The Death of "Anti-Aging"

It was something like two years ago that I noted the pointlessness of trying to use the term "anti-aging" to describe longevity science or research into the repair of aging.

Unfortunately, some topics just can't be discussed well in email, blog and website; they are drowned out by the efforts of those trying to make money. So it is with scientific anti-aging research and the vast sea of static produced by the purveyors of useless, all brand and no cattle "anti-aging" products. Just take a look at what is seen when searching for any sane, non-monetary, responsible discussion of anti-aging science on Google, Google News, Google Blog Search and Technorati - a blizzard of junk and nonsense. It's the same everywhere you look, a storm of short-termist profit seeking that destroys the primary utility of the internet for these concepts, making it impossible for diverse groups to collaborate, exchange ideas and build new organizations as a part of a serious, ongoing cultural conversation on anti-aging science.

...

Anti-aging is beyond salvage as a term for discussion; we should move on and use other language to describe the technologies of healthy life extension and advanced medicine to extend healthy life spans.

But I'm stubborn, and so kept at it for a while, to see what the balance of voices looked like. Ultimately I took my own advice and moved on to terms like "repair of aging" and "longevity science." You need a bigger foghorn to compete with the folk presently engaged in efforts to define "anti-aging," either implicitly or explicitly. The term has solidly come to mean Revlon, skin cream, potions and the art of patching over the cracks so as to look younger, while doing absolutely nothing about the damage of aging. The forgery of the mirror and makeup, the magic show in which we expect to be entertained while understanding that none of it is real.

Oh well, move on. There is nothing to be gained by trying to talk to that marketplace by redefining "anti-aging" to mean serious longevity science. That is a hard path:

If there really was a significant spill-over of sentiment and support from consumers of "anti-aging" brands to meaningful, scientific anti-aging research - or even between different "anti-aging" brands in the marketplace - I don't think we'd be seeing quite the same sort of hostile confrontation between brand-holders and scientists as takes place today. More to the point, I suspect that volunteer organizations like the Methuselah Foundation would be having far less of an uphill struggle than has been the case to attain their present level of success, and scientists backing rapid progress towards working anti-aging therapies would not be struggling to raise large-scale funding and fight conservatism within their ranks.

The hundreds of thousands (millions?) of devoted purchasers of useless "anti-aging" products translates into very, very few people who understand and give support to serious attempts to repair the damage of aging through modern science. We advocates for longevity science may as well direct our educational and awareness efforts to the population at large - there is no special leverage to be had in speaking to Revlon customers. If there was, we'd have seen it already.

Comments

The truth is though that most people still don't know about the concept of life extension. If brought up in conversation one still receives looks like they are referencing L. Ron Hubbard. People think this stuff is science fiction. And yet, the massive popularity of “anti aging” snake oil and beauty products indicates that there is a huge market for this kind of technology. The publicity in its favour however simply hasn't been good enough. Once we bring this stuff into the mainstream it's gonna snowball.

The sooner we make that happen the better. People's vanity, and the emergence of rejuvenation technologies which cater to it, will be essential to this objective.

Posted by: Ben at March 14th, 2008 4:47 PM

Funny -- I had a very similar thing happen to me with the word "immortality" (and I agree with what you've said in this post regarding the term "anti-aging" -- a quick search for that phrase reveals far more quacky noise than scientific substance). I know that in the context of the healthy life extension community some terms are indeed used as shorthand for perfectly reasonable notions, but if I find myself spending more time explaining what I *don't* mean than what I *do* mean when I use a certain word, the utility of that word starts to diminish for me.

Posted by: AnneC at March 14th, 2008 10:15 PM

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