Lifespan in graphs, at boingboing

Over at boingboing, guest blogger Charles Platt has initiated a series of posts in which he looks at lifespan projections graphical form (the first two are histograms). He’s staying very close to the primary data, but it’s clear from some of his prose and comments that Mr. Platt would fit in just fine around here:

The good news is that the longer you live, the longer you are likely to live. Thus, at birth in the United States, under conditions that prevail today, you can expect to live for a little more than 75 years. But at age 75, on average you still have another 10 years left. How can this be? Because some of the people who were born around the same time as yourself have already died by the time you’re 75, leaving only a subset who were less susceptible to disease (or accidents).

The bad news is that despite all our advances in medicine, sanitation, and other relevant factors, the chart still tapers off around age 100. Average lifespan has increased, but maximum lifespan has not changed significantly.

One reason may be that research to prolong maximum lifespan receives minuscule funding, especially compared with popular endeavors such as cancer research. Many people seem to feel that extending maximum lifespan would be “wrong” (even at a time of rapidly declining birth rates in many nations) or “unnatural” (even though our average life expectancy used to be around 40, and has improved through totally unnatural means such as antibiotics).

As you may infer from the quotation marks, I disagree. …

How will our current prediction turn out fifty years from now? Presumably the answer depends on our priorities. If lives are worth saving, perhaps it will make sense to fund more research into the aging process.

I’ll keep a running tab of his lifespan-related posts here; at present I have no idea how many of them he plans to run.

Always nice to encounter a fellow traveller.

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One comment

  1. I just learned that Platt is a moderate denialist of anthropogenic climate change; he’s run a series of posts at boingboing linking to denialist books.

    He’s one of the more reasonable-sounding denialists I’ve encountered, but as with all of their ilk his arguments lean heavily on cherry-picking of data; scurrilous accusation (just where did Al Gore get all that money?); the implication that gaps in climatological models make all of their conclusions suspect; and the occasional misleading statement bordering on falsehood (“each linear increment in the volume of carbon dioxide causes a progressively smaller increase in temperature”).

    I want to make it clear that by describing Platt as a “fellow traveller” in the post above, I’m only referring to his views about lifespan extension, rather than any other subject.

    While we’re on the topic:

    I’ve noticed a small but positive correlation between denial of anthropogenic climate change and advocacy of lifespan extension, and that makes me a little sad.

    I understand why longevity advocates might want to oppose the idea of anthropogenic climate change, since one of the arguments against longevity enhancement is that we might end up in a Malthusian catastrophe of overpopulation, which in turn might exacerbate climatological problems.

    One easy way to get around this would be to argue that longevity enhancement wouldn’t cause overpopulation; another would be to deny that population was in any way connected to climate change.

    But just because a scientific conclusion conflicts with one’s heartfelt wishes doesn’t make that conclusion false. Science isn’t like politics; one can’t apply ideology to the outcome of experiments, or choose the scientific conclusions that best fit one’s pre-existing beliefs about how the world ought to work.

    There is no left-wing or right-wing science, no liberal science or libertarian science; there’s just science, and if it turns out that something we want and something that is true are in conflict, we’re going to damn well have to deal with it — not wish away the truth.

    As I’ve argued before:

    [B]eing honest with ourselves about the risks of major intervention in any basic parameter of human performance is the best way to intelligently prepare against adverse consequences. Let us always be suspicious of arguments in which everything lines up in favor of one side and no one has to make a complex decision.

    It can both be true that humanity will benefit tremendously from lifespan extension and that longevity enhancement will cause short- or even long-term population issues and that population + technology = warming (if left unchecked). And if that’s complicated or hard to process — well, that’s life.

    Rejiggering the basic assumptions underlying our arguments in order to get the conclusions we want doesn’t help anyone.

    After all, as Philip K. Dick wrote, “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.”

    Or if you prefer Rand:

    “Nobody stays here by faking reality in any manner whatever.”

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