Are We Terrible at Advocacy, or is it Actually Hard to Persuade People of the Merits of Living Longer in Good Health?

For those of us who immediately understand, at first recognition, that the opportunity to live a longer life in good health would be a fantastic thing, and in fact so wondrous that we should jump up and do something to make it happen, it is a continual puzzle that we find ourselves in a minority. How is it that we live in a world in which the majority simply doesn't care, or if prompted on the topic, declares their desire to age, suffer, and die on the present schedule? After a few years of this, one might be forgiven for thinking that we are just not very good at advocacy. But given a second consideration, we might ask why we should have to be good at advocacy at all in this situation. Isn't more good health and vigor, and an absence of horrible, debilitating age-related disease, an obvious and unalloyed good? Isn't the whole point of medicine to defeat disease and prolong health? Isn't it the case that all of these people in favor of aging and age-related death nonetheless go out and visit the doctor when they get ill, while supporting research into treatments for cancer and other age-related diseases? I don't think that we are the irrational ones in this picture.

After going on fifteen years of writing on this topic, I don't have much more of an idea than I did when I started as to why greater human longevity isn't an obvious and highly important goal for everyone. The same questions and theories back then are still here today, and there is still little data to pin down their accuracy: fear of frailty, of overpopulation, of any change, even positive, and so forth. Since it was an immediate and evident revelation for me, rather than a gradual conversion, perhaps I am not the right person to achieve that understanding. I am, however, pleased to see that despite the challenges our community of iconoclasts, heretics, revolutionaries, and rational thinkers on the subject of longevity science is greatly expanded these days. More of these folk than ever are writing and persuading, both inside and outside the scientific community. We have progressed and grown as a community, alongside progress in the state of the science.

For today, I see that the Life Extension Advocacy Foundation has set up a blog in order to help bring spread our message to new audiences. As noted by the author here, the best evidence so far suggests that the fear of being old and decrepit for longer as a result of life extension therapies is the most important factor in public opposition to greater longevity, despite the fact that scientists and advocates have repeatedly disclaimed this as a goal, and that many have noted that such an outcome is implausible to achieve even if someone was trying. On the one hand that suggests that it is simple ignorance that might be dispelled, but on the other it seems very resistant to the efforts already made, over and again, by near every public figure involved in the aging research community.

Most advocates of life extension report facing resistance to the idea of increased lifespans by medical means when trying to disseminate this idea among general public. Resistance manifests itself in many forms, ranging from concerns such as overpopulation to concerns about unequal access to life extending treatments. But the most unexpected thing is probably that people often don't want an increased lifespan at all. Surveys in different countries show, that when people are asked "how long would you like to live?", they often give a number equal to or slightly higher than the current life expectancy in a given country. But wait ... Isn't extending life for more decades a good thing that everyone should strive for? In reality we often do not see enough enthusiasm for the idea in general. So why is this?

It turns out that the reaction of general public to the idea depends on how the message is formulated. When only life extension is offered, without details of how healthy, mentally sound and good-looking an individual could become, people express less support for the idea. But when life extension is proposed as a combination of perfect physical and mental health, it changes the response dramatically, leading to many more people accepting the idea, and also showing support for the development of corresponding medical technologies. It is important to note, that there are also other factors that influence higher support for life extension and related medical innovations, reported by researchers. An interest in science, for example, appears to be the strongest predictor of a positive attitude towards medical interventions to extend life.

In some surveys, where the message did not include a promise of perfect health combined with longevity, males were found to be more likely to support life extension than females. Most likely, this can be explained by different perception of the risks. Males are found to be more likely to take the risks, so they can cope better with the risks emerging from using an innovative technology, when the long-term effects are still unknown and the volume of benefit is not clear. In other studies, however, when healthy life extension (with a "utopian" scenario) was offered, this difference between the sexes did not remain consistent, males and females were equally supportive of life extension technologies. It could be that a positive scenario does not engage the mechanisms of risk avoidance. But then, it means that solely by adding perfect health to life extension in our messages, we can significantly widen the number of our supporters. Studies like this illustrate the importance of analyzing how the nature of the message matters in furthering our cause. The advocates of rejuvenation biotechnology, including research groups and fundraisers for aging biology research, should carefully consider the messages they are using, as some of them are more efficient to encourage an informed and engaging discussion with society about the benefits of bringing aging under medical control.



