When I was asked in mid-2015 to "help" on the Gerontology Wiki, it operated as a place where the captain had been "asleep at the wheel", sad to say. With apologizes to about four editors that had been doing a good job then, the site had degraded to a place where vandalism and vandal-warring was the order of the day, and when that wasn't occurring, much of what was being done was "original research," "fancruft material", etc....the type of things that made the "Walled Garden of Longevity" get booted from Wikipedia in the first place. Many articles were started but not finished; there were competing editing styles, overlapping and discordant information. It was, simply put, a mess.
When I decided to return to active-editor status on August 15, I announced that things would change.
First, not to brag, but I am the Senior Consultant for Gerontology for Guinness World Records and the Director of the Gerontology Research Group's Supercentenarian Research and Database Division. As 2015 had been a year of transition as the GRG moved on from the passing of its founder, Dr. L. Stephen Coles, the most recent "Wiki-War" launched by anti-longevity cabalists on Wikipedia, who had plotted and planned the overthrow of the established, mainstream, scientific position that had existed in the field of maximum lifespan research for 140+ years, it was clear that the "suite of longevity articles" in the specialist realm of validated human longevity needed to find a "refuge home."
Now, mind you, I do believe that Wikipedia, in theory, is the proper place for at least summary reports (the WOP lists) and major articles on the methodology and history of the field (or sub-field, if you may call it that). Surely, Wikipedia, as the world's most-visited information portal, is an important location for mainstream, scientific, neutral-point-of-view coverage of the topic, in theory. Wikia, in theory, is a "fun site for kids/fans/gaming/etc." However, the reality is that Wikipedia is currently beset by a self-destructive editing model, where 90% of the editors are male, nice editors get forced out in a virtual-reality "Game of Thrones," and the powers that be wiki-lawyer their way to article warring. As such, the original idea that "Wikipedia is not paper" and a focus on expanding Wikipedia to a level of detail for every subject area has, instead, been replaced with a pro-deletionist pruning mentality. Material such as lists of beauty pageant winners, record collections lists, lists of oldest people, etc. have been targeted for pruning. Now, mind you, much of this was due to the first issue with Wikipedia: its funding. As a "nonprofit" organization, Wikipedia relies on donations in order to survive. But human nature, by and large, favors taking advantage, not "donating." A vast majority of Wikipedia users do NOT donate. So, Jimbo Wales started a second world information portal, Wikia, that would be for-profit and allow for specialist focus on topic areas that general Wikipedia editors might not find meets the "General Notability Guideline."
True, the "Gerontology Wiki" is NOT the Hunger Games Wiki. This isn't a place where the focus is unimportant, minor details in a movie that only avid fans would notice. The Gerontology Wiki is, instead, and encyclopedia...at least so long as I'm a major bureaucrat here. And as someone registered here since 2007 and a friend of the owner, who is also closely allied with the 110 Club, at the moment it's likely that our main focus here will continue.
True, with the "Gerontology" moniker including an umbrella name that could include far more research than simply a focus on the sub-field or interdisciplinary field of the study of maximum human lifespan (which incorporates input from actuarial science/demographics and biogerontology), I do envision that, one day, this Wikia will be far more than simply a place where people might find lists of validated or claimed supercentenarians. However, given the proximate situation...the push for deletion of much supercentenarian-related content at Wikipedia...it does make sense to focus now on the transfer of material to here, so it can be preserved now, and give us the ability to edit and refine the material at our leisure, not at the point of a "deletion bayonet," so to speak. With that understanding of the situation, I do feel that there also needs to be a clarification of the purpose here.
Firstly, the research into the maximum human lifespan is, firstly, about science. The desire to find out how long people live, and whether we can live longer, is something that has fascinated humans for many millennia, at least since the introduction of agriculture and a settled-community (rather than hunter-gatherer) lifestyle allowed for the introduction of "senescence" or "old age" into society (which, for a time, was viewed as a positive: the alternative was premature death. Prior to this, most people never reached "old age," having died out long before. In the so-called "cave man" era, human life expectancy was around 15 years of age, and few indidividuals even reached age 60. By Roman times, human life expectancy was around 30, and humans regularly reached 70, and sometimes 80. Exceptionally, the first centenarians likely emerged about 4,000-5,000 years ago...perhaps in the Fertile Crescent or Egypt. But without documented records, we cannot know for sure.
