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Supercentenarians are concentrated into regions with no birth certificates (biorxiv.org)
462 points by lordnacho 47 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 227 comments

I am reminded of https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/study-questions-ag... which lays out the case that the oldest woman on record, Jeanne Calment, was actually her daughter Yvonne who substituted herself for her mother in 1934 to avoid inheritance taxes.

Yes, there's an interesting philosophical question here about burdens of proof and Humean 'extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence'. Calment's claim is to be the oldest person out of billions of people, and she is the oldest by a truly extraordinary margin - no one has even come close to reaching her record before or since. So, which is more likely: that her claim however improbable (someone has to win the lottery) is completely correct (and she simply had some unique luck or mutation enabling her excess longevity), or that some highly unusual (but still more likely than '1 in tens of billions') circumstance (such as a complicated tax & insurance fraud) has led to a mistake? Indeed, how would one ever be sure of such a claim, short of the isotopic testing advocated in OP - which will, incidentally, stop working in the future?

(This is a general problem of priors and evidence and model uncertainty I think about occasionally: https://www.gwern.net/Modus https://www.gwern.net/Littlewood https://www.gwern.net/Mail-delivery#on-model-uncertainty https://www.gwern.net/Research-criticism https://www.gwern.net/Everything https://www.gwern.net/Turing-complete#on-seeing-through-and-... )

I really wouldn't say "nobody has come close" - she was 3 years older (122 vs 119) than the next oldest verified person, and around five years from most of the next top ten - most of them died at 117.

If she was, say, 132, I'd be more suspicious, but 122 sounds more reasonable for statistical outliers in an incredibly complex process.

The problem is, 3 years is a huge gap. If you look at all the other centenarians, they really do cluster within months of 117-119. And then you have Calment, who is the only outlier and who is like 30+ months past them all (and this is at a time of life where the annual mortality rate is like >50%). I plotted the age gap between the record holders once, and it looks basically like a flat line and then a single dot at the top of the graph corresponding to Calment. It may be a complex process, but at least for everyone else they die on schedule.

It's also worth pointing out that all the Abrahamic religions predict a 120-year limit, which prediction dates back thousands of years (Genesis 6:3). So regardless of your opinion of Abrahamic religions, there are a lot of people who would care a great deal about verifying those extra three years!

I can't speak for other religions, but in Judaism, the 120 is used in common practice to mean "long life". It's how long Moses lived.

The interpretation of the 120 years reference is more complicated. See https://www.aish.com/atr/120-Year-Lifespan.html

Why did Moses et al. take 40 years to move from Egypt to Canaan? (about 200 miles)

The other explanation is that God was saying he was going to bring the flood in 120 years.

>all the Abrahamic religions predict a 120-year limit

Do you have any more information on this? It sounds like interesting reading, but all I can find on Google is a link to this post.

There were exceptions after the flood. In the Book of Chronicles we have Jehoiada who died 130 years old. (2 Chr. 24:15)

According to Professor Gershwin:

Methus'lah lived nine hundred years Methus'lah lived nine hundred years But who calls dat livin' When no gal will give in To no man what's nine hundred years ?

Hinduism (Vedas) sets 120 years as human lifespan (provided it is lived according to dharma, transgressions reduce it a proportionally). That's where all other religions got it form.

That's very interesting if true. Can you give any reference? All I can find through search engines is some references to "about 100 years" and a single thread where someone mentions a 120 year prediction but then the rest of the thread is everyone else correcting that person.

You can see similar progression with world record mile runs: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mile_run_world_record_progress...

Advancements in nutrition and health in combination with expectations about longevity might result in similar clustering followed by leaps.

Or not. Just saying that in the absence of a better fundamental understanding it's difficult to judge the strength of such circumstantial evidence. This recent paper should absolutely make us more skeptical of claims, but doesn't really shed much light on the heart of the matter--limits of longevity.

No, you don't. Look at the successive increments: they get tinier and tinier over time, exactly like one would expect from an increasingly professionalized global sport drawing from a talent pool of hundreds of millions of people. The only gaps or changes in the record which are remotely comparable to how much Calment exceeded and continues to exceed other oldest-people date back to the 1800s. Her record is in the completely wrong place.

Are you intimating that she learned a breakthrough technique in how to be old?

The history of advancements in the mile, the marathon, and other competitions seems to suggest that expectations about what's physically possible effect people's performance individually and generally--e.g. apparent endurance barriers.

A similar phenomenon might also exist in the context of longevity. If you get sick and weak at 70 but expect to live to the average age of 90 you might be more optimistic and committed to getting well. If you're sickly at 95 but expected to have already died you might give up the ghost sooner, so to speak.

Assuming that such a phenomenon exists in the context of longevity, I'm intimating that increased awareness about extreme longevity might have the effect of changing expectations and therefore advancing at the margins the extremes of longevity that some people attain. And if the phenomenon behaves like it does in sports, one would expect clustering followed by intermittent breaks to a new limit.

