Grey Skies Ahead for Life Extension
The Woke "Canceling" of Aubrey de Grey Portends Nothing Good either for Life Extension, or for Women in Science
The field of Radical Life Extension has been going from strength. Over the past two years, timelines have moved sharply up, after having stagnated for the first decade and a half since Aubrey de Grey introduced his comprehensive anti-aging theoretical framework Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS), which later become an institution of the same name.
This was both confirmed and reinforced by a flood of venture capital into gerontology and senolytics startups; as of 2018-19, smart money is finally interested. Even more recently, the crypto boom has massively enriched its early adopters, who tend to be highly heterodox and contrarian in their views and skew towards libertarianism and transhumanism. This has translated into massive donations towards longevity research. After years of subsisting on $5M/year, a single crypto airdrop from Richard Heart ($HEX) has netted a cool $28M for SENS. Vitalik Buterin personally donated some of his dogcoins. Another group of people in the field created VitaDAO ($VITA), a decentralized autonomous organization to fund anti-aging research through decentralized voting while making money for its hodlers through the patents and IP it accumulates. Its current market cap is $20M.
In short, this space is suddenly and unexpected swimming in a lot of money. And with new money comes drama and hubris.
(h/t Roko for the meme).
More specifically, Deming says that he send her an inappropriate work email when she was 17 (“told me in writing that he had an ‘adventurous love life’ and that it had ‘always felt quite jarring’ not to let conversations with me stray in that direction given that ‘[he] could treat [me] as an equal on every other level’”), while Halioua made the even more serious allegation that Aubrey hit on her all night at a SENS dinner while plying her with alcohol and suggesting that she should sleep with attending SENS donors so that they would give Aubrey de Grey more money.
On his part, Aubrey de Grey denies the allegations apart from the email, which he has admitted was “ill-advised.”
For what it's worth, I don't know de Grey personally, only having ever met him once and fleetingly at that, but he always struck me as an eccentric but endearing English nerd who likes his cider and proving obscure mathematical theorems in his spare time away from seeking the Philosopher's Stone. One of the most endearing Anglo archetypes, completed by the Gandalf-like beard. Based on the “evidence” - a single quote from an email nine years ago that was mildly inappropriate and certainly ill-advised, but one which can't even be unambiguously interpreted as a come on - I think it’s much likelier that de Grey simply tends to be awkward in interactions with women as opposed to being a “sexual predator” and/or a rambunctious lothario like Cuomo. But it is precisely the former whom women despise at the hindbrain level. In this case, so much so as to level hyperbolic, near Epstein-tier insinuations against de Grey (“sexual harassment & abuse, including against minors”). In light of this, I hope it’s not too imprudent to note that Halioua has previously blogged about an anonymous harasser who she claims ended her academic career at Oxford, saying that “I see pieces of my harasser in other men.”
Now I’m not saying their accusations are false. However, as I have pointed out in my previous commentary, I would guess that there is less sexual harassment in the Rationalism/H+/Radical Life Extension community - a high IQ community overwhelmingly concentrated in high IQ, civilized countries - than almost anywhere else across time, space, and class. Ironically, it’s those very same features that make this community some of the most obsessed with the topic. That, together with the specifics of this case, suggest to me that it is very likely that the accusations are substantially and perhaps entirely ungrounded.
Nor is this just my take as a representative of toxic masculinity. At least two women in the life extension community who have frequently interacted with de Grey in a professional setting - incidentally, and perhaps tellingly, both from Russia - have expressed skepticism over Halioua's claims. Daria Khaltourina, a polymath cliodynamicist and anti-aging researcher, said that Aubrey de Grey never behaved in an appropriate fashion either to her nor to other women that she could observe in comments to a public Russian transhumanist group. In a lengthier comment on Facebook, she said she found the sex-for-SENS-cash allegations particularly incredible: “Also, I find it very hard to believe this particular piece of Celine Halioua “He told me that I was a ‘glorious woman’ and that as a glorious woman I had a responsibility to have sex with the SENS donors in attendance so they would give money to him”. Like really? Recollecting the donors of SENS, they are mostly not this type of people at all. This must have been misunderstanding. I heard no rumor like this particular claim from the Russian H+ community, and we contact with SENS a lot, a lot of H+ women too.”
Anastasia Egorova, who is a co-founder of Open Longevity, laughed it off more boisterously: “Going back to talking about sex with a person you work with. Or even work for. You know how many times I was openly invited to a threesome by a sponsor? Well, not that many, just two. You know what I did? I giggled and was flattered and had an awesome story to tell to my friends.” On a separate note, this is a big part of what I like about Russia, and Eastern Europe generally - this kind of humane, light-hearted liberalism without sexual complexes still exists there, as it did in the US during the 2000s, before it was airbrushed out of existence by that weird neo-Puritan cult that some call the Great Awokening. Egorova also doesn't pull her punches in questioning the pair’s motives: "Am I ok with sexual harassment? Of course not! But was this the case? Were they harassed or just felt harassed? Or conveniently remembered these stories just after SENS raised $28M to ride this trend? “Hey girl, you know what, I think we forgot to be offended”. And please, let’s not forget the girls are competing for the same funding."
