Is a For-Profit Fight Aging! Possible to Envisage?

Useful activities in our community can be powered either by zealotry or by money. Zealotry has the advantage of being cheap, but the profound disadvantages of being rare, unreliable, and never quite optimally opinionated for the task at hand. Set a zealot to a challenge and you get the output the zealot decides upon, and only for so long as he or she is suitably motivated by whatever internal alchemy is at work in that particular case. Sustainable, reliable, long-term zealots only exist in stories. Money, on the other hand, has the disadvantage of being expensive, but for for so long as income is greater than expenditure, it can be used to produce reliable, sustainable, long-term outcomes. Changing the world always starts with the zealots, but the whole point of the subsequent bootstrapping process is to transition to money rather than zealotry as a power source just about as rapidly as possible. The future is defined by the few visionaries who care greatly enough to set aside their lives to work upon it, but it is enacted by the vastly greater number of people who take a paycheck and go home at the end of the work day.

To the extent we agree that the advocacy, fundraising, and other matters accomplished via Fight Aging! are good things, we’d like to see more of this taking place. More of it, and not dependent on the fickle motivations of zealots. Ultimately that means finding ways to do what Fight Aging! does, but for profit, with money. In this I do not mean Fight Aging! itself, which will be powered by zealotry until such time as the alchemy fails, at which point it will vanish just like everything else does in time, but something like it, and preferably dozens of varied somethings. Experimentation and diversity drive progress, and we won’t find out exactly what it is that Fight Aging! is doing suboptimally without the existence of many other attempts at the same types of initiative.

In the years that I have been running Fight Aging!, I’ve seen many longevity science interest and news sites come and go. Zealotry has a short half-life. When it comes to the money side of the house, things haven’t been much better, however. The typical ad-supported sites roll over and die fairly quickly; there never was enough money in that to do it for a niche interest such as ours over the past fifteen years. Their business models fail, and they linger a little while on the fumes of zealotry until that also departs. The initiatives that try sponsorship from the “anti-aging” marketplace tend to last longer, but are so corrupted by that revenue that they quickly lose all possible usefulness and relevance. You can’t take money from people pushing interventions that do not work and still speak with correctness and authority.

See the Life Extension Foundation’s long-running magazine, for example; how is any layperson supposed to tell the difference between the bulk of self-serving nonsense and the occasional perspicacious and useful article? And these are people who are strong supporters of the use of medicine to end aging, and fund some quite sensible research with proceeds from their business, but is really isn’t possible to discern this from their materials, where they are doing just as much damage to the future of the field of longevity science as any other random “anti-aging” supplement company. The point of the exercise is to identify and advocate lines of research and development with high expectation values when it comes to effects on healthy life span, and unfortunately all of the ready money willing to pay for eyeballs-slash-victims involves selling snake oil or convincing the world that snake oil is the way forward.

This might change. One could envisage a Fight Aging! clone comfortably sponsored by the rounding errors in Unity Biotechnology’s annual budget, or by some near future responsible confederacy of clinics offering senolytic therapies. Here the challenge becomes the more subtle one of being beholden to the controllers of a particular approach or orthodoxy that happens to work. It is infinitely better than taking money from people selling resveratrol laced with outright lies about the state of the science, but still has its problems. A more desirable situation is represented by, say, ALZFORUM, in which the money comes from a large research funding source, and is thus more agnostic on what can and can’t be said. Still, we’re talking about degrees of editorial freedom, not its absence. Money always comes with at least some strings attached. Further, research funding sources with an interest in this sort of thing are not common, sad to say.

Another interesting model, somewhat similar to that for ALZFORUM, perhaps, is that represented by Geroscience, supported by Apollo Ventures. For a venture fund, running an online magazine is a small expense, and well justified given the uses it can be put to, even if comparatively editorially independent. A venture fund is an opinion crystallized into money, a wager on the future of an industry that will tend to do better the more that people agree with its core opinion. So why not have a magazine to talk up the market and raise awareness? I’m actually quite surprised that this approach doesn’t have a wider adoption in venture capital circles. Geroscience has a likely life span of a decade or more because it is coupled to a fund, which is plenty of time to gather a sizable audience by producing a quality product, but I don’t think that the owners are going about things in quite the right way to gain that broader visibility and higher traffic. This is possibly because they have no need to do that to satisfy their immediate goals. Daily or near-daily updates in addition to longer articles are necessary and powerful, and they are not doing this.

A further option for involving money in the process as a slow replacement for initial zealotry is that used by Longecity to some degree, and by the Life Extension Advocacy Foundation of late, which is sponsorship by members and patrons. I really can’t point to many past examples of this in our space, and it unclear as to whether this is because ours is a small, comparatively young community measured in the grand scheme of things, or because this approach to introducing money is hard to carry out. I do think we have a challenge in the form of cheap research costs; this is of course a blessing for the pace of research and the ability to crowdfund useful work, but makes it hard to fund any of the many necessary areas of community infrastructure that are not research. When meaningful research projects and meaningful advocacy projects cost the same few tens of thousands of dollars, it is a tough choice to give to the latter. The rational actors in our community of supporters near always makes the short-term decision to donate to the SENS Research Foundation rather than to the organization helping to expand awareness of SENS and raise funds for the SENS Research Foundation. This isn’t sustainable, however, because it means that necessary functions in our community wind up propped up by zealotry rather than money – and that always comes to its inevitable end sooner rather than later.

In any case, there is no particular conclusion to this line of thinking today, beyond a note that I’d like to see more Fight Aging! alternatives out there, ones running on some basis other than volunteer efforts, but which nonetheless are capable of unbiased advocacy discussion of the best approaches to enhancing healthy human longevity.

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