Arnold Kling  

Ending Aging

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I promised I would have more to say about Aubrey de Grey's book, and I do that in this essay.


At a more subtle level, de Grey wants institutional changes that wrest control of the research agenda from the medical establishment, which is vested in the existing paradigm. Here, the fact that so much medical research is under government auspices makes the outlook discouraging, in my view. If there is one thing that you can count on government to do, it is to protect incumbents and move with great reluctance to support upstarts and innovators.

We have come to think of "pure research" as a government function. But much of what de Grey is talking about is applied research. It probably will be under-supplied by the private sector, because the benefits will be difficult to capture. But government will not fund research in an optimal way either.


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COMMENTS (8 to date)
reason writes:
It probably will be under-supplied by the private sector, because the benefits will be difficult to capture. But government will not fund research in an optimal way either.

Sounds like an opening for an innovative policy expert. (Non-profits perhaps?)

General Specific writes:

Well, his analogy is a bit loose.

"Just as people were wrong for centuries about how hard it was to fly but eventually cracked it, we've been wrong since time immemorial about how hard aging is to combat, but we'll eventually crack it, too."

Or not. Might work. Or he might be a utopian. It's a rhetorical flourish, not a proof of anything.

The government should fund basic research. Some of it is wasted, some misdirected, some well used. Kind of like the private sector. Lots of companies go bankrupt--in the big picture, money not necessarily well used.

Philanthropists can do whatever they want with their money. There could be some interesting avenues to pursue in this line of research.

Though as a sometime Buddhist, I have to say that people who are too obsessed with living forever should learn to let go. Even of themselves. Maybe the utopians obsessed with living forever should think more about quality instead of quantity. And as Ecclesiastes says: a time to be born, and a time to die.

Freedom, Soar! writes:

The mechanization of agriculture is a good example for comparing private research with government research in terms of incentives. Whereas machinery ranging from the cotton gin to one of the latest innovations—a mechanical blueberry harvester—has been motivated by private ownership of the land, there is no such incentive for technically expert designers to come up with a machine to harvest shellfish in publicly owned tidal flats. On the contrary, there is every incentive for the government to maintain the status quo of the labor-intensive role of the clamdigger. Restricting entry with license fees and quotas fills state coffers and helps fund government research, usually for public university employees, for things such as seeding and managing the flats rather than coming up with more effective and efficient ways to harvest them.

DJH writes:

De Grey is a pseudo-science quack making transparently false claims in an effort to con money from the hopeful and underinformed. He is identical to the folks shilling atomically-aligned water online, only on a massive scale.

I am tremendously disappointed every time I see someone discussing his work and ideas seriously.

food writes:

DJH,

How is De Grey conning people? He isn't selling anything except books, and if that were all he were interested in it would have been easier to include less science and make the book itself more - well - interesting.

Also, specifically which of his claims do you consider to be be similar to those of "atomically-aligned water" sellers? Do you think that the idea of repairing mitochondrial DNA is too far-fetched? Perhaps you think that telomerase can never be used in medicine? I'd be interested to know what your opinion is.

DJH writes:

"He isn't selling anything except books"

De Grey's entire effort is focused on a massive shift in funding towards immortality pseudo-science. It's swindling writ large.

"which of his claims do you consider to be be similar to those of "atomically-aligned water" sellers?"

Not a challenging question. We'll start big: "Our life expectancy will be in the region of 5,000 years" [by 2100].

De Grey's mischaracterizations of the current science have been roundly and conclusively eviscerated by the actual experts in the field. He is a pop culture figure because science knows better. Serious but underinformed thinkers nonetheless fall for his routine because his claims are so appealing.

Iain writes:

>De Grey is a pseudo-science quack making >transparently false claims

Which claim is false and why?

>in an effort to con money from the hopeful and >underinformed.

No, all proceeds from his book go to his foundation.

>I am tremendously disappointed every time I see >someone discussing his work and ideas seriously.

In truth, Aubrey does not so much create ideas, as propose a strategy for solving a problem.

~Iain

caerus writes:

"I am tremendously disappointed every time I see someone discussing his work and ideas seriously."

Prepare to be very very disappointed. Your dismissal of the obvious direction in which technology is heading, with or without de Grey, belies your ignorance. Certainly it is a hard problem, but one which modern and increasingly powerful technologies will eventually 'crack'. Aubrey de Grey is not the only one who can see the writing on the wall...he's just the one who is willing to step out and speak up...with *courage* against those such as yourself who haven't the guts to do it.

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