I think it is a lot of differing reasons. What actually causes aging is a slightly technical topic. Aging is a gradual process, like boiling a frog, so it is not very noticeable. Things like cancer, which are well funded, arrive suddenly and shockingly.

I read an Alain de Botton book on Marcel Proust, and one of Proust's observations in his book "In search of lost time" was that people act like they are going to live forever, when in fact their lives are pretty short. Economists have also noticed this, people mostly spend their money like drunken sailors and don't save for retirement.

Posted by: Jim at January 23rd, 2017 6:54 AM

To me, it's obvious superintelligent AI will arrive well before rejuvenation therapies and that means it will be up to SAI to decide if we live or die, even if these therapies become available. Google is already making AI software that builds better AI software. With no humane software in sight, AI will kill us well before aging would.

Posted by: Heartland at January 23rd, 2017 7:41 AM

@Heartland: Senescent cell clearance is a rejuvenation therapy, only a couple of years removed from the clinic. Even the fastest approach to AI, of emulating human brains, has a few decades left to run.

Posted by: Reason at January 23rd, 2017 8:16 AM

I think that the vast majority of people are very hard to persuade about anything they have held an opinion for years, simply because they are basically irrational. I see it all over the Internet. It's very very very hard to make someone to change his opinion, regardless how nonsensical it is.

Posted by: Antonio at January 23rd, 2017 8:37 AM

AI is just a tool. Tools can only do wrong when the operator wants to do wrong.
Giving AI a program which tells it it's alive on the other hand, and even worse - a human - that's dangerous.
Quite possibly significantly more so than any AI regardless of the intellect it possess.
And that is why I think the idea of emulating a human on AI should be banned in perpetuum.

Anyway this isn't the problem we're facing and will be facing in the next 30+ years.
Statistically most of us won't even live long enough to see human level AI in their lifetimes.
Unless you're overly optimistic about the timeframes like Kurzweil for instance.
Aubrey was overly optimistic on his timeframe as well - SENS is where they should have been 10 years ago.

Advocacy moves with technology. The technology wasn't were it should have been when the advocacy effort started.

Posted by: Anonymoose at January 23rd, 2017 8:55 AM

@Anonymoose: Aubrey always made his predictions PROVIDED adequate funding were given.

Posted by: Antonio at January 23rd, 2017 11:37 AM

@Anonymoose some very sweeping statements there. The truth is you or anyone cannot predict the future you can only guess based on what you see. As no one here is aware of the full picture it is very hard to be as sure as you see to be about such things as AI and lifespans.

Posted by: Steve Hill at January 23rd, 2017 11:48 AM

From my (mostly failed) attempts at advocating life extension I would say that most people in fact want to live a longer healthy life but they simply don't get it. It starts with scientific papers that are written in a language they don't understand (english lingo). They can't believe it either since they don't know the difference between peer reviewed magazines and the tabloid press. So they take it for another attempt at selling snake oil. But instead of saying that straight away they make up funny arguments just to be nice to you and have a discussion.

So what could be done?

1. Concentrate on health. Tag the pages with illnesses that fit as click bait. Have it in different languages as most people will google in their native language.

2. Try googling for "immortality", "health", "fountain of youth", etc. The advocacy pages will not be found. Do you expect the average layman to know the community jargon already?

3. Educate. E.g. what illnesses are prevented by senescent cell clearance? How to prevent cancer? What can be done today and how?

4. Show the proof. The photos of the mayo clinic mice work very well. Ask for a copyright free version and have them pop up everywhere.

5. There are some people out there that really are against life extension (for others). But why waste time on them? For every such person that takes a stand there are 100000 that never even heard of the community.

Just my opinion. Yours may differ.

Posted by: Matthias F at January 23rd, 2017 12:17 PM

@Steve Hill I like to believe I draw the rational middle ground between the crazy futurists saying things should have happened 25 years ago and the rest of the world saying they will never happen.

