Longevity Research: Donate Now or Donate Later?

Life is a sequence of decisions involving time and resources: how much, how long, now, or later? Everything from choosing a career to deciding whether to reach for the salt passes through the engine in your mind that weighs costs and time. In this, helping to further the advance of longevity science is the same as any other human endeavor. We choose when to support research, we try to pick the best research to support based on likely outcomes, and we choose how much support to give.

I've debated the money axis ad nauseam, so let us do something different and look at the time axis for a change. You could choose to donate resources today to an organization like the SENS Research Foundation, one that funds the most promising projects in the laboratory, or you could wait to donate in some future year. Some arguments to either side:

Donating Later

On balance, I am likely to have more resources to donate later. If I soundly invest what I would have donated now, it will most likely be worth more in later years. This is not a certainty, but a reasonable expectation.

The cost of life science research is falling dramatically. If I donate the same amount later, more can be accomplished, and more rapidly, than now.

Donating Now

Work that isn't accomplished today will have to be accomplished tomorrow. It may be faster and cheaper to complete that research project if we start twenty years from now, but what if we could be long done by then, even though today's progress is slow and expensive by comparison? Every year shaved from the time taken to develop new medicines means many lives saved.

If you don't use money when you have it, it has a way of vanishing amid life's slings and arrows. Not donating today easily turns into not donating at all. Just as "paying yourself first" is the way to enforce savings in spite of your worse nature, so maintaining a steady stream of donations today is the way to ensure that you actually make a difference.

Without providing support now, a range of researchers and organizations that can make best use of your resources will not emerge to accept later donations. Growth in the sciences is as much about establishing institutions that have authority and continuity as anything else. Funds here and now are needed for all of their functions: drawing new researchers into the field; bringing respect to the field; communicating to the public; educating students. No great research community, dedicated to a cause, arises spontaneously from nothing. Years or decades of steadily increasing funds and incremental progress are required.

Donating now encourages other people to donate very soon. It is a form of persuasion, granting legitimacy in other people's eyes to the project you favor. When you do not donate now, you miss the chance to persuade others now.

In Conclusion

Donate now. Unless you find yourself in the rare and envious position of knowing in certainty that a stupendous pile of money will fall upon your bank account in years to come. In which case, donate both now and after that fortunate event.

Over the years I have watched many people churning their way through the energetic startup community of the US West Coast, putting off many things in their lives because of the conviction that they would have time and much money to deal with them later. Among the ways to wealth, it is true that doing a good job of starting a company (and a good job of being networked while doing it) is the best shot at success - but best is a far way from a sure thing, or even a good chance. I can assure you that most of the people involved in that world do not end up wealthy enough to have justified putting off anything.

The same, at a more sedate pace, applies to the rest of us. Tomorrow is what we build today. If we set down no bricks, there will be no wall.


I have just committed US$20 per month to SENS. Go ahead and do the same, or more

Posted by: Guilherme at December 28th, 2012 1:03 PM

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.