I Wanna Be Literated #223

I Wanna Be Literated #223

Monday, 22 June 2020

Lifespan: Why We Age—and Why We Don’t Have To
by David A. Sinclair

I’ve come to appreciate the format of popular science books the more I read them. The good ones are written by pros in the field, who actually have a science degree and do research in an established institution, so you know, their reputation in academia is at stake. David Sinclair’s book Lifespan: Why we Age and Why We Don’t Have To, unfortunately, looks suspiciously like a scam book. For one thing, it’s telling the reader what they should be concluding right in the title. Also, it’s flashing Sinclair’s title in big ol’ letters. You don’t see any of that in Steven Pinker or Noam Chomsky’s books. But, Sinclair is definitely a giant in the field, and what he has to say about ageing is compelling and worth considering. Especially now that it’s become a fad.

A hundred pages into this book and the value of Sinclair’s writing becomes obvious. He’s articulate, knows the science in the field, and has first-hand experience with compelling experiments that have prolonged ageing. He knows how to focus on just the right amount of science for the reader to understand his experiments, and he makes a compelling case for why we need to focus as a society on the “problem” of ageing. If we devote enough resource to it, we can prolong the average human life by 20 years in the next generation. We just need to change our approach. The science says this is a goal we can achieve.

But, there are several reasons why this book doesn’t get five stars. First, the second half of Lifespan is Sinclair making broad generalizations for why our approach to medicine, ageing, family, politics, the environment and coexistence is all wrong. Basically stuff that would take multiple books to really delve into, and he does it in 150 pages, and it’s not necessary for main argument of the book. That’s one star right there. Then, there’s Sinclair avoiding the research that argues against his conclusions. Like with any field that’s new, there’s always conflicting studies out there, and some of the people Sinclair references in the field think Sinclair himself is a quack. Finally, there is a lack of honesty here because Sinclair himself is involved in biotech trying to push anti-ageing drugs for a profit. Even the stuff he takes himself NMN has been shown in human trials not to increase NAD levels in cells. It seems like NR is what you need to do the trick. So looking back, the book just seems like a plug for the stuff he’s peddling.

The problem with Lifespan is that it sounds too good to be true. You want to take the stuff seriously, wait for the right studies to be out. It could very well be that Sinclair was a visionary, but until human trials back up the data, it’s kind of snake oil.

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