathetically circumscribed. In his waking life, de Grey is the computer support to a research team; he dresses like a shabby graduate student and affects Rip Van Winkle's beard; he has no children; he has few interests outside the science of biogerontology; he drinks too much beer. Although he is only 41, the signs of decay are strongly marked on his face.

My god! Aubrey doesn't wear a suit! He's (by implication) a drunk! He works with computers! Aging destroys your boyish looks! (Oh wait, isn't that one of the reasons for wishing not to suffer the effects of aging? Oh wait once more, didn't Nuland just write that 'he is a boyishly handsome man'?)


And this is such a penetrating sentence:

What does Nuland think of the bearded de Grey's offer of immortality?

A beard! That surely shows what nonsense his claims must be!


What's truly extraordinary is that while Dr. Nuland ends by asserting "It is a good thing that his grand design will almost certainly not succeed. Were it otherwise, he would surely destroy us in attempting to preserve us", he makes no attempt at all to show why this might be so, let alone must be.

All we get is smarmy handwaving and loaded language:

"biogerontologists who study caloric restriction in mice and promise us the extension by 20 percent of a peculiarly nourished existence;"

(i.e. not eating like glutted swine on fats and sugars until we expire from our self-inflicted obesity)

"if we are to accept de Grey's first principle, that the desire to live forever trumps every other factor in human decision-making, then self-interest--or what some might call narcissism--will win out in the end."

'Narcissism', for what it's worth, is the psychiatric label for basing your self-estimate on the way other people regard you (as Narcissus fell in love with what he took to be the face of another gazing back at him in a mirrored pond). Yet de Grey as portrayed in the article, and in the disgraceful editorials, is quite immune to that kind of socially imposed self-evaluation. How interesting and self-lacerating this error is.

But in any case, does the desire to live a maximal healthy life trump *every* other factor? I doubt that Aubrey, or most of those in this forum, would make that claim. The curious thing is that at the basis of the scornful attitudes deployed in those editorials and the essay itself is a conviction that life is 'granted' to us--by some supernatural agency, presumably--and that this *does* trump every other factor: "Aging is the condition on which we are given life," we are instructed. Well, I guess that settles it. No further argument is required. Luckily, because none is offered.

Further excellent commentary on the strange and unseemly nature of this particular article and editorials can be found in the Immortality Institute forums and the MIT Technology Review forum - I encourage you to read the article and editorials and then have your say about the quality of popular science journalism we'd like to see from the Review. If they can mess things up this badly in an area where I'm actually qualified to judge, it really does make them a poor resource for reading in a field I'm not familiar with.


I was stunned by those personal attacks. They were crazy. And he's right about 120. That's a number that one of them god hatin' transhumanists would aspire to. God probably wants you to die at 35, or from the black plague, or from the Flu. It's the way he intended it.

As for the horrible scenarios of living longer, I blame Star Trek and their persistent rule of higher IQ translates into a readiness to slaughter people. He should have titled that essay; "Khhhhhhhaaaaaannnnnnn....!" We'll stop that eugenics war in its tracks...

Posted by: Philip Shropshire at January 14th, 2005 3:21 AM

MIT's Technology Review has done the same thing that the New York Times has been doing for years. It is substituting bias and political agenda promotion for objective stories on new technological developments. This story indicates that they are sliding down the path towards promoting a political agenda in a manner similar to that of Scientific American in the early 80's (when they publicized the now discredited nuclear winter theory).

If this is the case, I expect more slam stories against life extension, cryonics, and transhumanism in general. The end result will only be to eventually discredit the magazine as an objective new source on new technological developments. This is shameless and can only destroy their magazine in the long run. The personal attacks on Aubry are even more shameless and serve meerly as an example of shabby journalism. I expect better out of a science-based publication.

If the Technology Review is serious about maintaining fair and objective journalistic standards, they should publish a counter article written by Aubry de Grey himself. If not, we can watch the Technology Review go the same way as the New York Times and CBSNews.

Posted by: Kurt at January 14th, 2005 9:37 AM

Why discuss this at any length other than making a few momentarily entertaining remarks? Let's leave it at that. Every good and decent christian or kantian or conservative westerner can clearly see that de Grey's arguments are silly and pie in the sky - whereas any educated transhumanism-favoring technologist can plainfly see that fundamental life extenstion will occur somewhere in the 21st century.

This subject is unresolvable untill it smacks us in the face - and when it happens it'll leave many eating dust.

NY Times printed a rectification offering an apology to von Braun when sputnik was launched. My guess is this will something quite similar.

Or another hassled quote: I don't fear the implementation of fundamental life extension. I fear the lack of implementation of fundamental life extension.

Posted by: Dagon at January 17th, 2005 1:15 AM


I have changed my mind about the Technology Review article. There is a saying that all (most, actually) publicity is good publicity. The Technology review article does draw attention to SENS, even if it is portrayed in a negative light.

Many people have joined Alcor after hearing about cryonics in an article that was down on cryonics.

The only bad publicity is that of malfeasance within the organization or movement that the article is about.

Posted by: Kurt at January 19th, 2005 2:47 PM

It certainly did get a fair weight of play in the blogosphere. It looks like an Aubrey de Grey article is key to a mention at Slashdot and BoingBoing (happened for both of the last two) which can only be good from the point of view of raising awareness and changing minds.

Posted by: Reason at January 19th, 2005 4:30 PM

Speaking as a Christian myself, perhaps if we left the prejudicial comments to others this board might be better served..?

Criticising other people's judgementalism with sweeping, generic judgements yourself seems somewhat ironic perhaps..?

Nevertheless, agree on all counts with Broderick's comments. Don't see that God smited us for space travel. Can't see He doesn't want us to live up to our fullest potential either. In fact, as a Christian I believe He loves us as our Father. Why wouldn't He want us to have th every best?

Just some two cent thoughts fellas, try not to rip me a new orifice.

Posted by: Dave at July 7th, 2005 3:19 AM
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