A Necessary Level of Skepticism

Much as we'd like it to be otherwise, humans don't live as long as many people like to claim that they do. The tendency to make and believe outlandish claims of human longevity is examined in this open access paper: "People have long been fascinated with claims to extreme longevity. Ancient Roman historians attempted to tally reports of extreme age in local villages. Medieval European alchemists kept tabs on reports of centenarians, possibly to find a 'cure' for old age (the Fountain of Youth). Inexplicably, various historians and even 'scientists' such as Roger Bacon accepted outlandish and wild reports of extreme age prima facie, without a critical examination or inquiry into whether the ages reported were true. It was not until the 18th century, with the advent of demographers such as Georges Buffon (1707-1788) that a limit to the human life span was proposed, with Buffon stating that 'the man who does not die of incidental diseases reaches everywhere the age of ninety or one hundred years' .. [Even today] political, national, religious, and other motivations have led the media and even scientists to errantly accept extreme longevity claims prima facie. ... Understanding various causes of false extreme age claims is important for placing current, past, and future extreme longevity claims in context and for providing a necessary level of skepticism. ... To provide a current context to unsubstantiated age claims, we provide here some statistics concerning supercentenarian (a person age 110 years or older) prevalence. Kestenbaum and Ferguson at the U.S. Social Security Administration reported Medicare data indicating that, in 2000, there were 32,920 centenarians and out of these, 105 or 0.3% were 110 years old and older. Of 2,700 people who reportedly reached the age of 110+ years between 1980 and 1999, according to the SSA, only 355 (13%) could be confirmed."

Link: http://www.hindawi.com/journals/cggr/2010/423087/

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