On Social Media and Advocacy for Radical Life Extension

Changing the world is an activity built atop a foundation of persuasion and relationships, whether is a matter of creating entirely new technology or ensuring the widespread use of existing technologies. It always moves more slowly than advocates would like, even when things are progressing well, such as at the present time with regard to the public view of research into the effective treatment of aging. The past couple of years have seen a real transition in public perception and media treatment of aging research, the result of more than a decade of hard work and investment behind the scenes, all largely unnoticed. There are never any breakthroughs or sudden sweeping reversals in life: it is all a matter of the pieces finally falling into place, of the finale to a play that you just weren't paying all that much attention to while it was taking place.

The great revolution of our era is the plummeting cost and increasing capacity of computation. That has enabled all of the other transformative revolutions presently underway, such as in the cost, capabilities, and availability of communications technology and biotechnology. In communication especially, the cost of near instantly delivering old-style text from one person to another has fallen so far as to be essential zero, minuscule in comparison to the opportunity cost of time taken in composition of the message. Similarly, the cost of publishing to an audience has fallen to be essentially zero in comparison to the cost of finding that audience.

It is no coincidence that advocacy for longevity research, just like every goal originally held by a tiny fraction of the populace, has taken off in parallel with the growth of the internet. Beforehand, how were the one in a hundred or one in a thousand interested enough to talk and do something ever going to find one another? Now a special interest group of just a few hundred or few thousand people can span the globe and yet still be organized and effective, and for next to no cost beyond the time taken to participate. This is ideally suited to non-profit and advocacy organizations, and the last few decades of initiatives relating to extending the healthy human life span have seen many such organizations assemble via connections made online.

In this sense social media, a term I detest, means nothing more than communication. Everyone today has a near-zero-cost printing press and mail room. When everyone can act as their own newspaper, most people will do just that. Most of the resulting output is trivial, of course, because most conversations are trivial. But of those who have something to say that is worth listening to, more of that message will find a willing audience rather than being lost to the void. Of course there is always a power law of attention, there are always the professionals sitting on top of the pyramid, but ultimately we are expanded and improved by our new capabilities, each of us our own media outlet.

There are always those who mistake the shell for the snail, however. You can't force a conversation, or indeed any sort of meaningful outcome, by turning a crank and sending links here and there aimlessly, by counting posts and metrics. If there is no conversation, all of those mechanical actions, "social media activity", are just hollow. In all of my experiments in that, and all of the other experiments I've had the dubious pleasure of watching in the course of gainful employment as a technologist, I've become convinced that the only thing to do is have conversations. Talk to people. Publish what you want, and let people talk about it at the pace they want to talk about it. You can't force growth in advocacy, and it's really hard to measure where exactly you are in that process with the tools that social media companies force upon you. Advocacy for a cause doesn't have conversions and funnels that can be measured on a website or in an email, no matter what those selling you metrics engines might say. You end up with a lot of numbers and no real way to connect those numbers to anything that actually matters as a bottom line. So why try? There are share buttons here at Fight Aging!, hidden, not loaded at all until you request the tool, because people kept asking for them, not because I'm hot on creating larger numbers in a report.

So: we live in an age of ever more pervasive communication. That is important, very important, to all endeavors, and in ways that we haven't yet figured out. A lot of the more active members of the longevity science advocacy community are engaged in trying out new modes of organization and communication, building the community, present in ever new form of social media. But this is all, ever and always, at heart a conversation. It goes at its natural pace. We shouldn't forget that just because the tools of the trade are shiny and in everyone's hands these days.

Longevity online: can social media take life extension ideas from the radical to the mainstream?

To confront death is to face our biggest fear, and unfortunately for advocates of life extension, this is something which the majority of people are not presently inclined to do. Like any industry, the level of investment in life extension technologies and the resultant supply of treatments are directly related to demand. Therefore, for governments, scientific institutions, and venture capitalists to invest within the field, the demand from consumers simply has to be there. Recent big budget ventures spearheaded by some of Silicon Valley's most high profile companies and individuals go a long way to speeding up the rate of research and development as well as raising awareness of the cause, but for those looking to really accelerate the rate of progress, the question is how to get enough of the population onboard to significantly impact upon the rate of change.

In the 21st Century, social media has emerged as by far the most efficient and accessible platform for engagement between like-minded individuals, promoting shared ideas, and ultimately mobilising the general population into action. In fact, in our increasingly globalised world, such is the centrality of social media and its capacity to facilitate instant worldwide communication, one can argue that without it any movement or form of promotion is likely doomed to fail.