Posted by: Anonymoose at January 23rd, 2017 1:09 PM

I still think this problem could be partially bypassed if the people who are currently donating small amounts to research instead did fundraisers from their friends and family.

One of my friends managed to raise 1,000 pounds for saving his beard last year (he gave the money to cancer research I think). I have only been able to donate small amounts of around $25 to each fundraiser. I do not have the capacity to do a fund raiser myself (long term chronic sickness) but if 25% of the 220 current backers of the Cellage Lifespan campaign could be persuaded to try and do a $1000 fundraiser each, that would raise $55,000 if successful.

And part of the benefit of that might be that you're not just raising money off people who don't have the time to be interested in lifespan extension. Those fundraisers are also gently raising their awareness of the research and its potential.

There are many good causes out there, nut most people who do a fund raiser just plump for the best know ones such as cancer research and children's hospitals.

I would try and do this, but I have enough trouble trying to do my laundry at present.

Posted by: Jim at January 23rd, 2017 7:52 PM

*shaving (not saving his beard)

Posted by: Jim at January 23rd, 2017 7:53 PM

I think that there is some connection between Jim and Matthias F's viewpoints. Most people spend their money like drunken sailors because they are promised bread and circuses in return. Spending on SENS-like research remains miniscule while billions are wasted on fancier cars or the latest I-phone. It would be difficult for these people to stumble upon credible evidence of a plausible route to extended healthy lifespans. Matthias' methods would greatly help expand the SENS outreach even if they only garnered a low percentage of the public as there are so few supporters currently. This would in turn increase the visibility of SENS even more in a self-perpetuating cycle. Such an internet publicity campaign could perhaps be implemented at low cost.

Posted by: Morpheus at January 23rd, 2017 8:29 PM

@Matthias F

Yes LEAF is currently testing some of these ideas and conducting broad A B testing of various communities. We are testing the water in sports, nutrition, bodybuilding, disease support groups and other communities related and not related to biology.

We are looking at messaging and all kinds of methods to increase reach and interest.

Yes a lot of the field is filled with unfriendly jargon and its one of the things our new easy read blogs are attempting to reverse. We offer always articles on two levels 1: laymans wording where possible and 2: citated data for deeper reading. Our aim is to strike a balance between being academic but also being accessible to the wider public.

We are absolutely determined to break out into the wider public domain and have hired two professionals to assist with this growth and expansion.

Posted by: Steve Hill at January 23rd, 2017 8:59 PM

@Steve Hill,


Posted by: Morpheus at January 23rd, 2017 9:08 PM

@Heartland: Maybe the right way to think about AI is that labs can utilize the potential of AI to develop rejuvenation therapies in a shorter time frame.

(see age-related macular degeneration)

Posted by: bardu at January 23rd, 2017 9:18 PM

What we really seem to want is to convince the general public that SENS research merits at least as much funding as other types of well-funded medical research. That's just not going to happen, because the public isn't interested in nerd-talk about how to cure disease—it just wants cures, period. Also, the public relies on experts (at the NIH, in academia, at pharma companies, etc.) that, for various reasons, aren't interested in SENS as a framework to guide their research. So, there's no way to get the public interested in SENS per se.

The only way that I can image to get significant public support is to advocate for the creation of public and private sector initiatives focused on approaches that have a theoretically-good chance of preventing and curing all age-related diseases without referring to specific approaches or polarizing issues like aging or longevity. This idea has proven to be far more effective at attracting mainstream support. Major pieces of legislation have used this approach like the 21st Century Cures Act and the American Center for Cures Act of 2005 (which failed but was a heck of a lot better than the 21CCA). The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative also kind of uses this type of message (but it does seem to lack a sense of focus and urgency) and hasn't faced the sort of criticism that has been typically leveled against longevity.

Posted by: Florin Clapa at January 23rd, 2017 10:03 PM

@Florin: That way, people would donate to mainstream gerontology, not SENS.

