Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Challenging SENS

Remember back in January 2005 when Technology Review editor-in-chief Jason Pontin slammed anti-aging expert Aubrey de Grey? Well, looks like Pontin is at it again, and this time he's putting his money where his mouth is.

Last July Pontin offered a challenge to anyone who could successfully discredit de Grey's theory of SENS (Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence). The contest winner would demonstrate that SENS "is so wrong that it is unworthy of learned debate."

Soon thereafter, de Grey's Methuselah Foundation pledged an additional $10,000 to anyone who could meet the requirements of the challenge.

Today, nine months later, Pontin has finally announced the five judges: Rodney Brooks, Anita Goel, Vikram Kumar, Nathan Myhrvold and J. Craig Venter. None of them are bonafide gerontologists, but Pontin did try to get more specialized biologists on board, including Cynthia Kenyon. For whatever reason (perhaps they didn't want to challenge a colleague, or their heart wasn't in it), it's not clear why Pontin couldn't get a more credible panel.

Regardless, I say bring it on.

This is what science is all about. Pontin's motives may be mean spirited, but if de Grey is right, he's going to have to hold up to this kind of scrutiny whatever the reasons.

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