Gradually, human civilization also migrated from ones that kept no records of birth and death to ones that kept records for kings/monarchs, then nobles, and later, the middle class. By 1749 A.D., Sweden became the first nation on Earth to begin requiring compulsory birth registration. This, eventually, allowed for society-wide demographic analysis of human populations for the first time. About the same time, the need for life insurance companies to accurately calculate their risk of lifetime payouts led to the development of actuaries studying maximum human lifespan. British expert William Thoms, also the coiner of the term "folklore," made the connection between folklore/myth and age misreporting and thus became the standard-bearer for maximum lifespan research as he developed the model of age validation that it still in use today (mostly because no genetic test has yet been devised that can accurately determine a person's age). Over the past 140 years, the field had remained mostly a specialist vein, with slow growth (see the article extreme longevity tracking for more, mostly because of the extreme difficultly of collating data on age 110+ on a world scale. That changed in the 1990s with the advent of the internet. It was in this period that the GRG (founded 1990 at UCLA by Dr. L. Stephen Coles) began tracking supercentenarians. What started as a mere list by Louis Epstein in 1998 had developed into a database by 2002, with Robert Young (that's me) in charge. I saw the need to move beyond mere opinion of whether a case was valid or not (as Louis Epstein had done) and require actual, documented proof. Further, I saw the need for us to "defeat the myths of longevity" and help ensure that the tide of world history away from mythology and towards a scientific perspective in the field of human longevity continued. News coverage of the GRG began to soar (with reports from newspapers such as the New York Times), and the GRG's number of cases climbed rapidly, reaching 1,000 supercentenarian cases by 2006. I also saw that if we developed an integrated, "One World" global system, we could support the emerging hypothesis, based on evidence, that humans actually had the same maximum lifespan everywhere. There were no "Shangri-Las's"--mythical valleys or human longevity where fantastical ages to 150+ were achieved. As recently as the 1970s, major, mainstream, Western publications such as the National Geographic still sometimes promoted these longevity myths...the Caucasus mountains, Vilcabamba, the Hunza Valley...however, the National Geographic would also be key in turning the tide, as correspondent Alexander Leaf and others did an expose on longevity fraud/age misreporting several times, starting circa 1973. By the late 1970s, the longevity myths from the Caucasus, Vilcabamba, and even America (Charlie Smith) were debunked or exposed as not true/not credible. This led to a shift in media coverage, to rely more on the authentication/validation of extreme longevity claims. Guinness World Records, while having started in 1955, really had reached worldwide popularity in the 1980s. The Shigechiyo Izumi claim to "120" was said to be "completely authenticated." However, by 1987, the claim had been exposed as a case of sibling switching. If even the "validated" case were not true, that only proved the need for stricter standards/controls. Each time the system fails, unlike with religion, science is willing and able to adapt to ensure that the new anomaly fits within a new hypothesis or theory. Several Guinness-validated cases have stood the test of time, including Anna Eliza Williams, 114 in 1987; Florence Knapp, 114 in 1988. Meanwhile, a few less-than-perfect cases continued to slip through the validation-vetting process (mostly because, at the time, the standards were not being adhered to...the work of the experts from the past had been locked away in librairies), such as Carrie White. It really was the Jeanne Calment case, though, that brought the field into the "modern era": first, Calment kep the GWR title for so long (nine years, 1988-1997) that she was able to garner worldwide media attention/focus/interest. Second, her age surpassed the Izumi claim in 1995, assuring that the standardbearer for "oldest person ever" was now a solidly validated case, not one whose status was "disputed at best." Third, by the time of her death in 1997, the internet era was well under way, and round-the-clock media coverage not only on TV but also online ensured a place of continued interest. It also helped that the immediate successors to Calment also lived longer than even the average maximum age of 115 (Marie-Louise Meilleur reached 117 in 1998 and Sarah Knauss reached 119 in 1999). Finally, the statistically-significant milestone of the "year 2000" led to additional historical focus on the world's oldest persons as windows t the past, and bridges of history.
But human-interest stories were not the main goal of the GRG. From its founding, the GRG has been a place where physicians, scientists, and other experts on aging/human longevity gathered, first in person (at GRG meetings at UCLA), then online, to discuss, firstly, the biology of human aging, and scientific studies in their respective biogerontological sub-fields (expertise) that supported various hypotheses for how to extend the human lifespan. At the time time, there was a recognizable need to develop the GRG Database on supercentenarians. In order to find out if anti-aging treatments or other methods to extend the human lifespan worked, it was imperative that researchers first offer "control data"...a baseline to which the results of studies could be compared to. Thus, the GRG database on supercentenarians was born.
True, the GRG was asked in 2000 to partner with Guinness World Records to be the "consultant" in the field of gerontology/human longevity records. Some may say that this risked compromising the "blindness" of scientific data. However, the GRG was looking for "census results", not a survey, poll, or quota. It made sense to gather information on human longevity on the widest possible scale...the global scale...in part to identify whether genetic or environmental anomalies allowed certain groups of people to outlive others. So far, the research has shown that genetics and environment do modulate slightly the maximum human lifespan, but no more than like the tide affecting the water level at the shoreline: in the big picture, just as there is a mean standard ocean depth/height, so there is also a mean standard maximum lifespan, likely controlled by the human genome: that average maximum age is 115, +/- two years with individual-case variation. Only outliers (and two) have EVER been validated to have exceeded this limit, pointing strongly to such a limit. Mortality-rate data on supercentenarians further strengthens this hypothesis, with mortality being .50 annually at age 110 but rising to .67 by ages 114-115: a so-called "mortality peak" followed by mortality deceleration, as the remaining survivors fit into the survivor curve/tails phenomenon.
