The 150-Year Aging Wager.
If you are a regular reader of this site, you likely saw this piece from October 6, which covered a study that suggested there may be a firm limit to the human lifespan. What you probably did not see was a commentary by aging expert Jay Olshansky, nor were you likely to know that his words would lead to a doubling of a modest wager that could be worth hundreds of millions when it pays out. It was the latest development in a friendly rivalry between Olshansky and fellow aging researchers Steven Austad.
The “argument” dates back to 2000, when Austad was quoted in a Scientific American article. Specifically, he was quoted as saying that, “The first 150-year old person is probably alive right now.” Which means that he not only believes such a development is possible, but that it would appear early enough for someone alive today to take advantage of it.
Olshansky disagreed, words were exchanged, and both he and Austad decided to put their money where their mouths were. Each put $150 in an investment fund and signed a contract to enforce the terms of the wager. The actual bet itself is fairly simple, albeit long in scope: if, by 2150, a 150-year old person of sound mind is alive, then Austad wins and he (or his descendents) gets the money and any returns it has earned. If such a person does not exist, then Olshansky’s descendents (since Olshansky himself could not be both alive and win at this point) get the pot.
When the Nature article about the limits of human lifespan appeared, Olshansky wrote an accompanying commentary that argued there were fixed elements of genetic programming that prevented major extensions in lifespan. This emphasized, in his mind, that although our biological understanding of aging and genetics may lead to breakthroughs that significantly extend human life, and may come within his own lifetime, it would not come fast enough to help anyone born prior to 2001 to reach age 150.
Austad, simply put, disagreed. He cited various pieces of recent research that show possible avenues to extending lifespan. Some of these avenues, like the use of rapamycin, have been covered on this site as well. At this point, one can assume that more words were exchanged. I prefer to imagine this took the form of a haughty email exchange (“Your argument is so bad its p-value is over .10!” “Oh yea? Well Bayesian probability says your mother is likely a harlot!”).
The end result is that the wager has been doubled, with each adding $150 to their original investment. The fund, by the way, has an annual growth rate of 9.5% annually. With this new addition, it will top roughly $200 million by the time 2150 rolls around.
Personally, I’m curious if I’ll be around to report on it.
Fleming, N., “Scientists up stakes in bet on whether humans will live to 150,” Nature web site, October 18, 2016; http://www.nature.com/news/scientists-up-stakes-in-bet-on-whether-humans-will-live-to-150-1.20818#/b1, last accessed October 20, 2016.