As a characteristically tech-minded community, it is therefore no surprise that the power of networks such as Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Linkedin, and Reddit as tools for furthering the cause of life extension has not been lost upon its most engaged advocates. One only has to peruse the most popular channels Facebook and Twitter to find literally hundreds of groups and profiles dedicated to life extension and longevity, with thousands of members based all over the world. Such high-levels of activity, one would assume, can only be a good thing for the life extension movement, but in terms of really taking life extension ideas from the radical to the mainstream, how far does social media currently go?

Comments

Advocacy is a mixed bag at best. If significant increases in SENS funding is used as a metric to measure the effectiveness of advocacy, then advocacy has failed. But since advocacy may continue to attract a small stream of donations and supporters which may have innovative ideas on how to accelerate SENS research via non-monetary means, it may not be entirely useless.

Posted by: Florin Clapa at May 21st, 2015 9:25 PM

"If significant increases in SENS funding is used as a metric to measure the effectiveness of advocacy, then advocacy has failed."

Are you sure?

SRF annual expenses:
2010: $1,119,000
2011: $1,518,000
2012: $2,986,000
2013: $4,551,720

http://www.sens.org/about/organizational-reports

Posted by: Antonio at May 22nd, 2015 3:58 AM

SENS does have a presence on social media but certainly on facebook it is not very active I have to say. I am in various Longevity groups who communicate via social media and do so considerably better.

Maria Konovalenko is probably the best example I can give of Longevity advocacy and social media being used for maximum effect. She has raised $13k in 6 days for her new Longevity cookbook (much of the proceeds going towards making an AI researcher program) on indiegogo. There is interest and money out there for longevity research but some groups are better at using these powerful tools than others. Social media is probably the greatest tool we have to use, its free, its global and boosts our most important asset as a species, Communication!

Support is growing for the science of longevity with companies like google adding increased street cred to the idea and now is the ideal time to capitalize on that increased interest and visibility using social media as a primary tool.

Posted by: Steve H at May 22nd, 2015 5:19 AM

I guess euforia in Longetivity Cookbook falls soon.

Posted by: Martin S. at May 22nd, 2015 5:35 AM

15,000 dollars in 7 days? Yes clearly the Euphoria is falling ;)

The point is Maria is an example of how Longevity can be promoted on social media and done well. Compare that to the other groups and you will see there is a varying range of effective use of social media.

Strange as it is free and reaches the masses unlike conferences and shows which IMO are limited and tend to attract those already interested in the field rather than targeting those who are unaware of the research. How to tap into the audience who do not know but might support the work?

Posted by: Steve H at May 22nd, 2015 5:48 AM

Antonio, most of the funding increase you've mentioned is from Aubrey's inheritance and therefore doesn't count. Heck, even if it wasn't, it's a far cry from the $50-100 million PER YEAR that Aubrey claims SENS needs.

Steve H, the amount of funding Maria is raising is insignificant, and it's not for SENS or even for the MWM, magic-bullet kind of longevity research. She's raising funds to hire "Top aging bioinformaticians [not AI researchers] [which] will analyze hundreds of scientific articles and attempt to distill the information into scientifically supported, yet easily understandable, results. Translating the existing scientific literature into actionable suggestions allows all of us to begin to benefit from the research, today." Translation: I'm gonna hire a bunch of experts to discover what you and your doc already know—don't smoke, keep your weight down, eat veggies, exercise, etc.

Posted by: Florin Clapa at May 22nd, 2015 12:22 PM

Florin, the fact that it's far from the $ 50-100 million needed doesn't mean that advocacy has failed. The fact that the budget has a sustained increase does mean that advocacy isn't doing a bad job. Surely nobody expected that the $ 50-100 million/year mark would be obtained in only 4 years. I know that an important part comes from Aubrey's mother, but even without that, it's an almost continuous increase:

Other incomes of SRF:
2010: $1,356,000
2011: $1,507,000
2012: $1,454,000
2013: $1,721,904

Posted by: Antonio at May 22nd, 2015 1:50 PM

Antonio, fundraising for SENS has been ongoing since 2005 via the Methuselah Foundation, not since only 4 years ago as you claim. One decade of SENS advocacy later and all we get every year is $100-220k in small donations with Peter Thiel and Jason Hope (most of the $788k designated as individual donations for 2013 was probably his) putting in most of the rest.

