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Impacts of Indefinite Life Extension: Answers to Common Questions – Video by G. Stolyarov II

Impacts of Indefinite Life Extension: Answers to Common Questions – Video by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
******************************

As a proponent of attaining indefinite human longevity through the progress of medical science and technology, Mr. Stolyarov is frequently asked to address key questions about the effects that indefinite life extension would have on human incentives, behaviors, and societies. Here, he offers his outlook on what some of these impacts would be.

The specific questions addressed are the following:
1. What would be the benefits of life extension?
2. What drawbacks would life extension pose?
3. Would governments ban indefinite life extension if it is achieved?

References

– “Impacts of Indefinite Life Extension: Answers to Common Questions” – Essay by G. Stolyarov II
Death is Wrong – Illustrated Children’s Book by G. Stolyarov II

Impacts of Indefinite Life Extension: Answers to Common Questions – Article by G. Stolyarov II

Impacts of Indefinite Life Extension: Answers to Common Questions – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
******************************

As a proponent of attaining indefinite human longevity through the progress of medical science and technology, I am frequently asked to address key questions about the effects that indefinite life extension would have on human incentives, behaviors, and societies. Here, I offer my outlook on what some of these impacts would be.

What would be the benefits of life extension?

(1) The greatest benefit of life extension is the continued existence of the individual who remains alive. Each individual – apart from the worst criminals – has incalculable moral value and is a universe of ideas, experiences, emotions, and memories. When a person dies, that entire universe is extinguished, and, to the person who dies, everything is lost and not even a memory remains. It is as if the individual never existed at all. This is the greatest possible loss and should be averted if at all possible. The rest of us, of course, also lose the possible benefits and opportunities of interacting with that individual.

(2) People would be able to accomplish far more with longer lifespans. They could pursue multiple careers and multi-year personal projects and could reliably accumulate enough resources to sustainably enjoy life. They could develop their intellectual, physical, and relational capabilities to the fullest. Furthermore, they would exhibit longer-term orientations, since they could expect to remain to live with the consequences of decisions many decades and centuries from now. I expect that a world of longer-lived individuals would involve far less pollution, corruption, fraud, hierarchical oppression, destruction of other species, and short-term exploitation of other humans. Prudence, foresight, and pursuit of respectful, symbiotic interactions would prevail. People would tend to live in more reflective, measured, and temperate ways instead of seeking to haphazardly cram enjoyment and activity into the tiny slivers of life they have now. At the same time, they would also be more open to experimentation with new projects and ideas, since they would have more time to devote to such exploratory behaviors.

(3) Upon becoming adults, people would no longer live life in strict stages, and the normative societal expectations of “what one should do with one’s life” at a particular stage would relax considerably. If a person at age 80 is biologically indistinguishable from a person at age 20, the strict generational divides of today would dissipate, allowing a much greater diversity of human interactions. People will tend to become more tolerant and cosmopolitan, having more time to explore other ways of living and to understand those who are different from them.

(4) Technological, scientific, and economic progress would accelerate rapidly, because precious intellectual capital would not be lost to the ravages of death and disease. Longer-lived humans would be more likely to invest in projects that would materialize over the course of decades, including space travel and colonization, geo-engineering and terraforming, prevention of asteroid impacts and other natural disasters, safe nuclear disarmament and disposal of nuclear waste, and long-term preservation of the human species. The focus of most intelligent people would shift from meeting quarterly or annual business earnings goals and toward time- and resource-intensive projects that could avert existential dangers to humankind and also expand humanity’s reach, knowledge, and benevolence. The achievement of significant life extension would inspire many intelligent people to try to solve other age-old problems instead of resigning to the perception of their inevitability.

(5) Major savings to health-care systems, both private and governmental, would result if the largest expenses – which occur in the last years of life today, in the attempt to fight a losing battle against the diseases of old age – are replaced by periodic and relatively inexpensive rejuvenation and maintenance treatments to forestall the advent of biological senescence altogether. Health care could truly become about the pursuit of sustainable good health instead of a last-ditch effort against the onslaught of diseases that accompanies old age today. Furthermore, the strain on public pensions would be alleviated as advanced age would cease to be a barrier to work.

What drawbacks would life extension pose?

I do not see true drawbacks to life extension. Certainly, the world and all human societies would change significantly, and there would be some upheaval as old business models and ways of living are replaced by new ones. However, this has happened with every major technological advance in history, and in the end the benefits far outweigh any transitional costs. For the people who remain alive, the avoidance of the greatest loss of all will be well worth it, and the human capacity for adaptation and growth in the face of new circumstances is and has always been remarkable.  Furthermore, the continued presence of individuals from older generations would render this transition far more humane than any other throughout history. After all, entire generations would no longer be swept away by the ravages of time. They could persist and preserve their knowledge and experience as anchors during times of change.

Every day, approximately 150,000 people die, and approximately 100,000 of them die from causes related to senescence. If those deaths can be averted and the advent of indefinite life extension accelerated by even a few days, hundreds of thousands of irreplaceable individual universes would be preserved. This is worth paying even substantial costs in my view, but, fortunately, I think the other – economic and societal – effects that accompany life extension would be overwhelmingly positive as well.

As Death is Wrong, my illustrated children’s book on the prospects for life extension, points out, “Death is the enemy of us all, to be fought with medicine, science, and technology.” The book discusses the benefits of life extension in a language and format accessible to most children of ages 8 or older. Death is Wrong also outlines some common arguments against life extension and reasonable responses to them.  For instance, I respond to the common overpopulation argument as follows: “human population is the highest it has ever been, and most people live far longer, healthier, more prosperous lives than their ancestors did when the Earth’s population was hundreds of times smaller. Technology gives us far more food, energy, and living space than our ancestors had, and the growth in population only gives us more smart people who can create even more technologies to benefit us all. Besides, humans ought to build more settlements on land, on water, underwater, and in space. Space travel could also save the human species if the Earth were hit by a massive asteroid that could wipe out complex life. ” I respond to the boredom argument by stating that, due to human creativity and discovery, the number of possible pursuits increases far faster than the ability of any individual to pursue them. For instance, thousands more books are published every day than a single person could possibly read.

ELFC_Death_is_Wrong

Would governments ban indefinite life extension if it is achieved?

Once life-extending treatments are developed and publicly available, national governments would not be effectively able to ban them, since there will not be a single medicine or procedure that would accomplish indefinite lifespans. Rather, indefinite life extension would be achieved through a combination of treatments, beating back today’s deadliest diseases using techniques that would not be limited in their application to people who explicitly want to live longer. (For instance, people who do not harbor that particular desire but do want to get rid of cancer, heart disease, or Alzheimer’s disease that may afflict them or their loved ones, would also benefit from the same treatments.) These treatments would be as embedded in the healthcare systems of the future as over-the-counter drugs like aspirin and ibuprofen are today; it would be practically impossible to ban them, and countries that did would face massive black markets or people traveling abroad to receive the same treatments.

Furthermore, genuine healthy life extension could be a great fiscal solution for many welfare states today, which are finding themselves with unsustainable burdens pertaining to old-age healthcare and pensions. The majority of health-care costs are expended to keep frail people alive a little bit longer and to fight an expensive and ultimately losing battle against the diseases of old age. The only way dramatic life extension could occur is if regular and relatively inexpensive maintenance (made inexpensive through the exponential progress of information technologies and bio/nanotechnology) prevented the decline of the body to such a stage where expensive, losing battles needed to be fought at all. Replacing the current extremely expensive end-of-life medical care with periodic rejuvenation and maintenance would be a great cost-saver and may avert a major fiscal crisis.

What concerns me is not governments banning life-extension technologies once they are developed, but rather existing political systems (and their associated politically connected established private institutions) creating barriers to the emergence of those technologies in the first place. Most of those barriers are probably inadvertent – for instance, the FDA’s approval process in the United States premised on a model of medicines and treatments that must focus on single diseases rather than the biological aging process as a whole. However, there have been influential “bioethicists”, such as Leon Kass, Daniel Callahan, and Sherwin Nuland, who have explicitly and extensively spoken and written against healthy life extension. It is important to win the contest of ideas so that public opinion does not give encouragement to the “bioconservative” bioethicists who want to use the political process to perpetuate the old cycle of life, death, and decay – where each generation must be swept away by the ravages of senescence. We must stand for life and against age-old rationalizations of our own demise.

This essay may be freely reproduced using the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike International 4.0 License, which requires that credit be given to the author, G. Stolyarov II. Find out about Mr. Stolyarov here.