All this means that the hybrid idea of building a "statistical floor" database to be used for "Big Data"-scale answers (large issues such as the human mortality rate and gender ratio) has been one that has been science-based first, and collaborationist with the human-interest objectives of the general public and fans second. That said, I'm sure that, for most people, truth really is stranger than fiction: to know, beyond a reasonable doubt, that someone is 116 years old is more inspiring than to believe that someone may be "123" but not know for sure. At least, that's my take on this.
And so my interest here at the Gerontology Wiki is under the following parameters/foci:
1. This is an encyclopedia, not a fansite (at least for the time being: perhaps, in the future, will come a better "web host" for this material..like the children of Israel leaving Egypt)
2. Science and the scientific view comes first (that is, biogerontological research and demographics) and human interest/fan interest comes second.
3. To be useful, this Wiki needs to adhere to policies of standardization, efficiency, and a relative level of simplicity: that is, though many nations with many languages are involved in gathering information for the GRG World Supercentenarian Database project, for convenience, the Gerontology Wiki uses a "lingua franca" which is, in this case, English. There's no need for non-English accent marks in the text which lead to issues with data linking and searc confusion. Also, there's no need for articles on every centenarian, which is why we have a cutoff of 108+ for age alone or notable for other reasons.
4. To defeat the vandals and the tone of amateurism, original research, and fan-based editing, I have had to be especially harsh on some who have not been keen to jump on the "this is an encyclopedia" bandwagon. However, at the same time, I have supported those who were already doing well (such as Ozcaro) and brought in new admins who are more in tune with the general tone and flavor of an objective, mainstream, neutral, science-based encyclopedia, allowing room for history (such as "Last Survivors of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake) so long as it, too, can be reliably sourced.
5. This will be "Wikipedia-lite." It will have the general editing understanding of core Wikipedia policies such as "No Original Research," "Neutral Point of View," and "Reliable Sources." A few differences, however, will differentiate the editing philosophy at this Wikia than at Wikipedia:
A. There is no "general notability guideline"...notability is established, in part, by how relevant the article or material is to the specific topic area of gerontology, which is the study of aging and longevity. Additional policies and guidelines will be crafted by the administration of the Gerontology Wiki.
B. Expertism is allowed. The irony is that the Gerontology Wiki is already more reliable in the topic areas of validation and human longevity than Wikipedia is. No one here is advocating that "Methuselah really is 969 years old!". There's a place for religious belief, yes. But there's no need to mix science and religion. Creationism and evolution are not two equally competing theories.
C. There's less sarcasm here. I'm not totally humorousless. However, the overall basis, or goal of this project is the end product, not creating an online web culture. The "flavor" of individual editors should be subsumed to the team goal here. In a way, while I am less tolerant of misbehavior than Wikipedia might be, I'm also less likely to engage in "ego contests" to see who can come up with the best argument. That's not what this project is about. I don't have time for that, and neither do serious, dedicated, competent editors who volunteer to donate their time here.
That said, I'm one to "hear out" complains/questions/issues. You can e-mail me privately at email@example.com if you do not care to discuss an issue on the Gerontology Wiki publicly.
Finally, for now: I may add more later: I do appreciate the new "awards" given for contributions made to the Gerontology Wiki. Humans are, by nature, competitive. It's important to reward those doing well. Edit count alone doesn't establish the quality of editing that one is contributing. Awards, designed by Wikia, to help add a second layer of contribution-recognition beyond total edit count (TEC) alone. Of course, even this system has some issues: it doesn't distinguish, for example, is a user added a correct category status. However, this level of detail may be worked out with talk-page discussions and edit reversals. So, we'll have to stick with edit count, badges, and general overall flavor of editing to get a feel or sense of whose contributions are a net positive and whose are a net negative to the Gerontology Wiki.
Bureaucrat, sysop, admin, etc
P.S. I would rather there be peace, not war: I would rather there be stability, not chaos: I would rather we all get along. Of course, that can't happen all the time, but if you all will work towards the greater vision of making the Gerontology Wiki a reliable place where members of the general public can turn to for information on the topic of gerontology in general and human longevity specifically, I will work to get along with you and reward you, so long as you are making efforts in kind.Ryoung122 (talk) 22:50, January 14, 2016 (UTC)