Reviews; January 1997; Scientific American Magazine; by Hayflick, Powell, Wallich; 5 Page(s)
Either you are already old, or the odds are better than even that you will become old. This statistic became true only 40 years ago. Aging is an artifact of a highly developed civilization. For more than 99.9 percent of the time that human beings have inhabited this planet, life expectancy at birth has been no more than 30 or 40 years. It is only after we learned how to avoid animal predators, massive homicides, starvation, most causes of accidents and infectious diseases that it has become possible for a substantial portion of the population of developed nations to grow old.
Although the desire for long life or even immortality has been a common theme in human thought throughout recorded history, it is just in the past 20 years or so that biogerontology--the biology of aging--has become an important area of interest to both the scientific community and the public at large. Earlier neglect of biogerontology was motivated in significant part by ageism--negative stereotypes about old people--even among ostensibly objective scientists. The potential political, social and economic impact of large numbers of older persons, however, has galvanized studies of how people and animals age.