Jason Pontin, Technology Review’s Editor-in-Chief, and Brad King, Technology Review’s Web editor, have invited me to respond to the trio of articles about me and my work that appear in the February 2005 issue of Technology Review with this online-only piece, in addition to a short “letter to the editor” from me that will appear in the print edition.
Dr. Sherwin Nuland’s article covers three topics: (a) me, (b) the desirability of greatly postponing aging, and (c) the feasibility of doing so. In the time he and I spent together we discussed (c) very little indeed, not least because, as a physician rather than a biologist, Nuland well appreciated that he is not equipped to evaluate the difficulty of developing technologies that even I do not expect to be available to humans for at least 20 years. He notes this as follows:
“But others can challenge de Grey’s science. My purpose was something else entirely.”.
For reasons that remain obscure, however, Nuland later changes his mind and takes it upon himself to give a reason (not mentioned during our discussions, needless to say) why we will probably never postpone aging much:
“Unlike engineers, the adoption of whose methodology de Grey considers his main conceptual contribution to solving the problems of aging, biologists do not approach physiological events as distinct entities that have no effect on any others. Each of de Grey’s interventions will very likely result in unpredictable and incalculable responses the next thing you know, it all explodes in your face.”
Engineers reading his article may beg to differ concerning whether they can successfully manipulate systems consisting of mutually interacting subsystems, and the briefest consultation of my publications will reveal that it is precisely the management of those interactions, by the judicious choice of which places to intervene, that defines my approach.
Most upmarket writers, having hit belatedly on a new reason why their subject is deluded, might have thought to raise it with that subject before risking committing such a serious error – by some way the worst in his article, overshadowing a variety of overstatements of how far we currently are from developing some of the components of my SENS scheme.
Or if not the writer, at least the magazine’s staff. By contrast, the Technology Review staff instead chose to use this offhand evaluation as the foundation for a commentary piece. They first compliment Nuland’s ability to judge my science even more effusively than Nuland compliments my intellect:
“Sherwin Nuland would not be satisfied by anything less than rigorous scientific reasoning and evidence. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine a writer more qualified to profile the eccentric de Grey.”
And then, overlooking the facts that Nuland noted just the opposite (see above) and that his article duly offers no specifics whatsoever to back up his view that aging is essentially immutable, they buy his assertion of the impossibility of major life extension as uncritically as a child buys an ice cream – not quite what one would expect from the staff of a serious technology publication.