A Truly Astounding Opinion

I feel compelled to come back to a comment by Richard Sprott, director of the Ellison Medical Foundation, quoted in a recent article on investment in longevity research:

"We're all going to croak," says Richard Sprott, the Ellison Medical Foundation's director, who expects that humans may eventually live as much as 30 years longer, but only in the distant future.

The archives at SAGE Crossroads boast a debate between Sprott and Aubrey de Grey, each exemplifying a polar opposite of approach to aging research and its goals. From where I stand, Sprott is firmly in the full employment act for gerontologists camp, while de Grey is all goal all the time.

There are more people who think like de Grey out there, but I don't think they're talking loudly enough. There are certainly far too many scientists who coast, with no inspiring goals to their work. What is the purpose of research if not to get the damn job done? What is work without purpose? In the case of aging research it's not about making life easy for career scientists, it's about stopping a worldwide, horrendous, terrible, ongoing avalanche of death and suffering.

Even the most widely recognized greatest disasters in human history pale in comparison to natural death. For example, the typhoon that struck Bangladesh in 1970 washed away a million lives. In 1232 AD, Genghis Khan burned the Persian city of Herat to the ground. It took his Mongol horde an entire week to slaughter the 1.6 million inhabitants. The Plague took 15 million per year, World War II, 9 million per year, for half a decade each. The worldwide influenza pandemic of 1918 exterminated less than 22 million people – not even half the annual casualties from natural death. But natural death took 52 million lives last year. We can only conclude that natural death is measurably the greatest catastrophe humankind has ever faced.

It's about building a world in which we can create more of the most valuable commodity there is - time spent alive, healthy and ready to act.

So back to the quoted view of Richard Sprott above. How on earth does one manage to reconcile the belief that it's going to take an age to extend healthy human life by a mere 30 years with even a passing understanding of the present state of science, human knowledge and capabilities? Has he failed to notice the scorching pace of progress in understanding and controlling cells? That biotechnology is now firmly harnessed to exponential progress in computational capacity - and all the benefits that brings? That the laws of physics firmly allow nanoscale machinery capable of replacing and surpassing in every respect all organs and functions of the human body? That the tissue engineers predict a decade or two until we can grow and replace any damaged tissue aside from the brain? That the system biologists think tacking ten years onto healthy life over the next ten years is feasible? That even the tired, slow-moving, government cancer establishment is shooting for victory in a decade?

I want to point out just how outlandish it is to stand in the midst of outright revolution, of wild, foaming progress in bioscience, and say that things aren't going to change all that much. You're out there on your own, Sprott, with few others beside Hayflick for company. The position you hold is extreme and strange to me.


Sprott is an example of the bureaucrat mentality. He does not want to actually cure aging any more than NASA wants to open up the space frontier or the Tokamak fusion program to develop commercial fusion. All three of these cases are "make work" programs specifically to employ scientists and civil servants until retirement. All three cases are examples where the actual achievement of the stated goal would upset and threaten the "system".

People like Sprott are utterly contemptable. At least Sprott is working for a private institution and is not a parasite living off of our tax dollars (unlike many of the "bioethicists" who work for the government or in accadamia where they get government grants).

It is time that people like Sprott are put in the place where they belong.

Posted by: kurt9 at November 21st, 2007 8:54 AM

Amen (in the most secular way possible) brother! Great post.

Posted by: Michael G.R. at November 22nd, 2007 12:14 PM

I don't think it's really worth spending time arguing with folks over *when* a given breakthrough will or will not happen. Those who think something is feasible can (and will) work on it and advocate for it. And if the science is solid, the results will pan out -- science requires neither certainty, nor faith, nor magic in order to produce results. All it requires, really, is determination, creativity, and hard work.

Those who don't see the pursuit of more effective longevity medicine in the shorter term as worthwhile can just go work on something else.

But if someone is literally arguing that we should *slow down* research to ensure a certain employment pattern for gerontologists -- that's just patently ridiculous. Honestly, I don't know where some people pull their ideas out of, but I'd gather it's not a pretty place...

Posted by: AnneC at November 22nd, 2007 6:48 PM

Kudos as always. Naysayers should be last in line fo r the inevitable treatments.
And where do these morons get their random numbers like 30 years extension in the distant future, 1000 years maybe in a century, and all the other nonsense...
obviously, life extension means curing the conditions that make you die which means LIVING FOREVER.

Posted by: will nelson at November 27th, 2007 7:57 AM

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