Posted by: Antonio at January 24th, 2017 2:36 AM

The three platforms we should be pitching from are:

1: Cures
2: Independence
3: Health

Surveys and studies show these are the things people care about. They dont care about aging because most people are short term thinkers so in order to "sell" the idea this should be the focus.

As I say we are currently conducting deep audience metrics, surveys and A B testing to see what works and what does not. So far the weightlifting community has yielded valuable results, in brief:

Too much jargon so dont understand the concepts and mostly they dont understand how things like senolytics relate to muscle function. Too much jargon so wont read the article.

So the problem is mostly the message is wrong for the audience and the audience does not understand the science. This is a HUGE problem and one that needs urgently addressing. We need to ditch the science babble and present things in easy to understand ways (we should of course still cite our sources) so the public can engage.

Posted by: Steve Hill at January 24th, 2017 6:20 AM

Sorry, I keep repeating myself, but why do we actually have to persuade the public? The way things work in a normal economy is that products are provided to people and people decide whether they buy them or not. It's the same with aging. Offer a treatment, set a price and see what happens. If you actually offer something that works, people will buy it and you will make profit, in this case, lots of it. Gene therapy is readily available and we already have targets like myostatin and telomere length. What we don't have is access to these therapies, unless you work at respective labs or have certain friends. The aim should not be to persuade the public, the aim should be to improve access to therapies.

Posted by: Claus at January 24th, 2017 6:37 AM

It's intriguing to note that even within the "futureish" Community most people seem unaware of the Rejuvenation Revolution.

I do my best to spread that word around since being part of something revolutionary is something with lots of appeal, no matter the cause.

I wish Thiel or some other player with money on hand would finance a Hollywood Movie that simply featured SENS styled rejuvenation treatments with an appropriate narrative:
Big Pharma hunting Aubrey de Grey played by Matt Damon down to stop him from risking their business.

Posted by: Arren Brandt at January 24th, 2017 7:49 AM

@ Claus

We have to convince the public to get the funding to do the fundamental research to proove it works that is why. This is the bottleneck and something that we at have spent considerable time investigating.

You cannot sell something if the product is not tested and in a state ready to take to market and that takes lots of bench work and years of testing before a company can take it to clinical trials and the marketplace.

Government does not fund research into therapies to address aging and funding has fallen year on year for the NIH and NIA etc... So the money must come from either grassroots funding or investment and private enterprize. The latter do not generally invest in fundamental gerontology because its high risk with no ROI guarentee. So this leaves the former (the public) to fund and support the basic research to get the results, publish credible research and get the job done.

There are no shortcuts here and that is why we must convince the masses because it is the only way we will get this done.

Posted by: Steve Hill at January 24th, 2017 8:45 AM

@ Steve : "We need to ditch the science babble and present things in easy to understand ways (we should of course still cite our sources) so the public can engage."

Agreed, and that's where I think infographics should work wonders. Once these are ready, translating them into many languages will further increase the reach.
Thanks for the feedback regarding the A/B testing.

@ Arren Brandt : I like this idea ! Such a film would probablybe mediocre and controversial, but it'd spread the message around.

Posted by: Spede at January 24th, 2017 11:16 AM

@Arren @Spede: Thiel's net worth is almost $3 billion, so he doesn't need to make a film, he could fund SENS to the point of robust mouse rejuvenation if he so wished.

Posted by: Antonio at January 24th, 2017 12:26 PM

Antonio, people care about cures for specific diseases, but gerontologists aren't focused on cures or specific diseases.

Claus, you can't crowdfund a product which doesn't exist and would take at least tens of millions of dollars and years of development work to just create a prototype to test in animals. The best you can do is to promise a cure for a specific disease like any mainstream, disease-focused non-profit does today.

Any fundraising effort that aims to attract significant public support but that doesn't focus on a major disease will fail. Even focusing on a specific disease is going to be extremely hard, because there are already big, experienced, well-known, well-funded, fundraising-focused organizations that will compete with you. If possible, partnering with them might be better.

Posted by: Florin Clapa at January 24th, 2017 1:48 PM

Well surely we'd like more funding coming from Thiel, although it wouldn't completely replace the need to reach the masses through multiple means in order to achieve a truly massive, global effort to finance rejuvenation.

