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by Peter Moulding Published on 17th Nov 2015
by Peter Moulding Published on 17th November 2015
Anti-aging science has seen a steady rise in advocacy in recent years. However, breakthroughs in research and development are still not covered enough in mainstream media. It is clear that the foundation of support has been growing, particularly through the expanding number of Facebook pages and groups on the subject, but the question remains; to what degree can social media influence mainstream support and increased awareness? Sophisticated use of social media can act as a sound tool for scientific education, debate, advocacy, and influencing social behaviour. As such, this research aims to evaluate the capacity of social media to support the development of science combating age related disease. The study will explore whether this particular area of science is benefiting from social media promotion and advocacy, or instead failing to inspire or achieve any of these things. Key to this is determining the percentage of facebook posts which offer legitimate information in relation to prolonging lifespan. The results were obtained by analysing a sample of 100 facebook posts from each of the most popular (in terms of membership) facebook groups related specifically to life extension. Each post was categorised by purpose and topic, and then those intended to spread seemingly legitimate information were given a legitimacy ranking of 1-6 - 1 being the most legitimate. From the results, it is clear that these posts, on the whole, are not acting to stimulate development or progress in this area of science. Of most concern was a lack of legitimacy and scientific evidence behind many posts on the subject of life extension. The research highlights a range of issues which, if not improved upon, represent a genuine obstacle for popularising and advancing science combating age-related disease.MethodologyWe looked at the ten most popular Facebook pages in terms of membership, and from these pages assessed the 100 most recent posts on and before the 30th September 2015. We reviewed each Facebook post individually, first by purpose which included the categories: raising awareness of a potential cure for age-related disease, a potential cause, analysis and opinion, fundraising, commercial, and no identifiable purpose/unrelated to life extension. The posts were then sorted by topic: Diet/nutrition, fitness/exercise, AI/robots, genetics/stem cells, transhumanism, events, cryonics, memes/quotes/videos/pictures, promotion, the body/biological, drugs/medication, aesthetics, or little to no relevance to life extension. Once we had established which posts were intended to provide information on prolonging lifespan, these posts were then given a legitimacy value. The scale, from 1-6, begins with ‘actual study’, which is a link to a scientific study published in peer reviewed journals. Second on the scale, ‘analysis of a study’, is an article that investigates a scientific study and includes a valid link. Third on the scale, ‘link to analysis of a study’, is a post linking to an article analysing a scientific study, with links and sources. Fourth on the scale, ‘Opinion piece/blog related to study’, is a post linking to an opinion piece, with links to a scientific study. Fifth on the scale, ‘Press release’, is a link to a statement in the news announcing scientific developments. Last on the scale, ‘Opinion piece/blog not related to study’, is a post linking to an opinion piece, without any links to a study or valid sources. Results Overall, we accessed 10 Facebook pages and 938 posts on and before the 30th September 2015.14.71% of posts were raising awareness of a potential cure for aging or age-related disease, 2.55% were raising awareness of a potential cause for age-related disease, 17.59% were analysis/opinion on subjects related to life extension, 31.02% were general advocacy, 5.86% were related to fundraising, 1.06% promoted commercial ventures, and 27.18% had no identifiable purpose or were unrelated to life extension. 7.35% of all posts were in the diet/nutrition topic category, 2.45% in AI/robots, 6.39% in genetics/stem cells, 5.01% in transhumanism, 2.13% in events, 1.81% in cryonics, 15.35% general advocacy for life extension/immortality (memes/pictures/video), 18.23% commercial promotions, 12.36% in body/biological, 3.19% in drugs/medication, 0.31% in aesthetics, 25.42% no identifiable purpose/unrelated to life extension. 248 of 938, or only 26.4% of all posts were suitable for the legitimacy scale. This denoted posts which were specifically intended to promote or raise awareness of a development with the potential to prolong lifespan. Of those posts, a mere 1.21% were placed on value scale 1, 13.31% in 2, 40.72% in 3, 7.26% in 4, 1.2% in 5, and 36.3% in 6.Only 14.71% of all posts were related to potential cures, and 82.61% of these were suitable for the legitimacy scale. Of these, 0% were actual studies, 55.9% were links to an analysis of a study, and 22.81% were articles based on opinion rather than a scientific study. 2.56% of all posts were related to potential causes, and out of this, 87.5% were suitable for the legitimacy scale. Again, 0% of these were actual studies, 57.14% were a link to an analysis of a study, and 23.81% were articles based on opinion rather than a scientific study. If we take a look at the overall picture of life extension on social media, taking into account all the data we have collected, only 26.4% of posts could be considered as scientifically informative. Of these, a tiny 1.21% could be considered as a grade 1 legitimate source. This represents a mere 0.32% of all posts analysed. Informational posts graded 2-4, which can also be considered legitimate represent just 16.2% of all posts. This leaves 9.9% of posts in the category 5-6 - intended as informative but with little credible scientific basis. And a huge 73.6% offering no legitimate or useful information in relation to aging science. Although fundraising for scientific research falls into this category and represents an entirely legitimate and worthwhile use of social media, this accounts for just 5.9% of that total. ConclusionThe purpose of this research was to evaluate the capacity of social media to support the development of science combating age related disease, from the assessment of these results it is clear that the social media around this particular area of science is currently coming up short as a tool for genuine scientific education, debate, and advocacy. For these pages that are primarily concerned with scientific developments, it is a huge surprise that there is such a huge proportion of posts which were, for the most part, unrelated. In addition, the majority of posts had no scientific basis. These results clearly show that these pages could be doing more to stimulate relevant debate and advocate the science around curing aging.This is concerning, as legitimate information about developments in science are integral to spreading awareness among the mainstream. Advocacy is clearly a double-edged sword, as even advocacy based on memes and images is positive for the overall picture. However, advocating posts based on memes, images, and promotion, seem to play a more self gratifying role, and offer little in terms of legitimising the cause, particularly to a mainstream audience. Above all else, although attempts to raise awareness and gain greater advocacy through social media are admirable, and absolutely essential to the cause, the results show that a great deal more caution, and in many cases vigilance needs to be exerted when sharing information.