Growth Requires Funded Advocacy for Longevity Science

As I might have mentioned once or twice, you can only get so far powered by zealotry. All movements start with the zealots and the visionaries and the earnest volunteers, but to grow to take over the mainstream, there must be funding sufficient to employ the much larger group of advocates who take a wage and go home at the end of the day. One of the growing pains of the longevity science community lies in finding this funding. In this day and age meaningful early stage medical research is comparatively cheap, and most people choose to support research programs such as those of the SENS Research Foundation rather than expanded advocacy. At some point this community has to become larger than a few volunteer efforts and a few small non-profits: infrastructure and staff must come from somewhere for greater advocacy and fundraising efforts, for conferences and outreach, and for all the other necessary tasks. It is certainly true that bootstrapping on the advocacy side of the fence is just as tough as bootstrapping on the research side of the fence.

There is a persistent view that life extension advocacy is something that does not require any investment and can be done in your spare time. Fundraising for overheads is like an elephant in the room: it is hard not to notice it is there, but people try to avoid talking about it. Without a doubt, talking to friends about the promise of rejuvenation technologies or reposting research news on your Facebook feed is useful and it can be done for free. But what if the goal is more ambitious - to change local legislation to make it more longevity-friendly, to convert decision makers of the state grant system to allocate more money to rejuvenation research, or to reach out to wealthy individuals able to fund more studies? These activities require money.

Every member of our community hopes for rejuvenation therapies to be developed, implemented and delivered at an affordable price as soon as possible. Preferably in their and their relatives' lifetime. And even though there is a steady progress, it would be good to see it speed up. How? Mostly by removing things that are holding us back. The list of bottlenecks include the following aspects: insufficient research funding due to rejuvenation projects being innovative and not well understood by the decisionmakers in different funding bodies; flaws within the grant system: unnecessarily detailed grant applications and reports, making the scientists spend time on them, rigid rules on how money should be disposed during the project, delays in funding delivery; young scientists turning to mainstream topics like single diseases instead of rejuvenation to avoid reputational risks and problems with funding; lack of public awareness on the promise of rejuvenation technologies and the positive aspects of their massive implementation for our society; and many more. One could call life extension advocate successful if he or she is removing or mitigating some of these bottlenecks so the overall situation in the field measurably improves.

To write one popular but accurate article about aging research progress in a specific field, the activist has to spend 2-3 hours to familiarise himself with the latest publications on the topic. Writing 2-3 pages with scientific references can also take several hours. So one article usually takes a half of the working day. If the writer is also involved in social media development (which requires posting new original materials every day) this can no longer be considered a hobby: it becomes at the least a part-time job and that should be paid. Have a look at the level of salaries of scientific writers for financial reference.

The usual places to promote rejuvenation research and corresponding policies are scientific conferences, public events and meetings of working groups discussing necessary changes in a law. In addition to the conference fee, going to a conference implies travel expenditures and booking a hotel, which can stand for from several hundred to a few thousand dollars per person, depending on the region where the conference takes place, and its duration. Promotion of a cause on a regular basis means an organization has to be represented at 10-20 events per year and often even more. Even if half of them do not have a registration fee, it means spending around $10k on the registration and up to $20k on travel and accommodation per person per year. Costs aside, going to a conference for advocacy reasons is a significant workload. In the case of lobbying for changes in the law (which can take several years), the activist has to attend from 5 to 20 meetings of the working group per year, to ensure the proposed changes are still being considered and keep being included in the new version of the law. Each meeting can take a half of a working day and implies some follow-up analytical and networking activities. You can view estimates of salaries of professional lobbyists or government relations managers for comparison.

Life extension advocacy groups are constantly seeking grant opportunities to cover their administrative needs. But all the same reasons that impede the scientists trying to receive a grant for rejuvenation research, also impede advocacy projects in our field. Due to the novelty of the idea of aging prevention, not many grant givers are keen to provide resources for its promotion. So before you ignore the "Donate" button that you see on the site of a life extension advocacy group, and before frowning at the line with administrative costs in their report, consider this: you and other members of our community are so far the only part of population who dislikes aging strongly enough to invest in the solution. And the best time to step in is always the same: now.



I wonder what the best funding ratio of research to advocacy should be at this point.

Posted by: Corbin at July 25th, 2017 12:59 PM

I made a few comments over on the reddit thread about the need for an at least part time paid advocate to produce materials and perhaps manage a web platform for people who want to do personal fundraisers. I tried this earlier this year, but walked into a few bear traps and found the lack of interesting visual material which I could share challenging. And this has to be media which doesn't take the person off the social media platform, people hate dislike clicking on links.

Posted by: Jim at July 26th, 2017 10:06 AM

Forgot to add - my mate from Uni raised GBP 1,000 without too much difficulty for shaving off his beard. I struggled to raise $200. So I think personal factors like popularity come into it as well.

Posted by: Jim at July 26th, 2017 10:09 AM
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