The stated goal of the SENS Challenge was to demonstrate that “SENS is so wrong that it is unworthy of learned debate.” Whether or not this was accomplished by a given submission was to be determined by a panel of judges, and the final judges were self-selected from a large pool of people offered positions on the panel. Persons with relevant expertise were not included in the final panel of judges, leaving only those who know little or nothing of the existing learned debate within gerontology and life extension research. We have long objected to these and other aspects related to the judging of this challenge, and they have given us little confidence in its overall structure.
Therefore, we decided to direct all of our communications – including this response to the decision of the SENS challenge judges – primarily to the Technology Review readership. Since we don’t regard SENS to be legitimate science or engineering, we didn’t criticize it as a bad or immature example of either. We also didn’t attempt to show that SENS is demonstrably wrong, since this is extremely difficult to do with an untested plan comprising legitimate science bundled together with hand-waving speculations – even though the majority of these speculations cannot be taken seriously. Instead, we used this as an opportunity to describe general features of life extension pseudoscience and we used these general features to assess SENS. We showed that SENS is stereotypical pseudoscience, with its characteristic pervasive misrepresentations, diversionary sophistry, naïve and faulty science, and so on.
The summary of the judges’ opinion states that SENS is not “demonstrably wrong,” and Craig Venter says we have “not demonstrated that SENS is unworthy of discussion.” It seems they suggest that SENS is highly speculative theorizing but not outside the bounds of legitimate science or engineering speculation. We strongly disagree with this assessment. Here are three primary attributes of SENS that differentiate it from the kind of nascent science or engineering described by the judges:
1. Direct contradiction of key claims by much available and generally accepted evidence.
2. Aubrey de Grey’s pervasive falsehoods and misrepresentations.
3. Aubrey de Grey’s demonstrated misunderstanding of relevant science and engineering.
These attributes might not make SENS “unworthy of discussion” by willfully uninformed immortalist dreamers, but they certainly make SENS “unworthy of learned debate” by people interested in real gerontological science and engineering. The judges also write: “Some scientists react very negatively toward those who seek to claim the mantle of scientific authority for ideas that have not yet been proved. Estep et al. seem to have this philosophy.” We think a more appropriate statement of our philosophy is that we react very negatively toward those who seek to claim the mantle of scientific authority for ideas that are directly contradicted by a vast majority of current evidence, and are based fundamentally on misrepresentations of relevant science and engineering.
Curiously, the judges deemed our submission to be the best among three, but they disagree with our overall assessment that SENS is pseudoscience without even acknowledging the reasons why we reached our conclusion. They make no comment on any of our primary criticisms or on the presentation of evidence clearly demonstrating that SENS possesses the attributes listed above, attributes that strongly suggest that SENS is unworthy of learned debate. Why not? Is their silence an implicit acceptance of such attributes in early-stage science and engineering? If so, we strongly disagree. We think the presented evidence is clear and the judges have simply failed to further investigate the pattern of Aubrey de Grey’s misconduct, even though we presented to them ample justification to do so. Therefore, we provide even more evidence that Aubrey de Grey has made overtly and transparently false claims in his response to us, and despite the ease with which these falsities are found, the judges failed to detect or consider them.