The Two Faces of Aging: Cancer and Cellular Senescence – Article by Adam Alonzi

The Two Faces of Aging: Cancer and Cellular Senescence – Article by Adam Alonzi

The New Renaissance Hat
Adam Alonzi
******************************

This article is republished with the author’s permission. It was originally posted on Radical Science News.

hELA-400x300Multiphoton fluorescence image of HeLa cells.

Aging, inflammation, cancer, and cellular senescence are all intimately interconnected. Deciphering the nature of each thread is a tremendous task, but must be done if preventative and geriatric medicine ever hope to advance. A one-dimensional analysis simply will not suffice. Without a strong understanding of the genetic, epigenetic, intercellular, and intracellular factors at work, only an incomplete picture can be formed. However, even with an incomplete picture, useful therapeutics can be and are being developed. One face is cancer, in reality a number of diseases characterized by uncontrolled cell division. The other is degradation, which causes a slue of degenerative disorders stemming from deterioration in regenerative capacity.

Now there is a new focus on making geroprotectors, which are a diverse and growing family of compounds that assist in preventing and reversing the unwanted side effects of aging. Senolytics, a subset of this broad group, accomplish this feat by encouraging the removal of decrepit cells. A few examples include dasatinib, quercetin, and ABT263. Although more research must be done, there are a precious handful of studies accessible to anyone with the inclination to scroll to the works cited section of this article. Those within the life-extension community and a few enlightened souls outside of it already know this, but it bears repeating: in the developed world all major diseases are the direct result of the aging process. Accepting this rather simple premise, and you really ought to, should stoke your enthusiasm for the first generation of anti-aging elixirs and treatments. Before diving into the details of these promising new pharmaceuticals, nanotechnology, and gene therapies we must ask what is cellular senescence? What causes it? What purpose does it serve?

Depending on the context in which it is operating, a single gene can have positive or negative effects on an organism’s phenotype. Often the gene is exerting both desirable and undesirable influences at the same time. This is called antagonistic pleiotropy. For example, high levels of testosterone can confer several reproductive advantages in youth, but in elderly men can increase their likelihood of developing prostate cancer. Cellular senescence is a protective measure; it is a response to damage that could potentially turn a healthy cell into a malignant one. Understandably, this becomes considerably more complex when one is examining multiple genes and multiple pathways. Identifying all of the players involved is difficult enough. Conboy’s famous parabiosis experiment, where a young mouse’s system revived an old ones, shows that alterations in the microenviornment, in this case identified and unidentified factors in the blood of young mice, can be very beneficial to their elders. Conversely, there is a solid body of evidence that shows senescent cells can have a bad influence on their neighbors. How can something similar be achieved in humans without having to surgically attach a senior citizen to a college freshman?

By halting its own division, a senescent cell removes itself as an immediate tumorigenic threat. Yet the accumulation of nondividing cells is implicated in a host of pathologies, including, somewhat paradoxically, cancer, which, as any life actuary’s mortality table will show, is yet another bedfellow of the second half of life. The single greatest risk factor for developing cancer is age. The Hayflick Limit is well known to most people who have ever excitedly watched the drama of a freshly inoculated petri dish. After exhausting their telomeres, cells stop dividing. Hayflick et al. astutely noted that “the [cessation of cell growth] in culture may be related to senescence in vivo.” Although cellular senescnece is considered irreversible, a select few cells can resume normal growth after the inactivation of the p53 tumor suppressor. The removal of p16, a related gene, resulted in the elimination of the progeroid phenotype in mice. There are several important p’s at play here, but two are enough for now.

Our bodies are bombarded by insults to their resilient but woefully vincible microscopic machinery. Oxidative stress, DNA damage, telomeric dysfunction, carcinogens, assorted mutations from assorted causes, necessary or unnecessary immunological responses to internal or external factors, all take their toll. In response cells may repair themselves, they may activate an apoptotic pathway to kill themselves, or just stop proliferating. After suffering these slings and arrows, p53 is activated. Not surprisingly, mice carrying a hyperactive form of p53 display high levels of cellular senescence. To quote Campisi, abnormalities in p53 and p15 are found in “most, if not all, cancers.” Knocking p53 out altogether produced mice unusually free of tumors, but those mice find themselves prematurely past their prime. There is a clear trade-off here.

In a later experiment Garcia-Cao modified p53 to only express itself when activated. The mice exhibited normal longevity as well as an“unusual resistance to cancer.” Though it may seem so, these two cellular states are most certainly not opposing fates. As it is with oxidative stress and nutrient sensing, two other components of senescence or lack thereof, the goal is not to increase or decrease one side disproportionately, but to find the correct balance between many competing entities to maintain healthy homeostasis. As mentioned earlier, telomeres play an important role in geroconversion, the transformation of quiescent cells into senescent ones. Meta-analyses have shown a strong relationship between short telomeres and mortality risk, especially in younger people. Although cancer cells activate telomerase to overcome the Hayflick Limit, it is not entirely certain if the activation of telomerase is oncogenic.

majormouse

SASP (senescence-associated secretory phenotype) is associated with chronic inflammation, which itself is implicated in a growing list of common infirmities. Many SASP factors are known to stimulate phenotypes similar to those displayed by aggressive cancer cells. The simultaneous injection of senescent fibroblasts with premalignant epithelial cells into mice results in malignancy. On the other hand, senescent human melanocytes secrete a protein that induces replicative arrest in a fair percentage of melanoma cells. In all experiments tissue types must be taken into account, of course. Some of the hallmarks of inflammation are elevated levels of IL-6, IL-8, and TNF-α. Inflammatory oxidative damage is carcinogenic and an inflammatory microenvironment is a good breeding ground for malignancies.

Caloric restriction extends lifespan in part by inhibiting TOR/mTOR (target of rapamycin/mechanistic target of rapamycin, also called  the mammalian target of rapamycin). TOR is a sort of metabolic manager, it receives inputs regarding the availability of nutrients and stress levels and then acts accordingly. Metformin is also a TOR inhibitor, which is why it is being investigated as a cancer shield and a longevity aid. Rapamycin has extended average lifespans in all species tested thus far and reduces geroconversion. It also restores the self-renewal and differentiation capacities of haemopoietic stem cells. For these reasons the Major Mouse Testing Program is using rapamycin as its positive control. mTOR and p53 dance (or battle) with each other beautifully in what Hasty calls the “Clash of the Gods.” While p53 inhibits mTOR1 activity, mTOR1 increases p53 activity. Since neither metformin nor rapamycin are without their share of unwanted side effects, more senolytics must be explored in greater detail.

Starting with a simple premise, namely that senescent cells rely on anti-apoptotic and pro-survival defenses more than their actively replicating counterparts, Campisi and her colleagues created a series of experiments to find the “Achilles’ Heel” of senescent cells. After comparing the two different cell states, they designed senolytic siRNAs. 39 transcripts were selected for knockdown by siRNA transfection, and 17 affected the viability of their target more than healthy cells. Dasatinib, a cancer drug, and quercitin, a common flavonoid found in common foods, have senolytic properties. The former has a proven proclivity for fat-cell progenitors, and the latter is more effective against endothelial cells. Delivered together, they they remove senescent mouse embryonic fibroblasts. Administration into elderly mice resulted in favorable changes in SA-BetaGAL (a molecule closely associated with SASP) and reduced p16 RNA. Single doses of D+Q together resulted in significant improvements in progeroid mice.

If you are not titillated yet, please embark on your own journey through the gallery of encroaching options for those who would prefer not to become chronically ill, suffer immensely, and, of course, die miserably in a hospital bed soaked with several types of their own excretions―presumably, hopefully, those who claim to be unafraid of death have never seen this image or naively assume they will never be the star of such a dismal and lamentably “normal” final act. There is nothing vain about wanting to avoid all the complications that come with time. This research is quickly becoming an economic and humanitarian necessity. The trailblazers who move this research forward will not only find wealth at the end of their path, but the undying gratitude of all life on earth.

Adam Alonzi is a writer, biotechnologist, documentary maker, futurist, inventor, programmer, and author of the novels “A Plank in Reason” and “Praying for Death: Mocking the Apocalypse”. He is an analyst for the Millennium Project, the Head Media Director for BioViva Sciences, and Editor-in-Chief of Radical Science News. Listen to his podcasts here. Read his blog here.

References

Blagosklonny, M. V. (2013). Rapamycin extends life-and health span because it slows aging. Aging (Albany NY), 5(8), 592.

Campisi, Judith, and Fabrizio d’Adda di Fagagna. “Cellular senescence: when bad things happen to good cells.” Nature reviews Molecular cell biology 8.9 (2007): 729-740.

Campisi, Judith. “Aging, cellular senescence, and cancer.” Annual review of physiology 75 (2013): 685.

Hasty, Paul, et al. “mTORC1 and p53: clash of the gods?.” Cell Cycle 12.1 (2013): 20-25.

