Posted 08 January 2006 - 02:11 PM
Here's the reply I sent Elixxir by email and invited him to post on his blog.
Many thanks for your thoughts. I agree wholeheartedly with most of what
you say, but I believe you have overlooked a couple of points and that
these points invalidate your conclusions.
First, you are wrong to suppose that a campaign of the sort you describe
has the faintest hope, as things stand, of influencing public policy on
the funding of life extension research. The problem is that governments
wil not fund something unless they perceive that it will win them votes,
and currently society is overwhelmingly in what I've termed a pro-aging
trance, whereby they resolutely persist in believing that serious life
extension is not only impossible but is also undesirable on account of
the social upheavals it would cause. Thus, of the four communities that
might make a difference to the pace of the relevant research, the one
which there is no point whatever in directly lobbying is the government.
Lasker didn't have this problem -- there was no pro-cancer trance. My
colleagues in biogerontology have been trying the political lobbying
route for decades, and a few successes have been obtained, such as the
founding on the National Institute on Aging 30 years ago, but progress
has been virtually imperceptible since then because politicians have no
reason to listen. Politicians don't listen to lobbyists -- they listen
to voters and voters' representatives.
The other three communities are biogerontologists, the general public and
philanthropists. Starting with the public: my present high media profile
is giving me the opportunity to chip away at the pro-aging trance, step
by step getting people to think enough about the prospect of a post-aging
world to realise that it's actually quite attractive. The more I can get
that to happen, the better the chance of eventual government funding for
this work. And that's the first reason why the Mprize is such a great
idea: it captures the imagination of the media and the public and gets
them to take notice, giving me more chance to get my message across.
Now to biogerontologists. You're right that a few million dollars will
get us nowhere in terms of human therapies, but mouse experiments don't
cost quite so much. Moreover, people are getting involved in the prize
not just to win the money but because they are inspired by the idea. I
would suggest to you that Paul Allen didn't fund Space Ship One in order
to win $10 million. And this applies to the scientists involved too --
they have a new reason, publicity, to do work that otherwise they might
have deprioritised but with which they know they will probably generate
a lot of good science, even leaving aside the relevance to eventual life
extension for humans. And that publicity derives from the size of the
prize fund, but also from the rate at which the fund is growing and the
number of donors. I urge all readers to contribute to the prize fund,
however little you can afford, because the more donors there are, the
stronger a message is sent that this work has public support.
Finally, though - and most importantly - I want to draw your attention
to the potential of philanthropic funding to influence the pace of this
work. I've estimated that with $100 million per year of funding we'd
have a 90% chance of achieving what I call "robust mouse rejuvenation"
within just ten years. That means taking mice that are naturally quite
long-lived (i.e. not genetically impaired) -- average lifespan of three
years -- and increasing that lifespan to five years with therapies that
are only begun when the mice are already two years old. Trebling their
remaining lifespan, in other words, measured from the point when these
therapies are begun. My belief is that that's the sort of result that
the public can't ignore, however deep their pro-aging trance, and thus
that from that point on government funding will be unlimited. And $100
million per year for ten years is an amount that private individuals
can certainly provide, once they're convinced that SENS is a feasible
plan, one with a fair chance of success and certainly a much better
chance than any vailable alternative. So philanthropists are my main
audience at this point -- and again, the Mprize is playing a key role
in raising the profile of this work and getting me in a position to make
philanthropic funding materialise.