Again, these are not my words. They are the words of two women, in a country where Wokeism has made fewer inroads than in the West, who know Aubrey de Grey quite well and have interacted with hundreds of men and women in that community. (There may be more testimonies, I wasn't looking actively). Now even if we categorically accept the #MeToo directive to always and unquestioningly "believe women", why exactly privilege Halioua and Deming over Khaltourina and Egorova? That said, I consider it very good that it is prominent women in H+ who have taken the lead in raising questions over Halioua's and Deming's claims, cutting the ground from actual misogynists who are more interested in stirring up hate and conflict between men and women as opposed to human progress. (I would further note the irony that those misogynists would find good situational allies with Western SJWs who would dismiss their voices as the “internalized misogyny” of Putin’s Russia).
Another point that some commenters have made is that it is not impossible that there are really baser motives at play here. From VitaDAO's Discord:
Hours after the scandal broke, VitaDAO had removed Aubrey de Grey from its list of Contributors and Partners. Controversially, it was an internal team decision without a vote on the matter on either the blockchain or even its own forum/Discord. This would seem to sort of nullify the entire point of a DAO, with its utopian promise of decentralized decision-making (a cynic might say that it just revealed itself as yet another centralized institution in crypto wrappings). Although the decision was almost certainly primarily driven by the desire to avoid a PR backlash, the timing will mean that residual suspicions about more “pecuniary” motives will remain (indeed, they are widely discussed in the Russian H+ community).
Moreover, as I pointed out to them on Twitter, investors will now be warier of investing long-term into something that folds so quickly to mob pressure. Personally speaking, $VITA is my one coin where I’m unironically “in it for the tech.” Said tech involves not dying this century. It doesn’t listening to Dr. Robin DiAngelo’s future lectures on how life extension will immortalize white supremacy and perpetuate systems of oppression against women and POC. To the extent that DAOs are meant to guard against this, it is not the most auspicious start.
One final point. Aubrey de Grey is a polymath genius who has provisioned original mathematical proofs in graph theory in his spare time from making fundamental contributions to the life sciences. Although he is 58 years old, and people tend to become less productive with age, his inventiveness is such that he might still have many productive results ahead of him - at least if he doesn’t have to waste his time, energy, and emotions on the fallout from his "canceling". Halioua's academic pedigree is... somewhat less impressive. Her company specializes in rapamycin trials with dogs, something that is neither new nor particularly innovative. Now certainly no reasonable and fair-minded person would claim that this entitles men such as de Grey to sexually harass women, nor to automatically dismiss claims of such against them. But given the context of the context of the accusations (why after 9 years? conveniently when this sphere is finally flush with money); given that at least two women have stated that Aubrey never even hinted at such behavior in their interactions with them or with other women that they observed; given that the one piece of evidence that has been provided - an email from nearly a decade ago that is a bit edgy but far too ambiguous to even tell if it was flirtatious - is being weaponized to insinuate that de Grey harassed not just women, but minors at that; most of all, given that Halioua has made the truly remarkable and blatantly self-serving claim that “every dollar that goes to Aubrey holds back the field” and actually makes them “complacent in the sexual harassment of minors”:
... why, exactly, are these accusations being taken at face value against not just any man, but the one man who has probably done more than any other to increase the chances that those who live to 2050, also live to 2150?
It's certainly not a good sign, that's for sure.
I have previously pointed out that SJWs have already largely destroyed Effective Altruism, up to the point that one of its intellectual fathers, Robin Hanson, was "canceled" from a German EA event in 2020 (whereas four years earlier I did not receive trouble for trollishly parading about in a MAGA hat at one of their conferences in Berkeley). Unfortunately, I think this vulnerability to SJW subversion is highly acute and indeed innate to the Rationalism spehere. Most of them are highly virtuous people, which makes them unusually susceptible to psychopathic virtue maximizers. As a friend wrote to me in an email sometime in the late 2010s, “I think this is how movements like EA die – not with a bang, or with a whimper, but with a sloshing sound from all the cash and normie status being poured into the feeding trough. Still, it makes for entertaining reading.” From a utilitarian perspective, it will be a tragedy of truly unfathomable proportions if rent-seeking entryists, smelling cash and sinecures, are allowed to repeat their hit on the Radical Life Extension community.
The upside, such as it is, is that it will at least make for entertaining reading on your deathbed.