Our community has undertaken years of advocacy for rejuvenation research, with the aim of developing ways to reverse age-related disease and disability, and thus greatly extend healthy life spans. The first concrete results are emerging from the research community, the result of philanthropy and persuasion, then the incremental accretion of funding to programs that showed promising initial data. So now we have senolytics, and I would hope not too many years from now we'll have glucosepane cross-link breakers - and then more thereafter.
But have we persuaded the broader public at all? Have we convinced more than a small number of people of the plausibility of the goal of human rejuvenation? Of the merits of ending aging, of eliminating the enormous scope of suffering and death that is all around us? At the large scale, and over decades, progress requires public support. Aging research as a whole needs the same widespread, overwhelming support enjoyed by HIV or cancer research programs; the history of both of those vast patient advocacy initiatives is well worth studying. We are not there yet. But are we further along than was the case at the turn of the century? You might compare the results of the survey noted here with another survey conducted last year; while it certainly looks like progress, I think it is far from clear as to where exactly things stand.
People generally do not believe in the plausibility of targeting the mechanisms of aging in order to slow down and reverse age-related damage. After so many millennia of fruitless dreams, with so many powerful psychological defenses that protect our state of mind when we face the idea of inevitable death by aging, becoming hopeful is usually too much to ask. This can explain why most people, when asked about their desired lifespan, add only a few years to the life expectancy of their given countries.
However, in the last few years, things have apparently started to change. In 2015, in a study by Donner et al, it was found that given perfect mental and physical health, 797 out of 1000 participants wanted to live to 120 or longer; over half of these 797 people desired unlimited lifespans (around 40% of all participants). A new study by YouGov shows even more impressive results. We at Lifespan.io generally stay away from strong statements such as "living forever" or "immortality", because these expressions are hardly scientific and have a religious background. The notion of immortality even seems to scare some people because it seems to limit their freedom and because immortals are pictured by pop culture as criminals, crazy, or morally inferior. Therefore, people often reject the idea of extended life without perfect health.
However, in a new study by YouGov that included around 1200 participants, one in five (19%) people agreed with the statement "I want to live forever" without any promises related to perfect health. 42% of the participants chose "I want to live longer than a normal lifespan, but not forever", while 23% said, "I don't want to live longer than a normal lifespan." People in different age groups reacted to this survey differently; it turns out that the idea of radical life extension was more supported by young people (24%) than by people over 55 (13%), while support for the status quo was the opposite (19% of young people didn't want to live longer than a normal lifespan, while this position was shared by 29% of people aged 55 and older).
The YouGov survey participants were randomly selected, and few of them will be regularly exposed to news about aging and longevity research. However, over 60% explicitly expressed a desire for radical life extension. That is a big jump from the Pew Research study from 2013, where only 38% of the participants expressed the desire to undergo medical treatments to slow aging and live to be 120 or more. Of course, the questions in these surveys were formulated differently, so we cannot directly compare them. However, looking at various, similar studies, it appears that, in the last 5 years, 20% more Americans have become aware that something serious is going on in the rejuvenation biotechnology industry.