The latest issue of Rejuvenation Research is out this month. In the editorial, Aubrey de Grey of the SENS Research Foundation returns once more to a topic that puzzles many of us: the pervasive public disinterest when it comes to medical research to enable longer lives accompanies by extended health and youth.
A truth universally acknowledged within gerontology, as within any scientific discipline, is that the funding necessary for research in a given field is forthcoming from public sources only to the extent that the goals of such research are favored by the general public. As such, it has been a persistent source of frustration that biogerontology research remains rather far from the holy grail of delivering truly effective medical intervention, and thus that decision-makers over governmental research funding tend to deprioritize such research.
I strongly believe, based on my own quite extensive interaction with people from all walks of life who (for example) attend my talks, that the "Tithonus error" (that postponing aging would extend ill-health rather than health span) underpins most of the public's ambivalence concerning our field, despite gerontologists' vocal attempts to correct it. But be that as it may, the facts are these: fully 56% of the US public are unenthusiastic about living longer.
Maybe it's mostly the Tithonus error, but I must not overstate that case: in my experience, even those who are disabused of that misconception are uncannily prone to fall back on some other objection to such work (whether it be overpopulation, boredom, immortal dictators, whatever).
Over the decade I've been writing on this topic, I haven't come up with any better ideas on how to address this issue than to keep on bootstrapping and persuading: growing the number of supporters, writing more material, spreading knowledge, raising funds to further the production of research results that will help to persuade more people. It's a grind, but sooner or later the old, wrong ideas will suddenly wither away in the face of a significant number of people willing to call them out. All advocacy goes this way: when a cause seems to emerge from nowhere in the course of a few years, you can be certain that advocates were plugging away for the prior ten or twenty years, laying the groundwork, building arguments and support, and persuading a critical mass of people to join in, slowly but surely.
We've seen significant progress in attitudes to longevity science and extended lives over the years since the Methuselah Foundation and SENS Research Foundation have been in existence. But I still wish I had a better magic argument to open the eyes of those who hold to their disinterest in living longer. I don't think it exists, however: it really isn't a matter of facts. We have plenty of those, and they all support longer lives and the medical research needed to create greater human longevity. It is the stubborn resistance to even acknowledge the message of the research community that proves frustrating: for some years now researchers have been straightforwardly presenting healthy life extension as a plausible result of near future research - and yet all too few people care to listen.