A Pitched Battle Over Life Span

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Science  29 Jul 2011:
Vol. 333, Issue 6042, pp. 549-550
DOI: 10.1126/science.333.6042.549

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Demographers might not seem the sort to engage in fiery debate—until you talk to James Vaupel and S. Jay Olshansky. The two sit at opposite poles of a dispute (although never in the same place at the same time) that has long fueled speculation: What will human life expectancy look like in the years to come? Will it continue with steady, almost linear upticks? Or will it veer in a different direction? Vaupel says life expectancies at birth will rise unabated by about 3 months a year in countries where residents live the longest. Olshansky counters that sober realities, such as widespread obesity, will cut life spans short. The Vaupel-versus-Olshansky divide is so deep that it's pulled others into the fray.