Kirkland, James L. “Translating advances from the basic biology of aging into clinical application.” Experimental gerontology 48.1 (2013): 1-5.

Lamming, Dudley W., et al. “Rapamycin-induced insulin resistance is mediated by mTORC2 loss and uncoupled from longevity.” Science 335.6076 (2012): 1638-1643.

LaPak, Kyle M., and Christin E. Burd. “The molecular balancing act of p16INK4a in cancer and aging.” Molecular Cancer Research 12.2 (2014): 167-183.

Malavolta, Marco, et al. “Pleiotropic effects of tocotrienols and quercetin on cellular senescence: introducing the perspective of senolytic effects of phytochemicals.” Current drug targets (2015).

Rodier, Francis, Judith Campisi, and Dipa Bhaumik. “Two faces of p53: aging and tumor suppression.” Nucleic acids research 35.22 (2007): 7475-7484.

Rodier, Francis, and Judith Campisi. “Four faces of cellular senescence.” The Journal of cell biology 192.4 (2011): 547-556.

Salama, Rafik, et al. “Cellular senescence and its effector programs.” Genes & development 28.2 (2014): 99-114.

Tchkonia, Tamara, et al. “Cellular senescence and the senescent secretory phenotype: therapeutic opportunities.” The Journal of clinical investigation 123.123 (3) (2013): 966-972.

Zhu, Yi, et al. “The Achilles’ heel of senescent cells: from transcriptome to senolytic drugs.” Aging cell (2015).

 

Exemptions for Anti-Vaccination Activists Are Incompatible with Liberty: A Response to Robert P. Murphy – Article by G. Stolyarov II

Exemptions for Anti-Vaccination Activists Are Incompatible with Liberty: A Response to Robert P. Murphy – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance HatG. Stolyarov II
July 12, 2015
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The anti-vaccination movement today constitutes one of the most astounding rejections of scientific progress. Taking many steps beyond an aversion to emerging medical breakthroughs, this movement turns its back on modern medicine established as long ago as Edward Jenner’s famous experiments with vaccination in the 1790s. Largely fearing the completely discredited and fraudulent “connection” between vaccines and autism, opponents of vaccinations have no qualms about exposing masses of people to the infectious diseases that shortened typical lifespans by factors of two or three in the eras before vaccination was prevalent. The anti-vaccination movement’s scare tactics have already led to a resurgence of measles in the United States, bringing about the first death from the disease in 12 years within American borders. If vaccination rates continue to drop, we can expect more ancient killers to be resurrected, particularly endangering the lives and well-being of those who are unable to be vaccinated for legitimate medical reasons.

Vaccination has been among the most successful medical techniques in history. We have it to thank for the eradication of smallpox and impressive reductions of the rates of polio, tetanus, typhoid, cholera, and many other maladies that routinely reached epidemic proportions in the premodern world. The evidence is overwhelming that opponents of vaccination are not just mistaken, but dangerously so. Their pseudo-scientific rhetoric does not merely affect personal lifestyle choices, but also exposes innocent individuals to harm. Yet the question has arisen as to how libertarians, who reject the initiation of aggression as a matter of principle, ought to respond to the anti-vaccination movement. Even if one considers the refusal to vaccinate to be misguided and scientifically unfounded, should it remain a legitimate personal choice from the standpoint of the law or of private institutions within a hypothetical libertarian-leaning society? Recently, the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) hosted a debate between Robert P. Murphy, who argued that mandatory vaccinations are incompatible with liberty, and Randal John Meyer, who presented a case for the legitimacy of mandatory vaccination (in some circumstances) from the standpoint of the non-aggression principle.

As greatly as I respect Dr. Murphy’s work as an economist and a libertarian political theorist (despite some notable differences between us in the latter area), the strength of Dr. Meyer’s articulate arguments, as well as a recognition that opponents of vaccination do not only endanger themselves, lead me to wholly disagree with Dr. Murphy’s position in this debate. Dr. Murphy seems to agree with the medical science supporting the use of vaccines, but, out of libertarian considerations, writes that “Mandatory vaccinations are a gross violation of liberty.” Here I will argue that providing exemptions to mandatory vaccination on the mere basis of “philosophical” opposition to vaccination is the true violation of liberty.

Like Dr. Meyer, I base my argument on the non-aggression principle and the recognition that people do not have the right to involuntarily expose others to deadly diseases that, with continued vaccination, could become eradicated or remain at minimal levels. Unlike anti-vaccination activists, somebody who decides to take recreational drugs or consistently overeat or reject the scientific evidence about evolution harms only himself – physically or intellectually or both. While counterarguments might be made regarding indirect harms of such behaviors to others, those indirect harms are not proximate and can be prevented by the individual himself or by the choices of those who refuse to be affected. Therefore, such mistaken choices of lifestyle or belief should only meet with voluntary persuasion and education. A libertarian respects the right of others to be wrong, as long as their wrong inflicts no involuntary harm upon others. But to infect unwitting others because one is “philosophically” opposed to vaccination is not a valid exercise of personal freedom and not a behavior that harms oneself only; it is, rather, a negligent infliction of harm in violation of others’ rights.

To be clear, my position does not recommend mandatory vaccination for everyone – since there can be legitimate medical reasons not to vaccinate some people who might be at greater risk of usually rare side effects or who might be too vulnerable for the vaccine to work properly (e.g., pregnant women, infants, or the elderly in the case of certain vaccines). But precisely because not everyone can be safely vaccinated, anyone who can be, should be – in order to prevent the spread of disease to those who cannot directly protect themselves. As my central position on this issue, I strongly support abolishing all “religious” or “philosophical” exemptions to vaccination, as well as any exemption based on the purportedly medical advice of a doctor who is a “vaccine skeptic”. Only medical doctors who recognize the benefits and efficacy of vaccination in the majority of instances, but consider the risk of adverse side effects to be too great for a particular patient, should be able to provide exemptions to vaccination. Furthermore, medical doctors who fabricate reasons for vaccine exemptions or who deny the efficacy of vaccines in fighting disease, where such denial affects their areas of practice, should be stripped of their licenses by the credentialing organizations that oversee them.

Nor does the elimination of belief-based vaccine exemptions imply the necessity of overwhelming enforcement of vaccination mandates. There should be enough enforcement, combined with education and social pressure, to bring herd immunity back to levels where a disease is kept at bay even if a few individuals slip through the cracks of the vaccination system for whatever reasons. The key is to avoid systematic allowances that lead to vaccination rates dropping below crucial thresholds.

Dr. Murphy writes that “Mandatory vaccinations involve a supreme violation of liberty, where agents of the state inject substances into someone’s body against his or her will.” However, nothing in my position requires the government to forcibly inject any person against that person’s will. Rather, the institutional mechanisms that have sufficed to maintain herd immunity prior to the rise of the anti-vaccination movement should simply be allowed to work without a belief-based exemption to get in their way. For instance, one can debate the legitimacy of public schools – but so long as they exist and remain a part of the lives of many families, they can justifiably be governed by rules designed to preserve the health of their students. Parents who refuse to vaccinate children (without a legitimate medical exemption) should simply be disallowed from sending those children to public schools, where they could serve as carriers of deadly diseases to other innocent children. Private schools could also choose to adopt similar criteria, requiring evidence of vaccination as a prerequisite for admitting a student (and, I hypothesize, in a libertarian society where legitimate science is able to triumph on a free market of ideas, almost all private schools would adopt such criteria). As a libertarian, I would consider the use of physical force against people’s bodies to achieve vaccination to be too disproportionate a remedy – but refusal of access to government facilities and services, along with a healthy dose of education, cultural pressure, and ostracism of the unvaccinated would be perfectly legitimate as ways to prevent the dangerous misconceptions of the anti-vaccination activists from resurrecting age-old killers. Anti-vaccination activists should face not a stick, but the removal of the carrots that almost everybody else would receive.

The remainder of this essay will cite each of Dr. Murphy’s main arguments, followed by my response.

Dr. Murphy writes: First, among those who hew strictly to a nonaggression principle and a stateless society, mandatory vaccinations are, of course, a nonstarter. Whether they identify themselves as ‘strict libertarians,’ ‘voluntaryists,’ or ‘anarchocapitalists,’ this group would obviously never condone the state’s forcing someone to be vaccinated, because most believe the state is illegitimate.”

