Do Humans Have a Maximum Life Span? Scientists Disagree on the Answer

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Do Humans Have a Maximum Life Span? Scientists Disagree on the Answer

A study last year suggested there might be a limit to the human lifespan. Now, the optimists of the science world are disputing this with new research—and surprising backlash.

The original paper was published last year in the scientific journal Nature, and was heavily covered by various news outlets. In it, senior author Jan Vijg and his colleagues analyzed data from centenarians before noticing that while the number of such humans was increasing each year, there hadn’t been a new record breaker since the 1990s.

“Initially, you see this increase every year and you see this oldest record holder until the 1990s, and then it stops,” Vijg said. “Think about it, how strange it is.” For Vijg, the conclusion seemed obvious—humans can only live to a maximum age of about 115 years.

For the many scientists disputing the paper in a surprisingly heated manner, aging isn’t as black and white.

One new paper, written by researchers at the Netherlands Interdisciplinary Demographic Institute, suggests that the maximum age will continue to rise—potentially hitting 125 by 2070. A team from the Max Planck Institute suggests that there isn’t any true evidence of a “looming limit,” while a team of Canadian researchers claim Vijg’s paper analyzes “noisy” or meaningless data. At least two other teams of researchers have also spoken out against the study.

Vijg is not worried about the criticism against his study, however, and published a rebuttal. “They want us to be wrong,” Vijg said. “I can see that it’s very depressing when you find out that we can never get older than 115 years on average.”

Vijg does include his hopes that science will be able to halt aging some day, but if not, that it might be time to get comfortable with the idea of only living to 115 at the oldest.

Photo: Will Clayton, CC-BY

Emma Korstanje is a freelance journalist based out of Athens, GA.