But let's assume that the increase you've mentioned continues indefinitely. The increase represents an average of 6.15% growth per year and amounts to reaching the first $50 million in 18 years (counting from 2010) and the entire $500 million in 47 years. Add on another 10 years of mice studies and an additional 15 years of human studies, and we hit 72 years. The more pessimistic $1 billion scenario would be reached in 59 years and human rejuvenation in 84 years. Neither scenario looks rosy.

http://www.moneychimp.com/calculator/discount_rate_calculator.htm
http://www.calcxml.com/calculators/interest-calculator

Posted by: Florin Clapa at May 22nd, 2015 4:50 PM

While SENS funding is nowhere close to being where it needs to be, in fairness people are a bit more receptive to the field in general today compared to 10 years ago. With all the money being thrown around in the field now, (HLI, Calico, etc.) hopefully SENS will begin to pick up more and more funding.

Posted by: Ham at May 22nd, 2015 4:59 PM

This was mentioned before quite a lot, but seems like nobody cares: if SENS is taking one of their 7 programs and complete it, to show the proof that is working in humans, then a lot of hurdles with the funding will be overcome. As of now, even though progress is made, it is still not enough to convince that their programs are successful. They have to focus on one of the programs, complete that and have the proof that is working - make a breakthrough!
Also, they should not rely on donations. SENS should license out rejuvenation technologies that are close to be working. We live in a profit driven society, so even SENS should generate own revenue and rely on that one, rather than rely on donations. And not to mention that if their rejuvenation technologies work, we are talking about a lot of revenue.

Posted by: Adian Crisan at May 24th, 2015 8:20 AM

@Adian Crisan: Seen from the outside, the SRF strategy appears to be to get things started and let others finish. Makes sense from a long term view when considering limited funding. If they can provide early proofs of concept and advances and others then pick those up and bring in their own funding, it's still a win. That appears to be exactly what is happening for senescent cell clearance at the moment, even though that is just step one in another long process of development towards clinical application.

Posted by: Reason at May 24th, 2015 11:56 AM

Adian Crisan, I'm sympathetic to the view that the SRF should focus on only one project or at least the easier projects to complete with the goal being to get lots of IP payments to quickly cover the cost of the rest of their project plans, but I'll give them the benefit of the doubt for now (maybe they think they're close to a breakthrough).

Reason, are you suggesting that the SRF/MF/Aubrey helped accelerate Kirkland's senescent cell clearance tech? If so, why do you think this is the case?

Posted by: Florin Clapa at May 24th, 2015 6:20 PM

@Florin Clapa: It seems self-evident to me that the SENS advocacy, and later funding, for senescent cell clearance research of the past fifteen years has contributed meaningfully to the current environment in which other groups are willing to - and can, with difficulty - independently raise funding to run studies. That wasn't happening, then SENS (and very few other people) came along saying "let's do this," and now it is happening.

Posted by: Reason at May 25th, 2015 6:23 AM

Reason, it seems that you have no direct evidence that SENS advocacy and funding played a role in Kirkland's SC research. Sometimes, it's just coincidence. Stem cell research and beta amyloid vaccines are advocated by SENS, yet the rise in funding for them had nothing to do with SENS advocacy. I'm also aware of one project that's identical to another big SRF project (sorry, I'd rather not reveal what it is at this time), but it was conceived and funded without any knowledge of SENS. There are at least two on-going thymus rejuvenation projects, ThymiStem and a project at Pezzano's lab. Were these projects influenced by SENS? ThymiStem claims to have already rejuvenated the thymus but has messed with metabolism in order to do it, and it's based in Europe where SENS is less well-known. So, probably not. The Pezzano project relates to the recovery of the immune system from bone marrow transplants, not aging (although it may be relevant to aging tissues as well). So, that project was probably not influenced by SENS advocacy either. It is more likely that these projects are simply the result of the march of stem cell research. Getting back to the SC stuff: AFAIK, SRF funding for SC research started in 2010 when the SRF provided funding for Kevin Perrott to join Campisi's lab. I doubt this tiny bit of funding had anything to do with what happened at Mayo. And I also doubt that Kirkland or the NIH (which is funding his SC work) listened to Aubrey's talks or read his papers and decided to work on or fund SC clearance as a result. I might do some more digging to determine where van Deursen and Kirkland got the idea of working on SC clearance. If anyone inspired them, it was probably Campisi, not Aubrey.

http://www.thymistem.org
http://projectreporter.nih.gov/project_info_description.cfm?aid=8697010
http://grantome.com/grant/NIH/SC1-AI104994-07 (in case the link above doesn't work)

Posted by: Florin Clapa at May 25th, 2015 2:50 PM

I would suggest Campisi and her work relating to SASP was the catalyst for SC. SENS is one of a few projects to do this I am aware of.

Posted by: Steve H at May 26th, 2015 6:08 AM

Post a comment; thoughtful, considered opinions are valued. 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.