Sunday, July 31, 2005

Technology Review against SENS

Jason Pontin, the editor of Technology Review has issued a challenge:
submit an intellectually serious argument that SENS is so wrong that it is unworthy of learned debate, and you will be paid $20,000 if it convinces independent referees.
SENS (Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence) is Aubrey de Grey's program to . de Grey has put a fair amount of intellectual effort into this fight, and has produced an argument that is convincing to some, but apparently repugnant to others. (See the article in TR, and an editorial by Pontin in which he made it clear that he found de Grey's ideas distasteful, but didn't have anything to say about the science.

The statement above is curious for a scientific inquiry. Pontin isn't asking whether SENS is possible, or might be debugged so as to reach de Grey's goals, he wants someone to show that no one should listen to de Grey or try to convince others that he's wrong. It seems like Pontin has proven the point he's trying to defeat. If it takes $20,000 to convince gerontologists (or if that amount is insufficient) to come up with an intellectually serious argument, then isn't the question worthy of serious debate?

My impression is that serious physicists stay away from claims about perpetual motion machines because they could spend all their time debunking them with no gain. And it would be a pure loss to a particular physicist if he came up against a kook who had built a device that the physicist couldn't figure out in a reasonable amount of time.

But de Grey's proposition is different. He's written serious articles in serious journals, co-authored by serious experts arguing that various aspects of his program make good engineering sense, comport with the standard biological models, and would move us toward longer healthy lives. There aren't an endless supply of other crackpots that the gerontologists would have to debunk if they accepted de Grey's challenge.

Pontin states his rules clearly and simply. #2 is

The purpose of the Challenge is to establish whether SENS is worthy of serious consideration. Submissions are sought that attempt to demonstrate that it is not.
People of the opposite view need not apply. It sure doesn't look like the purpose of the Challenge is to establish whether SENS is worthy of serious consideration.

Pontin's reply at is more ambivalent.

  • Indefinite life might be good for me, and I might wish it for those that I love, but an entire world of superagenarians might be a bad thing.
  • I am not sure significant life extension is possible [...]
  • But if SENS is reasonable, it's obviously very important news, and worthy of serious attention[...]

I got my first pointer into the discussion from the extropians chat list, but there are enough pointers here to connect you to many threads of discussion all over the net.


Dave Gobel said...

Hi Chris - It's important to note that the TR SENS Challenge was suggested and is partially guaranteed by the Methuselah Foundation and is supported by Aubrey.

Chris Hibbert said...

I saw that Aubrey/Methuselah is funding it (and that Aubrey is arguing that it is a good thing for longevity research), but in all the threads I followed I missed the fact that the challenge was his idea. I thought he was making lemonade from lemons someone gave him, but it sounds like he may have been the one to pick the lemons. Thanks for your note.

Longevity Science said...
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