I respond: While I am not an anarcho-capitalist and consider some government functions to be legitimate as long as they respect individual liberty, it is possible to be anarcho-capitalist and also support widespread vaccination with no belief-based exemptions. Virtually every anarcho-capitalist will support some form of private law, since the case for anarcho-capitalism relies on the possibility of social order without a central authority. Furthermore, this private law, to be legitimate, would need to be based on the theoretical foundations of libertarianism – which might be natural law or might be utilitarian or consequentialist considerations, or some combination thereof, depending on the philosophical persuasion of a given libertarian who would advocate for such a system. A private law based on natural law would recognize scientific truth, since scientific truth is part of natural law – and the efficacy of vaccination in protecting against disease, as well as the consequences of a widespread lack of vaccination, constitute some of the best-established scientific truths. A private law based on consequentialist considerations (for instance, minimizing the harm that people are able to inflict upon others) would also recognize that allowing anti-vaccination activists to run rampant while carrying highly contagious infections would not be in the interest of maximizing human well-being or ensuring that people are protected against unwanted harm. Therefore, it is entirely conceivable that a hypothetical anarcho-capitalist society, through networks of private courts or arbiters, would develop a theory of negligence that encompasses those who, in their refusal to vaccinate themselves or their children, recklessly and needlessly endanger the health and lives of others.

Dr. Murphy writes: Second, for minarchists, the proper role for the state is that of a ‘night watchman,’ a minimal government that only protects the individual from domestic criminals and foreign threats. In a minarchist framework, it is only legitimate for the state to take action against someone who is violating (or threatening to violate) the rights of another. A person’s failure to become vaccinated is hardly by itself a violation of someone else’s rights. Flipping it around, it would sound odd to say you have the right to live in a society where everyone else has had measles shots.”

I respond: An important implication of the non-aggression principle is that it is illegitimate to expose others to involuntary violation of their lives, liberty, or property. This principle applies even when the aggressor does not realize that he or she is engaging in aggression. (For instance, a thief who steals another’s property and genuinely believes himself to be doing good, because he intends to redistribute that property to the poor, is still a thief who is violating his victim’s rights.)

The intentional transmission of disease to others clearly impinges on those others’ lives and liberty. One might be killed by the disease, or one might be incapacitated or inconvenienced to the point of being unable to pursue opportunities one might otherwise have had. Technically, transmitting any disease to any unwilling person would constitute an act of negligence in a society guided by libertarian principles, and would require proportionate compensation. However, in many cases, it is practically difficult to determine who transmitted a disease to whom and how. Furthermore, medical science has not yet discovered consistently reliable ways to prevent the transmission of certain infections, such as the common cold. Therefore, while it is still infeasible to prevent the spread of all infectious diseases, a libertarian who supports the non-aggression principle ought to support the prevention of disease transmission where it is currently technically feasible. Vaccination is one of the major tools in the current arsenal for preventing disease transmission. Those who are vaccinated against a given disease gain the benefit of a greater likelihood of their own protection from the disease, but – more importantly from a libertarian perspective – they reduce their likelihood of becoming unwitting initiators of aggression against others. I agree fully with Dr. Meyer that, where it is cheap and practical to vaccinate, while the costs of not doing so can include a devastating, deadly epidemic, the decision to require vaccination as a condition of participation in public life is justified.

Dr. Murphy writes: Third, and most interesting, let’s consider a broader notion of liberty, which balances a presumption of individual autonomy against the public welfare. In this approach, there’s not a blanket prohibition on the state restricting the liberties of individuals — even when they haven’t yet hurt anybody else — so long as such restrictions impose little harm on the recipients and possibly prevent a vast amount of damage. This is the only conception of the state for which the mandatory vaccination debate is possible.”

I respond: I will interject here only to reiterate that this is not the only view of the three described by Dr. Murphy which could justify mandatory vaccination. As I discuss above, any libertarian school of thought can consistently embrace vaccination requirements, if the implications of the non-aggression principle are fully applied to the transmission of infectious disease.

Dr. Murphy writes: Let’s be charitable and assume this more expansive definition, under which, for example, even self-described libertarians might not object to stiff penalties for drunk driving or prohibitions on citizens building atomic bombs in their basements. How does mandatory vaccination fare in this framework, where we’re not arguing in terms of qualitative principles but instead performing a quantitative cost-benefit test? Even here, the case for mandatory vaccinations is weak. First of all, the only realistic scenario where the issue would even be relevant is where the vast majority of the public thinks it would be a good idea if everyone got vaccinated, but (for whatever reason) a small minority strongly disagreed. This is obvious: if the medical case for a vaccine were so dubious that, say, half the public didn’t think it made sense to administer it, then there would hardly be an issue of the government clamoring to inject half the population against their will.”

I respond: Scientific truth is true no matter what proportion of the population believes it to be. If, in a hypothetical society, 1% of the population was enlightened and recognized the role of vaccination in preventing epidemics, while the other 99% believed that only bleeding and magic rituals could cure disease, it would still be justified to require vaccination – since the objective mechanisms of disease transmission are not affected by the prevailing beliefs in a society. I bring up this point not merely for hypothetical purposes, but to highlight the dangers of the anti-vaccination activists’ pseudo-scientific and anti-scientific propaganda. Like many Neo-Luddite and “back to nature” movements, the anti-vaccination movement is dangerous precisely because it does have the potential to persuade a critical mass of people who lack the training to distinguish between scientific truth and deception, and who find the siren song of a romanticized primordial Eden alluring. Anti-vaccination activists exploit widespread primal fears of the technological, the modern, the “artificial”, and exhort people to return to a mythical age of bliss that never was. In fact, if enough people embrace anti-vaccination propaganda, we will indeed revert to an earlier paradigm – the Hobbesian primitive world in which life was nasty, brutish, and short. Anybody who supports reason and science and endorses technological progress as a pathway toward individual flourishing should recognize anti-vaccination activists to be great foes of human well-being and civilization.

Dr. Murphy writes: We’re dealing with a scenario in which the vast majority of the public thinks it would be a good idea for all of the public to become vaccinated. In that environment, if vaccines are voluntary, then we can be confident that just about all of these enthusiasts would go ahead and become vaccinated. In other words, any ‘free riding’ would only take place at the margin, if most of the population had gotten the vaccine and thus an outbreak of the relevant disease was unlikely.”

I respond: The flaw with this argument is that effective herd immunity often requires not just a majority or even a substantial majority of people to be vaccinated – but rather an overwhelming majority. For some diseases, such as measles and pertussis, herd-immunity thresholds are significantly above 90%. Because vaccines are not always 100% effective on those who do get vaccinated, this means that the entire population is at risk of the disease if the anti-vaccination activists persuade even 5 to 10 percent of the public to refuse to get vaccinated out of fear. To minimize our individual chances of becoming victims of a preventable disease, we need as many people to be vaccinated as is safely possible. While it is true that effective herd immunity can coexist with tiny pockets of the unvaccinated, the danger of the anti-vaccination movement is that it will not confine itself to such tiny pockets of the most zealous believers, but rather seeks to spread its damaging influence to as many people as possible. The real danger arises when this pseudo-scientific movement ceases to be the purview of lone cranks and becomes a trend in upscale areas such as Orange County, California, now known for miserably low vaccination rates.

Dr. Murphy writes: When a person gets vaccinated, the primary beneficiary is himself. And this benefit is all the greater the lower the rate of vaccination in the population at large. In other words, among a population of people who all believe that a vaccine is effective, the individual cost-benefit analysis of taking the vaccine will only yield a temptation of ‘free riding’ once a sufficient fraction of the population has become vaccinated, thus ensuring ‘herd immunity.’”

I respond: While I agree that individuals are indeed often beneficiaries of their own vaccinations, the primary benefit from a libertarian standpoint is the reduction in the probability of their unintentional aggression toward others. From a libertarian political standpoint, the case for mandatory vaccination rests precisely on the fact that lack of vaccination poses negative external harms. Additionally, in the case of parents who refuse to vaccinate their children (which is the type of situation to which most of the controversies regarding vaccination pertain), the case can be made that those parents are negligently exposing their children to harm, in situations where the children do not have sufficient information or autonomy to override their parents’ fear-based judgments.

Furthermore, I disagree regarding herd immunity being a necessary precondition for the “free riding” of the anti-vaccination movement to arise. Such a state of affairs would presuppose that the “free riders” actually agree with the scientific case for vaccination, but consider it too inconvenient or burdensome to be personally vaccinated. If only this were the case with the opponents of vaccination today! The very reason why the anti-vaccination movement is so dangerous is because it is, like all “back to nature” movements, rooted in an anti-technological, Neo-Luddite ideology of fear. The anti-vaccination activists refuse to get vaccinated not because of a pragmatic (if sloppy) cost-benefit analysis, but rather because of a burning hatred of vaccination due largely to the mantra that “vaccines cause autism!” No amount of evidence or demonstration of the fraud involved in the alleged vaccine-autism connection suffices to dissuade those for whom this view has become an article of faith. No matter how low the vaccination rates are driven, or how many people are felled by the resurgent epidemics, the anti-vaccination activists will continue to hew to their irrational dogmas. For this reason, it is the task of the remainder of Western civilization to protect itself against the harms the anti-vaccination activists perpetrate.

