This house wants to defeat ageing entirely was a fantastic public debate held last Wednesday (April 25th, 2012) at Oxford University. The two interlocutors were Dr. Aubrey de Grey and Prof. Colin Blakemore, who is a high-profile neuroscientist and science communicator as well as the ex-head of the Medical Research Council, UK’s largest funding body for biomedical research.
This house wants to defeat ageing entirely addressed both the feasibility and the desirability of bringing aging under comprehensive medical control. Moreover, one can claim it was quite a watershed event, since it was the first time that a bona fide grandee of the British biomedical establishment has risen to the challenge of describing publicly, in a forum where he can be challenged, why intervention against aging is not in fact medicine’s most pressing priority.
Now, I am not a scientist or a medical expert so I can’t judge the accuracy of the scientific details. However, from a logical or rhetorical point of view I have to say that Dr. Aubrey de Grey clearly won the debate. Thus it was unfortunate when the moderator didn’t even bother to actually count the votes accurately after the debate because I am willing to bet that Aubrey de Grey did win a substantial number of the audience as compared to their original pre-debate predispositions.
What annoyed me immensely was that Prof. Colin Blakemore not only took substantially more time to lay out his position than Aubrey, but also did not restrain himself to claim that “Aubrey had opinions beyond his expertise” while himself committing a number of logical fallacies such as appeal to authority, strawman, ad hominem, appeal to nature, circular reasoning etc. To sum up Colin Blakemore’s position in one sentence – defeating ageing can’t be done because it hasn’t been done before and shouldn’t be done because it is both a waste of resources and will lead to a global Malthusian apocalypse. I can’t resist using Colin’s own words against himself and note that he is clearly “beyond his expertise” when it comes to both economics and rhetoric.
Keep up the good work Aubrey! Your debate reminded me of President of the Royal Society Lord Kelvin’s 1895 statement that “heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible”. Less than a decade later two bicycle manufactures demonstrated that his Lordship was, in fact, totally wrong.
The Debate of the Ages: This House Wants to Defeat Ageing Entirely