SENS, Aubrey de Grey, and Harassment

Aubrey de Grey has been accused of sexual harassment by two women:

Laura Deming post

Celine Halioua post

Aubrey has posted a response: Facebook link

Aubrey admits to sending the email with the content referenced by one of the accusers. Sad. And sorry to say despite Aubrey’s denial of the rest the email does seem to fit with a common pattern that makes the rest a lot more believable.

This comes mere days after what appeared to me to be a relatively large and relatively successful fundraise for SENS. I don’t think that timing is a coincidence.

We’ll see how it unfolds from here but my guess is Aubrey, and probably SENS at least in name, are toast. Interested if anyone disagrees.

It seems to me that the kind of behavior Aubrey is accused of is common. Most people who do it are never effectively punished because they actually have very little in their life to lose/damage and jail is not the right answer to this sort of thing. But as soon as a person does have something to lose/damage, the risk that the stories come out to take them down goes way up.

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Tangentially related: I recently saw a SENS newsletter bragging about the fundraising. But I looked through it and clicked the link and still was unable to determine how much money they raised.

Aubrey presents saving lives from aging as his top priority. He gives the impression that this is so utterly important that he prioritizes it way above other stuff, including his own finances (he donated a lot of his own inheritance to SENS). He changed careers because of how important anti-aging work is.

Sexually harassing people – or getting anywhere into that vicinity – is an obvious risk to the cause. If the allegations are true (I haven’t even read the link yet), it would raise questions about his honesty. How much does he actually care about ending aging? Maybe he partly wanted to use it to gain social status. And then maybe he tried to use that social status in typical ways like to get invited to more parties, meet more rich guys, and impress women. It doesn’t look like he organized his life around maximizing the success of anti-aging. But he asked for money while giving people the impression that he was really focused on that goal.

Note that I previously (in 2015) expressed doubts about how well SENS is run including:

and criticism of charity donation matching.

That came after I had a long discussion with Aubrey de Grey: Curiosity Blog Archive – aubrey de grey discussion I thought the discussion was pretty good in some ways but that he was wrong about important issues, including cryonics (a lot of the discussion was about epistemology, which is outside AdG’s specialty, but getting cryonics issues wrong was more directly relevant to SENS), and the conclusion was that he stayed wrong and blocked Paths Forward.

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I edited your post to change the link formatting. It was misleading to me that one link had a onebox preview and the others didn’t (not your fault). I didn’t even realize immediately that there were 3 links rather than 2. The preview + text link next to it looked like maybe they were connected instead of independent. (I’ve had similar issues on Twitter, btw.)

Oh yeah I was mislead too, good call

I’ve saved archives of the 2 accusations and the response.

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There are some reddit topics about this including:

over 500 comments.

not much there. a request to censor the topic and some mocking of misspellings.

There’s also a response from SENS:

Wikipedia says AdG was married in 1991 and got divorced in 2017. I didn’t know about the divorce.

AdG’s wife was 19 years older than him (based on Wikipedia birth years, ignoring month and day). Why did he marry someone that much older than him if he was into young girls?

AdG’s wife helped teach him biology and helped with his career change away from programming. I’m also guessing she was higher status than him at the time they married. She was a scientist who was either employed at Cambridge or was on a career path to get there (Wikipedia doesn’t say when she got the Cambridge job that she has now. 15 years before the marriage she became a full professor at UC San Diego and she had the status to take a second sabbatical to the UK).

Celine Halioua writes (my bold):

Another SENS executive [besides Aubrey de Grey] harassed me so severely that I eventually dropped out of my PhD to escape him (a legal investigation upheld my many accusations against him). I later learned I was far from his first victim, that SENS knew this, and yet they knowingly sent me to work underneath him. After everything came to light, the only question SENS asked was if they ‘needed to know’ what he did to me. They decided they didn’t.

The way lots of high status people protect each other – like a good old boys club – is really problematic. You see this with all sorts of #MeToo accusations. Tons of people knew about abusers and kept working with them professionally and helping connect them with new victims.

And she got harassed so … she had to drop out of her PhD because the school (Oxford) wouldn’t help?

Just the other day I was reading about another prestigious school (UC Berkeley), as well as some prestigious book publishers, refusing do anything about egregious academic/scientific misconduct.

BTW, I notified a prestigious journal where DD published a Turing misquote. They said they’d look into it but I haven’t heard anything more and I don’t expect to. In the UC Berkeley story, note how they said they’d look into it then he had to follow up with them a few weeks later because they didn’t say anything further.

De Grey and his biologist wife Adelaide, 19 years his senior, have an unconventional marriage and he cheerfully admits to having ‘two younger girlfriends’, aged 45 and 24.

Isn’t juggling the needs of three women enough to age any man prematurely? He laughs: ‘It keeps me busy.’

What the hell. I thought he was busy with SENS not with polyamory. I wonder how many donors were fooled.

AdG was 51 at the time of that article and is 58 now. His wife was 70 at the time of the article and 73 when they divorced.

Also from the article:

A penchant for beer, fried food and an aversion to exercise could fool you into believing the lanky ex-public schoolboy cares little about ageing.

I fear most people pursue status or truth/ideas, not both. At least not at the same time. And getting status without pursuing it, while still alive (or ever), is rare. Maybe AdG pursued ideas in the past and then switched. Has he done anything important scientifically in the last 20 years? I don’t know.

Similarly, David Deutsch may have done some good physics work as a young man and then switched to pursuing social status later. It’s unclear that he’s done anything significant in physics for decades. And the best ideas in BoI were largely thought of 20+ years before publication.