Dr. Murphy writes: Unlike other examples of huge (alleged) trade-offs between individual and public benefits, with vaccinations there is no threat of a mass outbreak in a free society. With vaccines, we have the happy outcome that when someone chooses to vaccinate him or herself, so long as the vaccine is effective, then that person is largely shielded from the consequences of others’ decisions regarding vaccination.

I respond: The key phrase in the above argument is “so long as the vaccine is effective”. It turns out that most vaccines are quite effective, but not always 100% effective. The U. S. Department of Health and Human Services states that “most childhood vaccines produce immunity about 90 – 100% of the time” but some vaccines, such as the seasonal flu vaccine, achieve effectiveness rates in the ranges of 40% to 60% during good years. This is still nothing to scoff at, but it reinforces the point that some people might remain vulnerable to the diseases they got vaccinated against, in spite of their best intentions. This is another reason why maintaining herd immunity is crucial; it protects those individuals whose specific vaccinations failed to work. This also implies that getting individually vaccinated is not a guarantee of protection against the depredation of the anti-vaccination activists. In the short run, mandatory vaccination as a precondition for participation in governmentally run institutions can provide some added protection. In the longer run, the anti-vaccination movement needs to be relegated to the dustbin of history through persuasion, education, and social ostracism.

Dr. Murphy writes: Notice the irony and how weak the mandatory vaccination case has become. We are no longer being told that vaccines are ‘safe,’ and that anyone who fears medical complications is a conspiracy theorist trusting Jenny McCarthy over guys in white lab coats. On the contrary, the CDC warns certain groups not to take popular vaccines because of the health risks. This is no longer a matter of principle — of the people on the side of science being pro-vaccine, while the tinfoil-hatters are anti-vaccine. Instead it’s a disagreement over which people should be taking the vaccine and which people should not take it because the dangers are too great.

I respond: The above argument regarding the implications of the non-universal safety of vaccines is far too simplistic. The key element missed by this argument is the existence of objective, scientific truth regarding which segments of population vaccines are safe for, and which segments of the population are vulnerable. The scientific truth is that individual vaccination remains safe for the vast majority of the population, whereas the anti-vaccination activists assert that vaccines are unsafe for everybody. There is an insurmountable qualitative gulf between a risk-based scientific assessment regarding vaccine safety by population segments and a reflexive, ideologically motivated condemnation of all vaccination efforts just because adverse side effects might occur somewhere for somebody. The disagreement is still one of principle – whether objective, scientific evidence should guide the administration of vaccinations, or whether the fears of the “back to nature” types should be allowed to override the health and safety of everyone else.

Dr. Murphy writes: Regarding children, social conflict can be resolved through the fuller application of private property rights. If all schools, hospitals, and daycare centers were privately operated and had the legal right to exclude whichever clients they wished, then the owners could decide on vaccination policies. Any parents who were horrified at the idea of little Jimmy playing with an unvaccinated kid could choose Jimmy’s school accordingly.”

I respond: I concur that, if all of the institutions described by Dr. Murphy were privately operated, their owners could set vaccination policies. I would suggest that most such owners – if acting in their genuine, long-term, rational self-interest – would recognize the scientific evidence and require some evidence or vaccination or at least refuse access to overt anti-vaccination activists. I expect that Dr. Murphy would agree with me that this would be consistent with libertarianism and the non-aggression principle.

The disagreement arises in a world where governmentally run institutions do exist and are not going away anytime soon. The vast majority of people attend and use these institutions because the incentives of the current “mixed economy” leave them with no better options. Given that these institutions exist, it is still desirable for them to operate in such a manner that maximizes genuine individual liberty and reduces the involuntary infliction of harm upon others. Therefore, rules for the operation of governmental institutions, designed to prevent those institutions from being hotbeds of disease transmission, are entirely reasonable and justifiable within the imperfect world which we inhabit. Just like the administrators of a public school airport can legitimately implement prohibitions on littering or visitors who carry the Ebola virus, so can they legitimately require evidence of vaccination as a prerequisite for admission. Ideally, of course, we should strive toward a society where such presentation of positive evidence would not be necessary, because everybody who is medically eligible would get vaccinated out of a recognition of vaccination’s overwhelming benefits. However, as long as the anti-vaccination movement remains a prominent force in public discourse, one cannot fault administrators for taking precautions to protect those who use their facilities.

Dr. Murphy writes: We have seen that even assuming the best of government officials, it is difficult to state an argument in favor of mandatory vaccinations. Yet, the debate tilts even more when we recall that throughout history, government officials have made horrible decisions in the name of public welfare, either through incompetence or ulterior motives. It should be obvious that no fan of liberty can support injecting substances into an innocent person’s body against his or her will.”

I respond: This may be a valid concern to raise in response to a forced-injection program, but not in response to a mere denial of positive benefits (like access to certain government services) for those who refuse to be vaccinated. Furthermore, I am not arguing for any extraordinary level of coercion – just a return to the system of vaccination requirements that existed before religious or “philosophical” exemptions to vaccination came into vogue. The empirical evidence suggests that those requirements did not result in any horrible abuses of power – perhaps because those requirements were compatible with the non-aggression principles and the legitimate functions of law (be it public or private law) in the first place.

Conclusion

Ultimately, the best of all worlds would be one in which everybody who could safely be vaccinated, would be, without the need for any mandates – just because people would be sufficiently enlightened to recognize vaccination’s scientifically established benefits and reject the fear-mongering of those who would return us to the age of blood-letting, witch-fearing, and “medicine” based on the “four humours”. It is likely that Dr. Murphy would agree with me that universal, voluntary vaccination would be the most desirable outcome. Where we differ, however, is in our assessment of how much involuntary harm the anti-vaccination movement is able to inflict upon the rest of us. By weakening herd immunity in the Western world, the anti-vaccination movement is perhaps the most dangerous of the “back to nature” strains. It is a cultural infection to which we should develop an immunity using as many tools as we can effectively deploy.

This essay may be freely reproduced using the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike International 4.0 License, which requires that credit be given to the author, G. Stolyarov II. Find out about Mr. Stolyarov here.

Mandatory Vaccinations Can Be Compatible with Liberty – Article by Randal John Meyer

Mandatory Vaccinations Can Be Compatible with Liberty – Article by Randal John Meyer

The New Renaissance HatRandal John Meyer
July 7, 2015
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We can take comfort that modern science can handle infectious diseases. Questionable studies such as reports linking vaccinations to autism have been debunked. Despite the empirically demonstrable efficacy of vaccines, some people have decided to forego vaccinations for themselves or for children under their custody. Accordingly, libertarians have been forced to examine their own tenets to evaluate whether compulsory vaccinations are compatible with the principles of individual freedom.

I believe they are.

A major pitfall for libertarians examining this question is the consideration of whether mandatory vaccinations are too paternalistic. But because vaccinations prevent harm to others with incidental paternalistic effects, I argue that they are justified. Because certain deadly diseases are communicable from human-to-human contact, transmission can be prevented by using medically safe vaccines.

Vaccines do not always and in every case protect individuals who receive them. Bacteria and viruses can mutate, preventing vaccines from conquering them. And, over time, a particular vaccine can become less effective. But when given to a large enough population and updated periodically to counter mutations, vaccines act like a computer firewall, protecting the entire population. And if a significant enough portion of the population chooses not to be vaccinated, then the whole population becomes more susceptible to an outbreak. Immunization of a critical proportion of the population in this manner is called “herd immunity.” Though it may seem paradoxical, it becomes important to ensure that the vast majority of people get immunized to prevent harm.

Libertarian philosophy holds that it is justifiable to prevent unauthorized harm of one individual against another. Accordingly, even libertarians who have adopted principles such as the nonaggression axiom or the harm principle can see that vaccination is a means of preventing harm. Moreover, even libertarians who follow a strict Rothbardian nonaggression principle consider the prospect of aggression to be indistinguishable from actual aggression. And this is reasonable: preventing imminent harm is as good as stopping present harm.

University of Arizona professor Joel Feinberg has argued that “it is always a good reason in support of legislation that it would probably be effective in preventing (eliminating or reducing) harm to persons other than the actor and there is probably no other means that is equally effective at no greater cost to other values.”

John Stuart Mill famously notes in On Liberty that “the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.”

The questions of whether the nonimmunized members of a population pose a risk to others — as well as the effectiveness of vaccinations in preventing that harm — turn on facts. To address such questions, let’s take a look at the disease that has lead to most of this recent controversy: measles.

