I've decided not to work with Aubrey de Grey or SENS in any capacity moving forward.
I had one bad experience with him when I was 17 - he told me in writing that he had an ‘adventurous love life’ and that it had ‘always felt quite jarring’ not to let conversations with me stray in that direction given that ‘[he] could treat [me] as an equal on every other level’.
He sent this from his work email, and I’d known him since I was 14. Stuff like that happened sometimes, and I wrote it off as a mistake - something that might be my fault for trying to work in an industry when I was younger than average or because I had mentioned concerns about mentors doing stuff like that in a previous email. In the past few months, in part through conversations with Celine Halioua (who interned at SENS), I’ve learned it’s a serial pattern he’s enacted with women over whom he’s in a position of power. You can read about Celine's experience here.
I almost left the field several times as a teenager because of stuff like this happening. I knew that sometimes there would be misunderstandings, but I didn’t expect a trusted mentor I’d known since childhood to hit on me so blatantly, and insinuate that it had been on his mind for a while. It felt wrong to voluntarily go into an industry where - I basically inferred - sexual harassment was the norm.
Sexual harassment isn't acceptable behavior in the longevity field, but Aubrey is a really bad counterexample who does a lot of outreach. So newcomers to the field - mostly students and minors - can get the wrong impression.
It feels very weird to write about this, because I have a separate deeply held belief that we shouldn’t penalize people for not fitting into social norms, or for being different in ways that we can’t understand today. I just personally have no interest in working in a culture that is okay with certain norms (for example, propositioning minors or employees), and I’m angry to realize that Aubrey inappropriately propositioned more than one woman over whom he was in a position of power, many in the community knew about it, and no one did anything.
Earlier this year, Aubrey told me he was trying to 'cleanup his board' in response to 'derogatory rumors', which was actually how I found out this wasn't something only I had experienced, and that he was trying to stop his board from doing anything about it. The SENS board is aware of claims of sexual harassment and hired a firm to investigate these concerns, but also recently took a ~$25M donation which was helped by Aubrey's fundraising capabilities and reputation despite the ongoing investigation. Aubrey's position as their major fundraiser has impacted their decision to work with him despite these concerns.
Lots of people are aware of these concerns, but no one has said anything for a decade, and given the recent donation and incentives involved neither Celine nor I have confidence that SENS will take the appropriate measures to stop Aubrey from harassing more young women. It might be an open secret in the longevity community that this is a problem, but kids on the internet don’t have access to that information, and Aubrey is still mentoring minors. So, we’re making our experiences public. We wish we had known what many in the community did about him when we were entering the field.