Posted by: Spede at January 24th, 2017 1:51 PM

@Spede: Nope. Thiel alone has three times the money needed to do all preclinical research needed for reaching longevity escape velocity in humans.

Posted by: Antonio at January 24th, 2017 2:20 PM

There are various annual student contests out there for genetic engineering (iGem, International Genetically Engineered Machine) and DNA origami (BioMod). A lot of these team raise small ammounts of money on, although the contests themselves are also funded.

Could the SENS or Methuselah Foundations fund annual student contests in Regenerative Biotechnology and Tissue Engineering respectively? Would this be any help?

Posted by: Jim at January 24th, 2017 7:03 PM

@ Antonio : Only few individuals are willing to devote a third of their net worth to research, and we may even need more than 3bn€ to achieve complete human rejuvenation ; so a sensible thing to do is tapping into more pockets across the globe. Not to mention, global acceptance will be needed even as the treatments are ready.

@ Jim : Or maybe they could fund existing competitions to enable a specific rejuvenation prize.

Posted by: Spede at January 24th, 2017 11:34 PM

@Antonio expecting the hust rich to fund research is deflection of responsibility. Aging research is the responsibility of everyone to fund not just expect or hope the rich will find it. We must all do our bit, great or small.

Posted by: Steve h at January 25th, 2017 4:33 AM

I don't expect it, I was only replying to the comment that, even if Thiel provided more funding, grassroots funding would always be needed. I only said that, if he wished, he could easily fund all the preclinical SENS research, with no need for extra funding for preclinical work.

Posted by: Antonio at January 25th, 2017 5:51 AM

Well, Thiel seems like the type who will do whatever it takes to live as long as possible, so hopefully as the years go on and he keeps getting older, his funding will continue to increase and branch out.

Posted by: Ham at January 25th, 2017 9:58 AM

I read in Quora that Thiel donated around $6M to SRF until 2014 (can't find the link right now).

Posted by: Antonio at January 25th, 2017 1:07 PM

This discussion is the wrong discussion to have - The risk / reward curve in biotech is not for "grassroots" people - and as long as the ultra-rich put in their pathetically small contributions versus their net worth (Peter Thiel, Robert Miller, Peter Nygard, Bob Laughlin, etc.) the common folks are not going to follow, no matter how much they emotionally support it - why? - because those investments end up looking like private pet projects; not true commitments to the longevity space - By sacrificing most of his net worth, Aubrey de Grey has put in double what Peter Thiel has to SENS - even the Unity financing round that everyone seemed to go crazy about - keep in mind that Jeff Bezos is worth $70 billion!! - and he went in on a $100 million consortium with 5 other life science VCs - in reality that most likely means he put in a few million bucks as a follow on investor for one of his VC friends - yet he puts orders of magnitude more into other project that he'll most likely will be long gone before realizing their potential - the common person knows the basics about this industry - it's a 1 in 10,000 game and most projects will fail - the real discussion / question is how you get more of the big boys on board

Posted by: Andrew Tonntraight at January 26th, 2017 4:35 AM

> We are looking at messaging and all kinds of methods to increase reach and interest.

An interesting project for sure. I'm guessing that you also work in the background on improving the Google ranking?

>The three platforms we should be pitching from are: 1: Cures 2: Independence 3: Health

There are also people in the looks department that may want to benefit from your work:

grey hair - DNA damage in stem cells
wrinkles - crosslinks and senescent cells
melanoma - cancer
baldness - prostaglandin D2 signaling

If they knew there are crowdfunding projects to spend their money on.

Posted by: Matthias F at January 26th, 2017 9:06 PM

Andrew Tonntraight I couldnt disagree with you more. It is critical to get both public and the big boys onboard not one or the other. You might scoff at small scale research fundraisers but they are leading to results eg, MitoSENS and Campisi etc were funded by SENS as well.

We are doing both at LEAF, working to engage both the public and HNW individuals and we have been reasonably successful so far. Its a long haul but we are making progress for sure.

Posted by: Steve Hill at January 29th, 2017 7:07 PM
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