Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Aubrey de Grey, SENS, and Gandhi's Five Stages

Aubrey de Grey is the originator of the SENS approach to human age rejuvenation. In this short article, de Grey discusses what it is like to be the leader of a revolution.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that I am attempting to bring about a change in thinking about aging and how to combat it that is bigger than the field has ever undergone before, and as in any such situation there is a good deal of knee-jerk resistance from those with a large intellectual investment in the prevailing orthodoxy. Gandhi's famous description of campaigns to change people's thinking goes something like this: "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they oppose you, then they say they were with you all along." By that measure, 2005 was the year in which SENS emphatically progressed to "Gandhi stage 3".

....TR and the Methuselah Foundation have joined to offer a $20,000 challenge prize to anyone from the mainstream biogerontology research community who is able to write a critique of SENS that persuades an independent panel of experts (biologists but not gerontologists) that SENS really is too crazy even to discuss seriously. The longer the Challenge goes unwon, the more credibility accrues to SENS, of course. See Pontin's announcement for more details.

....Most biogerontologists themselves know, in their heart of hearts, that they do not possess all the background knowledge necessary to evaluate SENS -- but they don't like to say so (for various reasons, some quite understandable). But a potential donor hearing me say this may well be skeptical, reasoning that surely experts in the biology of aging are the only people to consult, because they will know all that one needs to know in order to evaluate a proposal for combating aging. With the publication of the EMBO Viewpoint, I now have incontrovertible documentary evidence that this is not so -- that a large and representative cross-section of the biogerontology research community have formed a low opinion of SENS despite lacking key knowledge, both of the existing experimental work on which SENS is based and of the reasoning that shows why SENS will be effective. I am therefore far better equipped than previously to ensure that any potential donor performs due diligence in a manner that will elicit a scientifically informed evaluation of SENS, rather than an evaluation dictated by prevailing biogerontological dogma.

SENS is not the final word on anti-aging rejuvenation. In the next five to ten years, discoveries in several fields will likely bypass the need for some SENS interventions, and probably provide better ways of achieving the goals of others. Even so, SENS is the first serious scientific/engineering approach to rejuvenation, besides calorie restriction. The potential spinoffs and theoretical/practical payoffs from SENS related research will be invaluable.

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