Replying to a Critique of SENS

SENS, the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence, is detailed plan for development of the biotechnologies needed to reverse the effects of aging - to repair the biological damage that causes age-related degeneration and disease, and thereby eliminate the frailty and increasing risk of death that comes with it. Strangely, SENS has gone from valid but fringe idea rejected by the mainstream of aging research to an accepted and supported, albeit small, research program over a handful of years without much in the way of widely published and debated critiques. There was the SENS challenge, a couple of scientific op-ed exchanges in the journals (some of which were quite entertaining), and that was pretty much that. In the early days, no-one would take the time to engage, and the switch from outsider concept to insider concept with a well-connected non-profit foundation backing it happened fairly rapidly as such things go.

Not that I'm complaining: there are worse outcomes. But publicity is important when it comes to expanding the support available for any field of research, and well constructed critiques - and the debates that follow - are a good basis for that publicity. With that in mind, you'll recall that a previous issue of Cryonics magazine contained a critique of SENS from long-standing advocate and activist Ben Best. In the latest issue, Aubrey de Grey of the SENS Foundation responds:

SENS, my proposal for combating aging with regenerative medicine, was first formulated in 2000 and first published in 2002. In 2005 and 2006, the first scientific critiques of SENS appeared that were worthy of the name - in other words, that focused squarely on the scientific details of SENS rather than speaking in generalities. Both featured many profound flaws, as outlined in my replies, but I was under no illusion that this meant that SENS will definitely work. Accordingly, it has been a source of disappointment to me that the subsequent five years have not seen better-informed and better-founded critiques, even though an undercurrent of intuitive pessimism about SENS undoubtedly survives. I am therefore gratified that Cryonics Institute CEO Ben Best has published a careful analysis of what he sees as deficiencies in SENS, in the previous issue of CRYONICS.

I'm not going to quote the bulk of it - you should go and read the whole article, which is a series of point by point discussions, and which provides some insight into ongoing and currently unpublished work taking place at the SENS Foundation and in allied laboratories. It is exactly the sort of thing I'd like to see more of out in the public sphere. Now that the SENS Foundation is a going concern, perhaps it's time to start arranging debates on SENS that will be seen by a wider audience once again. After all, now we can say, "and if you liked the pro-SENS position, here is an ongoing and internationally recognized research program you can support, where the participants and advisors are a who's who of modern longevity and aging science."


Unlike the Technology Review's challenge back in 2005, Ben Best's challenge is not motivated by an ideology that is hostile to life extension. Indeed, Ben Best is the acting manager of CI and has been involved in cryonics and life extension for over 2 decades. He sincerely wants to make it. He just doesn't think SENS will do the trick.

Posted by: Abelard Lindsey at June 13th, 2011 5:59 PM

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