Scientists Push Back Against Controversial Paper Claiming a Limit To Human Lifespans – Gizmodo

Jeanne Calment in 1995 Image: AP

Humans don’t like dying, they don’t like the idea of dying, and most have made not dying an important part of their life. Lots of folks are interested in making us not die for longer, so it was a real bummer last year when a team of researchers said that the maximum human lifespan has plateaued at around 115 years of age. Some folks might live to be older, but those oldies are outliers.

When the scientists behind this idea published their research in Nature last October, it sparked a whole lot of press coverage. It also brought debate, accusations that the study was flawed, and questions as to whether it was based on enough data. Today, the journal Nature is publishing five rebuttals from researchers who have problems with the original study—who think that a harder look at the data is warranted, and that the authors’ original conclusions might be incorrect.

One researcher who reviewed the first Nature paper thinks the controversy misses the point. “The authors of the rebuttals quibble about how to deal with the mathematics of small numbers at extreme old age,” S. Jay Olshansky from the School of Public Health University of Illinois at Chicago wrote in an email to Gizmodo. One of the points they fail to realize, he thought, was “if only they would look up long enough from their mathematical formulas attempting to model trends in small numbers, they would realize that… death always occurs, and it does so in a consistent fashion in humans because there is a limit to the duration of life.”

Essentially, last year, researchers from Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York collected the ages of the single oldest people to die in a given year in the United States, France, Japan, and the United Kingdom, based on information in the International Database on Longevity. When they crunched all the data, it appeared to them that the maximum reported age of death increased until the 1990s, and has plateaued since then, averaging out at 115. They did other analyses looking at the second through fifth oldest ages at death, and added data from other sources. The paper’s authors concluded we may be hovering around the limit to human longevity.

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