So Very Many Pressing Distractions

I notice some thoughts from Colin Farrelly, who came to support as much progress as possible in longevity science from a very different original position to my own:

As a political theorist interested in aging and longevity science, I am in a minority among researchers in the field. The literature on distributive justice, multiculturalism, equality, liberty, deliberative democracy etc. is voluminous and detailed. Little has been written on science and justice, let alone a marginal field of scientific inquiry like biogerontology.

And thus I suspect many theorists think my interest in aging is odd, if not frivolous. When there are so many pressing problems in the world today the idea of fixating on aging has little, if any, intuitive appeal. A fews ago I use to think this same way. But after pondering these questions, learning some biology and following the pace of scientific discovery in the field of aging research, I have come to now hold the view that the stakes at risk in these debates are very important indeed. I would go so far as to suggest that tackling global aging is one of this century's most important challenges. And because very few people see aging as a problem the challenge of tackling aging is an even bigger problem than it would otherwise be if we all saw it for the problem it really is.

We live in a world in which most people don't give much thought to degenerative aging until it happens to them, and once in that unfortunate position, they don't give much thought to what might be done to stop this from happening to everyone. Consider how easy it is for a state-level politician in the US to raise a million dollars from the public at large (done in under a week in some cases that spring to mind) versus how hard it is for even a noted researcher in the field of aging research to do the same. Yet that politician doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things; he cannot create new technology, he will be fat on bribes and gone in a few years, and all his actions will be unimportant in comparison to the daily toll of death and suffering caused by aging:

While you were reading this sentence, a dozen people just died, worldwide.

But people have their hobbies, their sports teams, their politicians. The hundred pressing distractions from grander matters. Beyond the more valid daily concerns relating to putting bread on the table, so very many motivated folk throw themselves into things that will never change the world - which is their choice, and a free society is founded upon the right to choose as you will. But persuade even a fraction of these people to see the scope of age-related death and suffering, and the great potential of medical technology to alleviate these harms within a few decades ... well, then we'd be off to the races. No barrier or limitation can long withstand the attentions of a large and motivated group of humans.


It is unfathomable that we are in this position - where a few of us know that aging can be cured, but 99.99% of everyone else have no clue or no care.

The life extention community has been around for awhile - six years for this website for instance - but I feel like progress is slow. I'm not sure if we're on a trajectory to save my life (I'm 35) or even my son's (1 year old). I cannot tell. It seems like we're making incremental progress at times but there doesn't seem to be breakthroughs.

When you look at the life extention community, we have seen significant change - and not all that much progress from what I can tell. Like the split up of SENS from the Methusaleh Foundation - each one going in different directions. At one time I really thought the combined organization was the way to go but with the departure of De Grey you have to wonder what the right path forward is. Is the direct research centered approach the right way (SENS) or the Mprize approach to show we can slow/stop aging in mice the right way (M Foundation)?

I am getting discouraged because you would like to see more progress and updates from these organizations. The SENS site seems to be in cryogenic freeze with little updates in the past year. With the publicity of Mr. De Grey in the mass media (60 minutes, CNN) you would think more public interest would have accrued by now. No billionaire has stepped up with a major donation. Politicians don't even have aging on the radar screen.

I'm very interested in the pursuit of a cure for aging, but I really feel like "what do I do"? I have given some money to the organizations above, but I'm now unsure of whether I should continue. I have definitely gotten the word out to friends and family, but that has only gotten them to open their minds to the idea at this point.

Does anyone have a feel for a state of play of these organizations and other things going on at the top level in the community that would give me and others a better feel for the progress that is being made?

Posted by: Dan C at February 8th, 2010 9:48 AM

@Dan C

Regular communication with the wider audience of potential donors is something that many of the research non-profits struggle with. There is no excuse, and it should be done better than it is - transparency is the future.

Some of the causes:

1) it's not in the culture of the present scientific community to make any communication about their research to the public that isn't peer-vetted. Doing so a lot - as in, say, an oingoing research blog, which is something I'd like to see more of - is definitely going to impact a researcher's reputation and ability to raise funds. This state of the culture in the scientific community seeps out into the science-focused non-profits, especially those that are pushing money into research and then can't get researchers to say anything about what they are doing on a regular basis.

2) putting out regular content and updates in a volunteer-based organization is much harder than it looks. I don't have a good line to explain exactly why this is so, but anyone who has worked in a largely volunteer group will know just how challenging it is to assemble volunteers who will put in continual small efforts over time. Organizations like AFAR have no excuse here, of course, given their funding levels.


That said, I can say that things continue to happen, and the people involved in the Methuselah and SENS Foundations are moving ahead with their plans - albeit with less funding that anyone would like. Have you looked at the Methuselah Foundation newsletter?

But talking about progress is something they both have to work on - SENS Foundation much more so.


This frustration has been expressed in other quarters, and has led to the establishment of other groups who are now taking the "if you want something done..." approach. You might look at the Campaign Against Aging as an example of that impetus:

Posted by: Reason at February 8th, 2010 10:00 AM
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