If one imagines a community with an immunity rate of 96–99 percent for measles due to vaccination (and most states fall below this rate), it is statistically unlikely that there will be an outbreak of measles in this population due to herd immunity. When only 95 percent of the population is vaccinated, an outbreak is possible. When the percentage vaccinated falls below 90 percent, the rate of infection per 10,000 children more than doubles. If the rate falls low enough, we can expect pandemics. “Before mass vaccination was introduced, measles used to follow a cyclic pattern, with [epidemics occurring each] period of about 2 years in Europe and North America,” according to research by V.A.A. Jansen and N. Stollenwerk.

From 1840 through 1990, measles killed nearly 200 million people globally. But from 2000 through 2012, measles deaths decreased by 78 percent after the UN sponsored immunization. During this period, 68 percent of the populations of member countries were immunized to herd immunity levels. In the United States, the vaccination rate among infants was 91 percent, considerably below the 96–99 percent needed for herd immunity to be maintained. In fact, in some enclaves, such as the Orange County school district, the immunization rate dropped to 50–60 percent among kindergarteners. This failure to vaccinate, at least in part due to the existence of the state philosophical exemption from vaccination, allowed the measles outbreak to occur in 2015 in more than a dozen states.

No individual has the right to expose other individuals to that risk.

Alternatively, there is parallel argument from the libertarian principles regarding common defense. According to David Boaz in his updated book, The Libertarian Mind, “most libertarians” believe that “governments should exist … [to provide] national defense against external threats.” The entire human race is at war with microbes, such as viruses, and has undergone massive assaults. Examples include the bubonic plague, smallpox, and polio. Each day, an individual’s immune system destroys numerous potential pathogens. Liberty-restraint principles allow for collectivization of defense efforts against equally deadly foes: our immune systems are not alone in this. Vaccines are instruments of that ongoing war.

People should not be compelled to be vaccinated for noncommunicable diseases, of course, but we don’t want any of these serious pathogens to reemerge. Measles, mumps, rubella, and pertussis cases are all on the rise in the United States. Polio has returned in more than 10 countries; the World Health Organization believes it constitutes a global health emergency. Childhood vaccines save nearly $40 billion in direct and indirect costs, in addition to numerous lives.

It is important to note, as well, that compulsory vaccination can accomplish herd immunity by means short of forced procedures. On one level, the civil law could be used to hold nonvaccinated adults and the parents of nonvaccinated children financially liable with punitive damages for their role in any public health emergency. Exclusion from various types of public space or activities could be justified, yet enforcement would be difficult, if not impossible, particularly in urban areas. On a more restrictive level, the state could use the criminal law to impose fines on parents or declare that such action constitutes child neglect. Regardless, more extreme measures for noncompliant adults would only be appropriate if more restrictive means could not achieve herd immunity thresholds.

Thus, it can be argued that vaccination policy approaching infringement on individual and parental choice does not pose an issue per se with mainstream libertarian thought, given the narrowness of the means of vaccination (how little it imposes on the recipient’s liberty) and the degree of relatively certain harm to others that is thereby prevented.

The harm of nonvaccination for serious communicable diseases poses a significant enough risk for others to become infected that it justifies such small impositions on personal liberty. A policy of voluntary vaccination, or the granting of philosophical exceptions to the general vaccination requirement, causes much more potential harm than requiring people to get a vaccination does.

Randal John Meyer is a Research Fellow at Brooklyn Law School. Randal was born in Rochester, New York. He has a J.D. from Brooklyn Law School, where he was an articles editor on the Brooklyn Law Review, and he has a B.A. in General Philosophy and in Philosophy, Politics, and Law from SUNY Binghamton. He has been cited for his published work on constitutional law, terrorism, and civil liberties, which has appeared in the Brooklyn Law Review, New York Journal of Law and Liberty Blog, and Brooklyn Law Review Practicum.

This article was published by The Foundation for Economic Education and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which requires that credit be given to the author.

James Blish’s “At Death’s End”: An Early View of the Prospects for Indefinite Life Extension – Article by G. Stolyarov II

James Blish’s “At Death’s End”: An Early View of the Prospects for Indefinite Life Extension – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
March 14, 2015
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At-Deaths-End-ASF-May-1954-900

                “At Death’s End”, written by James Blish (1921-1975), was published in the May 1954 issue of Astounding Science Fiction magazine. Surprisingly, this short story is still only accessible in hard copy, within the original Astounding Science Fiction edition. Apart from a brief review by Robert W. Franson, who introduced me to this work, there is today surprisingly little literary analysis devoted to “At Death’s End” – even though it offers a fascinating glimpse into how a science-fiction writer from an earlier era perceived the prospects for indefinite human longevity, from the vantage point of the scientific knowledge available at the time. The world portrayed by Blish is, in some respects, surprisingly like our own. In others, however, it overlooks the complexity of the treatments that would be necessary to achieve actual radical life extension.

                The future (shortly after 2000) that Blish depicts is one where national governments are obsessed with “security” and “defense” – much like the United States today. It appears that the Cold War is still underway in this world (and it could be said that it has been resurrected in ours as well); however, space travel and space colonies are also prominent. The protagonist, Colonel Paige Russell, is himself a spacefarer who begins the story by journeying to the headquarters of pharmaceutical firm Jno. Pfitzner & Sons, Inc., to bring back soil samples from Ganymede and Callisto. In the midst of a society where an entrenched military-industrial complex has taken hold (even to the point of top positions – such as head of the FBI – becoming hereditary), a fundamentalist religious revival has also emerged, though the religionists often use machines to preach in their stead. This development, too, bears striking similarities to the rise of televangelism and the fundamentalist “religious right” in the United States during the late 1970s and 1980s. The overall society depicted by Blish is more permeated with religion than our own, as the alternative to the preachy fundamentalist religiosity of the Believers is portrayed as being a more subdued but still inextricable personal faith. Paige claims,

I’ve no religion of my own, but I think that when the experts talk about ‘faith’ they mean something different than the shouting kind, the kind the Believers have. […] Real faith is so much a part of the world you live in that you seldom notice it, and it isn’t always religious in the formal sense. Mathematics is based on faith, for instance, for those who know it. (17-18)

Even many religious individuals today would disagree with the notion that mathematics is based on faith – and certainly the many atheists and agnostics who are fond of mathematics and of the scientific method would rightly recognize that these logic-based and evidence-based approaches are as far from faith as one can get. And yet Blish intends Paige’s position to be the level-headed, sensible, rational one, compared to the alternative – showing that Blish did not foresee the extent to which skepticism of religious faith would become a widespread, though still a minority, position.

                Blish’s extrapolation of medical progress is remarkably prescient in certain respects. Paige learns of the history of medicine from Anne Abbott, the daughter of Pfitzner’s leading researcher:

In between 1940 and 1960, a big change came in in Western medicine. Before 1940 – in the early part of the century – the infectious diseases were major killers. By 1960 they were all but knocked out of the running. […] In the 1950s, for instance, malaria was the world’s greatest killer. Now it’s as rare as diphtheria. We still have both diseases with us – but how long has it been since you heard of a case of either? […] Life insurance companies, and other people who kept records, began to be alarmed at the way the degenerative diseases were coming to the fore. Those are such ailments as hardening of the arteries, coronary heart disease, the rheumatic diseases, and almost all the many forms of cancer – diseases where one or another body mechanism suddenly goes haywire, without any visible cause. (20-21)

The shift from infectious diseases being the primary killers, to the vast majority of people dying from the degenerative diseases of “old age”, is precisely what happened during the latter half of the twentieth century, throughout the world. The top killers in the early 20th century were infectious diseases that have been virtually wiped out today, as this chart from the Carolina Population Center shows. (For more details, see “Mortality and Cause of Death, 1900 v. 2010” by Rebeca Tippett.) Additional major progress is evident in the 54% absolute decline in mortality from all causes during the time period between 1900 and 2010.

                Blish was foresighted enough to attempt a conceptual decoupling of chronological and biological age. Anne Abbott explains to Paige that “Old age is just the age; it’s not a thing in itself, it’s just the time of life when most degenerative diseases strike” (21). She recounts that “When the actuaries first began to notice that the degenerative diseases were on the rise, they thought that it was just a sort of side-effect of the decline of the infectious diseases. They thought that cancer was increasing because more people were living long enough to come down with it” (21). Anne then proceeds to discuss findings that some cancers are caused by viruses – which is actually the case for a minority of cancers (approximately 17.8% of cancers in 2002, as estimated by the World Health Organization). In the world portrayed by Blish, a rising incidence of degenerative diseases caused by viral infections led the National Health Service to fund research efforts by companies like Pfitzner, in an effort to address the threat.

