The Methuselah Debates
Technology Review’s most widely read – and most controversial – story in 2005 was a profile of Aubrey de Grey, an English bioinformaticist and self-educated biogerontologist who has outlined a seven-point plan to cure human aging (see Do You Want to Live Forever?, February). The story provoked reams of criticism, from both de Grey’s supporters and his detractors. The former, who approve of de Grey’s quest to defeat death – known as “strategies for engineered negligible senescence,” or SENS – were outraged by Technology Review’s skeptical tone. At the other end of the spectrum, traditional biogerontologists were annoyed that de Grey’s ideas were getting any press at all.
Prior to the debate in our pages (both print and online), few scientists in the field had come out against de Grey – who has become one of the world’s most quoted anti-aging scientists. After the story, in November 2005, molecular biology journal EMBO reports published a letter signed by approximately 30 scientists explaining why de Grey’s popularity is detrimental to the goals of anti-aging research.
“We as journalists and scientists have a duty to present this in a critical framework,” says Jason Pontin, editor in chief of Technology Review. “Biogerontology matters because geriatrics matters, now more than ever. Anything we can do to create therapies so people can live a long, healthy life until the end – that will be the great accomplishment of biogerontology.” (Also see our Q&A with Leonard Guarente, December 2005/January 2006.)
In September, Pontin issued the SENS challenge, a $20,000 prize to any molecular biologist or group of molecular biologists who could satisfactorily explain why the SENS plan wouldn’t work. Technology Review has received several entries and will announce a winner early next year.
A healthful new year to all our readers.