We Don't Need to Persuade Everyone

The point of advocacy and education for the development of rejuvenation biotechnology, such as evangelism for the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence, is not to persuade everyone. It's to persuade enough of the right people: enough to ensure that progress occurs and ways to significantly reverse aging and its diseases are produced within our lifetimes. That doesn't have to be a sizable fraction of the population: the plausible cost of achieving radical life extension in mice is one to two billion dollars over a decade. Most of the really big pharmaceutical companies each spend that much on the development of two or three mainstream drugs, all costs included.

A billion dollars is small change when considered against the economic output of even small segments of the human race. But of course first you have to talk that small segment into seeing things your way. Ideas spread in characteristic ways: there are no new things in advocacy and persuasion. All the strategies are time-worn and well understood; advocates put their shoulder to the wheel and keep on pushing until it moves. This has worked, does work, and will continue to work. On that note, I noticed a recent article on simulational research aiming to quantify how the spread of ideas works:

Scientists at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have found that when just 10 percent of the population holds an unshakable belief, their belief will always be adopted by the majority of the society. The scientists, who are members of the Social Cognitive Networks Academic Research Center (SCNARC) at Rensselaer, used computational and analytical methods to discover the tipping point where a minority belief becomes the majority opinion.


An important aspect of the finding is that the percent of committed opinion holders required to shift majority opinion does not change significantly regardless of the type of network in which the opinion holders are working. In other words, the percentage of committed opinion holders required to influence a society remains at approximately 10 percent, regardless of how or where that opinion starts and spreads in the society.

Considering this, it doesn't do to become discouraged when you are rejected in an attempt to persuade a friend of the merits of supporting the SENS Foundation, or to give more thought to longevity science. It wouldn't matter if a majority of your friends rejected these ideas. So long as a solid minority of supporters can grow to that one in ten estimate, most of the world will eventually follow along. The research mentioned above may or may not be right in detail, but it's just another way of looking at the well known truths of advocacy: you don't need to get everyone on your side, and you will achieve great things if even a small fraction of the population can be persuaded to give their support.


I'm sure rich playboy types like Richard Branson and Larry Ellison are aware of these ideas and it baffles me that some of them haven't stepped up with support...surely, these are the prime sorts of candidates for early adoption.

Posted by: William Nelson at July 26th, 2011 4:36 PM
Comment Submission

Post a comment; thoughtful, considered opinions are valued. New comments can be edited for a few minutes following submission. Comments incorporating ad hominem attacks, advertising, and other forms of inappropriate behavior are likely to be deleted.

Note that there is a comment feed for those who like to keep up with conversations.