                Incidentally, Blish also foresaw the rise in major government expenditures on medical research. Anne explains that “the result of [the first world congress on degenerative diseases] was that the United States Department of Health, Welfare and Security somehow got a billion-dollar appropriation for a real mass attack on the degenerative diseases” (22). Of course, in our world, major scientific conventions on degenerative diseases – both governmental and private – are far more routine. Indeed, a small but dynamic private organization – the SENS Research Foundation – has itself hosted six world-class conferences on rejuvenation biotechnology to date. In the United States, billions of dollars each year are indeed spent on research into degenerative diseases. The budget of the National Institute on Aging exceeds $1 billion annually (it amounts to $1,170,880,000 for Fiscal Year 2015). Unfortunately, in practice, even this level of funding – from both private and governmental sources – has thus far proven wholly insufficient to comprehensively reverse biological senescence and defeat all degenerative diseases.

                In Blish’s imagined future, the battle against senescence could be won far more easily than in our present. Pfitzner’s key project is a sweeping solution to all lifespan-limiting ailments – a broad-range “antitoxin against the aging toxin of humans” (36). In this world, Paige, who later becomes trained in Pfitzner’s research techniques, can pronounce that “We know that the aging toxin exists in all animals; we know it’s a single, specific substance, quite distinct from the ones that cause the degenerative diseases, and that it can be neutralized. […] So what you’re looking for now is not an antibiotic – an anti-life drug – but an anti-agathic, an anti-death drug” (36). If only it were that simple! Today, even the most ambitious engineering-based approach toward defeating senescence, Dr. Aubrey de Grey’s SENS program, recognizes not one but seven distinct types of aging-related damage that accumulate in the organism. Dr. de Grey’s strategy of periodically reversing the damage is more straightforward than the alternative approach of re-engineering the tremendously complex metabolic processes of the body that malfunction over time, and which are still quite incompletely understood. In Blish’s world, a single company, working covertly, with relatively modest funding (compared to the funds available to research organizations in our world), can develop an “anti-agathic” drug that does for senescence what antibiotics did for deadly infectious disease.

                Without spoiling the ending, I will only mention that it is friendly to the prospects of radical life extension and portrays it in a positive light – one additional reason for recommending that “At Death’s End” be included within the canon of proto-transhumanist and life-extensionist literary works. Furthermore, the viability of indefinite life extension in Blish’s vision is closely intertwined with humanity’s future as a spacefaring species – another progress-friendly position. Blish comes across as a thoughtful, scientifically literate (for his era) writer, who extrapolated the world-changing trends of his time to arrive at a tense, conflict-ridden, but still eminently hopeful vision for the future, where the best of human intellect and aspiration are able to overcome the perils of militarism, fundamentalism, decay, and death.

              The author of “At Death’s End” himself succumbed to death at the age of 54, on July 30, 1975. He did not live to see the world of 2000 and compare it to his prognosis. Unfortunately, Blish seems to have disregarded the tremendous harms of tobacco smoke and was even employed by the Tobacco Institute from 1962 to 1968. A genealogical profile lists Blish’s cause of death as “Recurrent cancer per smoking, metastasized.” This brilliant, forward-thinking mind unfortunately could not escape one of the most common collective delusions of his time – the fascination with and normalization of one of the least healthy habits imaginable, one that is the most statistically likely to lower life expectancy (by about 10 years). This is quite sad, as it would have been fascinating to learn how Blish’s projections for the future would have been affected by additional decades of his experience of societal and technological changes. One of the major trends in longevity improvement over the past several decades has been a major decline in the smoking rate, which decreased to an all-time low in the United States in 2013 (the latest year for which statistics are currently available). Surely, to come closer to death’s end, as many humans as possible should abandon what are now known to be obviously life-shortening habits.

              While an anti-agathic drug is not in our future, James Blish’s vision of the defeat of senescence can still serve to inspire those who endeavor to solve this colossal problem in our world, during our lifetimes. Let us hope that, through the efforts of longevity researchers and through increases in funding and public attitudinal support for their projects, we will arrive at death’s end before death ends us.

Vaccine “Skeptics” Are Too Credulous – Article by Bradley Doucet

Vaccine “Skeptics” Are Too Credulous – Article by Bradley Doucet

The New Renaissance Hat
Bradley Doucet
December 14, 2014
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There is absolutely no question in my mind that those who refuse to vaccinate their children against diseases like measles and whooping cough love their children just as much as those who do vaccinate. Pretty big of me, eh? But seriously, to a first approximation, parents love their kids, end of story. If they refuse to inoculate them, it’s because they doubt the effectiveness and/or safety of vaccines. But while such parents may see themselves as skeptics, they are in fact too credulous by half.

When I first heard about the claim that vaccines might cause autism, several years ago, I looked into it with an open mind. I am a big fan of questioning things, and especially of challenging the powers that be. When it comes to public health issues, I personally find it pretty easy to believe that the people in charge of health agencies are overly conservative in approving beneficial drugs, for instance, because they want to cover their asses. I find it easy, also, to believe that the people who run drug companies want to use the patent system to make as much money as possible from the sale of their products. Of course they do.

But the alleged vaccine-autism link, I discovered, grew out of a thoroughly discredited study of just a handful of kids. It persisted in the public imagination because the onset of symptoms of autism happens around the time that children are vaccinated, but this is mere correlation, and epidemiological studies have not found any causal link. As for effectiveness, on the other hand, there is a clear and well-established causal link between mass vaccinations and the virtual eradication of numerous diseases—with recent resurgences caused in turn by falling vaccination rates among doubters.

A good skeptic does not automatically believe whatever the mainstream believes, but neither does a good skeptic rush to believe an online article stumbled upon that one time that cast aspersions on the motives of every single person working in the pharmaceutical industry or in a health agency. “Follow the money” is not, by itself, a good enough argument for believing anything. There are plenty of honest ways to make a living, so specific reasons are needed for believing that everyone involved in the production and sale and administration of vaccines is either corrupt or stupid. If you don’t have the scientific chops yourself, not to mention a decent grasp of statistics, why would you bet your children’s health, and even their very lives, on such a marginal suspicion?

Without assuming that everyone is moral or that they don’t face perverse incentives, I nonetheless find it extremely difficult to believe that very many people want to make money by harming others, or that they would be capable of doing so through a massive conspiracy spanning decades and even centuries. Based on what I’ve read, I’m convinced that vaccines are effective and safe, and that they have been a great boon to humanity. Furthermore, the onus is on “skeptics” to prove that the well-established mainstream theory is wrong, something they have utterly failed to do. If one hasn’t done the research and doesn’t have the knowledge base to be absolutely sure that the entire medical profession is mistaken, it is not skepticism to simply assert and believe the opposite of a theory that has stood the test of time.

Bradley Doucet is Le Québécois Libre‘s English Editor and the author of the blog Spark This: Musings on Reason, Liberty, and Joy. A writer living in Montreal, he has studied philosophy and economics, and is currently completing a novel on the pursuit of happiness. He also writes for The New Individualist, an Objectivist magazine published by The Atlas Society, and sings.

Why Do We Advocate for Rejuvenation Research? – Article by Reason

Why Do We Advocate for Rejuvenation Research? – Article by Reason

The New Renaissance Hat
Reason
November 24, 2014
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Yesterday, I had occasion to spend six hours or so in the emergency room of a medical center largely focused on treating serious conditions that are most prevalent in old people. A part of that experience by necessity involved listening to the comings, goings, and conversations of those present. These are not private places: they are typically divided visually by screens but with no way to avoid overhearing the staff and patients. The people there are generally not too concerned about privacy in the immediate sense in any case, having far more pressing matters to focus upon.

So, by proxy, one gets to experience small and somewhat wrenching slices of other people’s lives. It is very easy for even those who follow aging research and speak up for rejuvenation treatments to forget just how hard it is to be very old. It’s one thing to know about the catalog of pain, suffering, and loss of capabilities, the conditions we’d like to find ways to turn back, and another to watch it in action. It is, really, a terrible thing to be frail.

A fellow was brought in a little while after I arrived, a 90-something man who looked a lot better on the exterior than perhaps your mental picture of a 90-something individual might be. Tall, and surprisingly lacking in wrinkles stretched out on the rolling gurney under blankets, a mess of cables, and an oxygen mask. That he had fallen was what I heard from the conversation of the medics, and was in pain. He cried out several times as he was moved from the gurney. It took some time and care to do it without hurting him more, given his weakness.

