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.