The problem is how do you find smart/great but low status people (particularly ones who are alive and would be good to interact with)? High status people are easier to find. They’re more famous.

Even smart and high status people can be hard to find. Eli Goldratt sold millions of books but I’ve very rarely run into any leads by which I could have initially discovered him – I think only two (an FI fan recommended Goldratt to me – thanks – and later patio11 once recommended a book that talks about some Goldratt ideas and mentions Goldratt.).

I’m not sure that patio11 has even read one Goldratt book himself btw.

I enjoyed the Phoenix Project a lot but don’t have super-developed thoughts on the Theory of Constraints. (More business advice should be placed in a well-executed fictional narrative.)

There does seem to be a pretty clear negative correlation between being productive at ideas and being productive at obtaining social status.

But the causal mechanism isn’t clear to me. Are people who are productive at ideas too busy pursuing them to become productive at social? Or do people who are bad at social pursue ideas as a consolation prize they can actually succeed at? I suspect there’s some of each going on but how much in general or in any specific individual is hard to say.

One possibility is many “ideas” people pursued their ideas as a consolation prize for lack of skill at obtaining social status. But then some things happened:
1 - The status game changed. It’s different for older people than younger people. As an example, I think physical appearance matters a lot more in younger people status games and wealth appearance matters a lot more in older people status games. People who were bad at the young-people status games may find their skills and attributes better suited to the old-people status games.
2 - Their idea skill got good enough and general enough to give them an advantage learning status games that they lacked before.
3 - The ideas they pursued were successful enough to confer some status on their own.

Because of these and maybe some other factors the idea people find they can now be more successful at status games than they were before, so that’s what they switch to pursuing.

Yes. But there doesn’t seem to be anyone doing better. Is there?

Those are both factors but I think the larger factor is that pursuing social status is morally corrupting and requires different kinds of thinking than reason/science/truth-seeking. Focusing your attention on the nuances of social reality is quite different than focusing it on the nuances of actual reality.

Social and non-social factors often conflict. E.g. if someone misquotes, do you suck up to them anyway to socially climb, or do you complain and alienate high status people? Do you cite their unscholarly papers in your own work to get tit-for-tat citations, or do you refuse to cite them and not get cited by them? And much more.


One of the things that happens is they have a good enough idea to get some status from that, so then that gets their foot in the door well with status so they start pursuing status. They get a taste of status and also get much better opportunities to socially climb. So they never have another great idea since they pursue status stuff instead.

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Something like that is part of the answer.

Reality is hard and complicated. Making advances in understanding (by working on ideas) is a demanding, full time job.
Social competitions are also demanding but for different reasons - e.g. because there’s lots of competition, and because there are trends to keep up with.
You can do a mix of both and lots of people do, but it’s hard to get really great at either if you’re trying to do both and splitting your attention that way.

Yeah. Part of winning social competitions is putting stuff ahead of reason and truth-seeking.

I thought of an example. Suppose you want to win local political office - like mayor of a city. It’d be quite weird for you to not support the local sports team(s). That’s just a standard, generic thing that lots of people expect, and that doesn’t get you much credit if you do it, but could alienate lots of people if you don’t.

I personally lost interest in professional sports a number of years ago. I used to follow it some, especially when I was younger. I gradually decided that it wasn’t a value to me. Part of what I didn’t like was how arbitrary and biased certain things seemed. Like people would just support a sports team cuz they were born in a place or cuz their parents did or stuff like that, not based on any objective reasoning (I have similar issues with people’s approach to religion, now that I think about it…). Also even when I followed sports I’d annoy people, cuz I’d be like, too objective, and say “Well I think the referee has a point there” when a call went against it … this is NOT OKAY for the “fan” role. You’re supposed to partially turn your brain off and be biased - that’s part of the “fun” i guess…

Anyways my objections to sports don’t cause problems for me in my current life situation, but they sure as hell would if I wanted to run for mayor of some big place. And there’d be thousands of other little issues like that, and some big issues, affecting millions of decisions over what to do and how to act over the course of a lifetime if I wanted to win at social climbing/popularity games…so yeah.

I read the accusations.

Then I read AdG’s response. Based on his response, I updated significantly in favor of him being guilty.

SENS tweeted:

We are aware of the allegations against the Foundation’s Chief Science Officer raised by two members of our scientific community, and, when we first learned of the allegations in late June, we worked quickly to retain an independent investigator to investigate these concerns. We quickly placed the employee in question on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation.

This makes it sound like AdG, who is the chief science officer, was “the employee” who was “placed … on administrative leave” in the past (quickly after “late June”).

However, the news today seems to be saying that AdG was placed on leave now, after the blog posts, not in the past:

Aubrey de Grey, the jet-setting gerontologist who co-founded the SENS Research Foundation to discover ways to reverse the ravages of aging, has been placed on leave by the foundation after being accused of sexual harassment by two prominent entrepreneurs in the field of healthy life span extension.

What’s going on? Was someone else placed on leave in the past and the SENS tweet is misleading? Was AdG already on leave before the blog posts, and the news story is misleading?

I think the SENS tweet is misleading. I think someone other than AdG was placed on leave in late June, based on AdG’s facebook post mentioning someone else at SRF. But AdG’s Facebook post also claims he didn’t know about the other person until today, which I find implausible.

From: Redirecting...

Also, I want to make clear that I was not aware until today of Celine’s prior accusations against another person associated with SRF.