Unhelpful to dying field

March 17, 2006

Non-gerontologists should be in no doubt that Aubrey de Grey is long on hyperbole and short on science ("Do you want to live to be 800?", March 10). His academic position at Cambridge is (or was) that of a computer associate for a fruit-fly database, nothing more.

The European Molecular Biology Organisation Reports article (which provided convincing arguments against the Strategy for Engineered Negligible Senescence) in fact appeared after a $20,000 prize was offered to anyone who could "prove" to an independent panel that Sens had no merit and not before as your article implies. I recommended that the authors of the piece formally claimed the money. I do not know if it has been awarded to them but it certainly deserves to be.

I recently participated in a public debate with de Grey where I offered my own critique of his views. Given the current pay dispute, I was heartbroken when he failed to press £11,500 in cash on me afterwards. Perhaps he had left the money at home.

There is a sad postscript to this whole farrago. Recently, a public dissemination event was held by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council to showcase six years of ground-breaking research by dozens of British gerontologists. Outputs from these projects suggest that death and morbidity in the older population can be substantially reduced.

At a time when gerontology faces a severe shortage of funding, popular understanding of these achievements is crucial and responsible media have a key role to play. In our hour of need, reporters from The Times Higher were nowhere to be seen. This is the damage de Grey does to gerontology and to the well-being of the older people whose lives he claims to value.

Richard Faragher Co-director of the Strategic Promotion of Ageing Research Capacity network Brighton University

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