He seemed confused at first, but that was just my misperception: you try being 90 and in pain some time and see how well you do while you’re being moved around and told to hold this and let go of that. The fellow answered the bevy of questions the receiving staff had for him, but the thing that caught at me was the time he took with the answers, and the questions he just missed. He was coherent, even quite sharp at times, not on any more painkillers than a handful of Tylenol, as I later heard, but he clearly struggled with something that we younger folk all take for granted: parse the question, find the information, form up a reply and speak it. Cognitive ability in all these areas becomes ever less efficient with old age, and there’s something hollowing about hearing what is clearly a capable guy set back for a dozen seconds by a short question about one of the details of his fall. The medic repeated the question a few times and in different ways, which was clearly just making the information overload worse.

It sticks with you to be the observer in this situation and clearly and suddenly realize that one day that faltering older person will be you, trying and often failing to force your mind into the necessary connections rapidly enough for the younger people around you. I know this, but knowing it and having it reinforced by being there are two very different things. An aged person is no less intelligent, far more experienced, wiser and all the rest, but the damage to the structure of the brain that occurs even in those without dementia means that making use of all of that in the way it deserves is near insurmountable.

The fellow’s 60-something daughter arrived a little later to provide support and fill in more of the details. A story was conveyed in bits and pieces: that he was near blind now, and just about too frail to walk safely, even with a frame. The blindness explained a great deal of what had sounded to my ignorant ears as confusion in the earlier part of the fellow’s arrival: we assume all too many things about those around us, such as the use of sight in an unfamiliar environment, or the ability to walk, or think quickly – and all of this is taken from us by aging. The fellow lived with his wife still, and she was of a similar age to him. His wife was not there because she herself was too frail to be undertaking even a short trip at such short notice. That seemed to me a harsh blow on top of the rest of what old age does to you. At some point you simply cannot do everything you’d want to as a partner. You are on the sidelines and at the point at which your other half is most likely to die, you are most likely unable to be there.

In this case the fellow was in no immediate danger by the sound of it. By good luck this was in no way likely to be a fatal accident, but rather another painful indignity to be endured as a part of the downward spiral of health and ability at the end of life. Once you get to the point at which simply moving from room to room bears a high risk of accident, and this is by no means unusual for a mentally capable person in their 90s, then it really is just a matter of time before you cannot live for yourself with only minimal assistance.

When talking with his daughter while he waited on a doctor and medical assistants to come and go with tests and updates, the fellow was much faster in his responses, though this was interrupted by a series of well-meaning but futile attempts to ease his pain by changing his position, each as much an ordeal as the move from the gurney had been. The conversation between father and daughter had the sense of signposts on well-worn paths, short exchanges that recapitulated the high points of many discussions that had come before. She wanted her father to move into an assisted living facility, and this fall was the latest in a line of examples as to why it was past the time for this – she simply could not provide all of the support needed on her own. She wasn’t even strong enough herself to be able to safely get him back up on his feet after a fall. He was concerned about cost and the difficulties of moving, uncertainties and change. They went back and forth on this for a while. “We have to accept that it’s just going to be more expensive as we get older,” she said at one point, and he replied “I think you’re getting the picture now,” and laughed. There wasn’t much to laugh about, but we can all do it here and there under these circumstances. I believe it helps.

I walked out of there after my six hours of hurry up and wait was done. They were still there, and whenever it is he leaves to go home it is unlikely it will be on his own two feet. But this is a scene I’ll no doubt be revisiting at some point in the future, some decades from now, playing the other role in this small slice of life. What comes around goes around, but I’d like it to be different for me, and more importantly to be different for millions of others a lot sooner than my old age arrives.

Which leads to this: why does Fight Aging! exist? Why do we do this? Why advocate, why raise funds for research programs into ways to treat aging that may take decades to pay off? We do this because we can help to create a future in which there will be no more emergency rooms like the one I visited, no conversations about increasing disability, no pain, and no struggles to answer questions as quickly as one used to. No profound frailty. All these things will be removed by the advent of therapies that can effectively repair the causes of aging, curing and preventing frailty and age-related disease, and the sooner this happens the more people will be spared.

Reason is the founder of The Longevity Meme (now Fight Aging!). He saw the need for The Longevity Meme in late 2000, after spending a number of years searching for the most useful contribution he could make to the future of healthy life extension. When not advancing the Longevity Meme or Fight Aging!, Reason works as a technologist in a variety of industries. 
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This work is reproduced here in accord with a Creative Commons Attribution license. It was originally published on FightAging.org.

ALS, SENS, and Ice Buckets (or Lack Thereof) – Video by Gennady Stolyarov II and Wendy Stolyarov

ALS, SENS, and Ice Buckets (or Lack Thereof) – Video by Gennady Stolyarov II and Wendy Stolyarov

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II and Wendy Stolyarov
August 28, 2014
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Gennady Stolyarov II and Wendy Stolyarov, author and illustrator of Death is Wrong, respond to the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

References

Evidence of Donation to ALS Association
Evidence of Donation to SENS Research Foundation
ALS Association
SENS Research Foundation
Eternal Life Fan Club Website
Eternal Life Fan Club on Facebook
Death is Wrong Official Home Page

Problems Posed by Antibiotic-Resistant Tuberculosis Bacteria (2004) – Article by G. Stolyarov II

Problems Posed by Antibiotic-Resistant Tuberculosis Bacteria (2004) – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
July 26, 2014
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Note from the Author: This essay was originally written in 2004 and published on Associated Content (subsequently, Yahoo! Voices) in 2007.  The essay earned over 1,200 page views on Associated Content/Yahoo! Voices, and I seek to preserve it as a valuable resource for readers, subsequent to the imminent closure of Yahoo! Voices. Therefore, this essay is being published directly on The Rational Argumentator for the first time.  
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~ G. Stolyarov II, July 26, 2014

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How Evolution Complicates the Fight Against Infectious Disease

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Tuberculosis (TB) has been successfully fought with antibiotics for decades, but the emergence of antibiotic-resistance TB bacteria has resulted in numerous complications in the battle against this disease.

Misuse of antibiotics via their frequent introduction into an individual’s body may destroy certain weaker strains of the TB bacteria, but will leave in place the few bacteria that have by chance been born with the ability to resist the antibiotics used. These bacteria will then have no obstacle toward proliferating and thus contributing to the evolution of a strain almost fully resistant to that particular antibiotic. The resistant bacteria are naturally selected to survive and multiply as the fittest under such conditions.

When an environment rich in bacteria for a particular disease exists, it may be possible for several afflicted persons to be treated with a different antibiotic each and for those persons to develop strains of bacteria immune to that particular antibiotic. Due to frequent contact between these individuals, the various specifically immune strains can transfer from one individual to another. Within a given individual’s body a strain immune to antibiotic A is free to undergo genetic recombination with a strain immune to antibiotic B, thus sometimes transferring immunity to two or more antibiotics to a given set of bacterial organisms, whose multiplication can bring about a populous multi-resistant strain.

An example of environments where antibiotic-resistant bacteria mutate readily is the Russian prison system, which remains alarmingly overcrowded. Inmates live in constant close contact with one another, facilitating a rapid rate of infectious disease proliferation. The TB bacteria, often latent in healthy individuals, more frequently manifests itself in the malnourished prisoners, many of whom additionally undermine their health via alcoholism. Whenever they cough or speak, the bacteria can infect those nearby. Moreover, antibiotics, especially second-line drugs for treating resistant strains, are in short supply. Thus there exists no real barrier to the spread of tuberculosis within the prison network and beyond.

Transportation, a key factor in the global economy, can also be an agent for the spread of a particular infectious disease on a worldwide scale, as travelers from an epidemic-stricken part of the world can transmit the bacteria a continent away. In cities near the Siberian prisons, many college students have already become afflicted with lung consumption, while trains carry the disease to Moscow, where some Russian travelers to the United States can reach any destination in the world, including the United States, by airplane. In New York, strains of the Tomsk TB bacteria have already been discovered.

An understanding of evolution in bacteria may cause doctors to be more prudent in prescribing antibiotics to patients and compel them to realize that such drugs have their limitations and must not be over-indulged in. Antibiotics may be used for treating severe cases of a disease, whereas milder manifestations should be suppressed by other means. Also, second-line drugs, which are currently expensive and dangerous, can be researched in greater depth, seeing as they provide a resort when resistant strains have already developed. If a mass-manufacturing industry for those drugs develops, their abundance will increase, and thus their prices will drop, rendering them available to quell epidemics within populations, such as the Siberian inmates, which do not possess optimal purchasing power.

Scientists can also keep a step ahead of the bacteria by artificially breeding strains resistant to known antibiotics in lab cultures and developing new antibiotics that would eliminate those strains based on studies of the organisms’ physiological systems and weaknesses. In this manner, future mutations can be anticipated and cures made available to preempt the spread of the mutant strain in the early stages of its development. If most future mutations are likewise suppressed, it may be possible to stagnate the general trend toward emergence of more resistant bacteria.