EDIT: To be clear, my main point isn't that this phenomenon exists but that given the possibility of its existence, and in tandem with the clear paucity of reliable, accurate data, the clustering we see might not be strong evidence of a hard barrier at ~117, and in particular not strong evidence that 122 is wildly improbable.

Given that anyone who has reached 117 has already dismissed their ailments with an "this would be the end for most people, but I'm not most people" stubbornness for a few decades, the argument implied by the original paper might be a better explanation for clustering rather than tapering at the high end (i.e. some people knowing that extremely old people live to 117-119 are willing to maintain the fraud of their relative's survival for that long, but are unwilling to risk or unable to succeed in taking it further...)

Could just be a breakthrough genetic mutation. The information posted here suggests that she also had unusually good health when young, and appeared younger than her daughter during the time period when both were alive.

Shame she had no surviving offspring, though it seems like her daughter didn't share her longevity anyway.

That was one of the many arguments in the original blog post IIRC - that if you look, at the rest of her family, they all died in their 50s/60s, making this hypothesis less likely than if they all tended to live in their 90s or some such.

I did some simulating of the Gompertz and it seems to support my intuition that Calment really is extreme: https://www.gwern.net/Order-statistics#sampling-gompertz-dis...

It ought to be possible to estimate the odds. We don’t know exactly how mortality changes with extreme age but there ought to be a pretty decent idea. How likely is it for a gap like this to appear?

It is possible even if unlikely. But if you are right that it is way too unlikely then the next alternative is that her age was exaggerated by 3 years. The theory that she "was her own daughter" I think is also possible but less likely than an (intended or unintended) error of 3 years somewhere.

No. 122 is not reasonable.

A suggestion that there may be a straightforward determination of facts via a blood test:


A special case, though. Almost all centenarians wouldn't admit of such a solution - at least, until we start getting whole population pedigrees and then an inability to put a centenarian in the appropriate place becomes proof of error/fraud.

> that her claim however improbable (someone has to win the lottery) is completely correct

That line of reasoning does not apply here. Someone will win the lottery given enough time as the possibility space is bound - but there is no similar given guarantee that any human would ever live to age X if we have never observed a human living to age X before.

It does apply. Someone has to be the oldest. Someone has to be the oldest-person who has the largest gap. Regardless of how old that is, or how large the gap is, there will be at least one.

Ok, now I get the point you were trying to make.

The lottery parallel still doesn't feel the most apt; the definition you specify ensures that you will always have such a person (who lived to be the oldest, and who had the largest gap with the previous record holder) for n > 1 people. In that sense it is recurrent, unlike winning the lottery, which no one has until someone does (or winning in a raffle, where we know that there will aways be a winner due to the very definition of the game).

Regardless, none of that helps us determine any further how plausible Calment's statistically anomalous record is.

Someone has to be the oldest but the gap is an independent information. Mortality rate is constant at 0.5 per year for Supercentenarians. That gap is a massive outlier.

I just discovered this theory and I've been reading the sources, both in English and in French and frankly I'm not convinced. I don't find the photographic evidence presented in the paper particularly convincing. It really reads that the type of stuff you read on conspiracy theory forums, extrapolating wildly based on cherry-picked and very limited material. Besides I think the counter-argument that the people in Arles would've noticed if Fernand Calment suddenly started pretending that his daughter was his wife seems rather pertinent.

Apparently the theory gained traction thanks to this article summarizing the research: https://medium.com/@yurideigin/jaccuse-why-122-year-longevit... There are so many leaps of logic in there that it's hard for me to take seriously. I like in particular that they use this photo to argue that Yvonne was taller than Jeanne when their posture is completely different: https://miro.medium.com/max/1050/1*VBI9NRmZ58XcZXif_6cgzw.pn...

I think the best argument in favor of this theory is that apparently Jeanne asked for some family documents to be destroyed which does seem highly suspicious, although it's also quite plausible that there were some other family secrets she didn't want to be made public especially since at the time she was becoming famous worldwide.

Meanwhile Jeanne was apparently able to name old professors and maids of hers, things that her daughter would probably not have known or remembered.

I wouldn't rule the theory out entirely but it's rather flimsy at this point IMO.

I have no stake in this conspiracy either way. Just responding to a couple of things:

> Besides I think the counter-argument that the people in Arles would've noticed if Fernand Calment suddenly started pretending that his daughter was his wife seems rather pertinent.

This seems to assume a lot about the nature of their personal and social life. According to the Wikipedia article they didn't even live in the same apartment while they were married, so perhaps they weren't seen together in public.

> Meanwhile Jeanne was apparently able to name old professors and maids of hers, things that her daughter would probably not have known or remembered.

Really? If you're going to go assume someone else's identity with their cooperation and you're not stupid you're going to find out every little detail about their past life and remember it.

Arles is not a large city, there were about 30k people in the 30's. The Calments were a rich, notable family. I have a hard time imagining that nobody would've noticed the daughter becoming the wife, but I suppose it's not entirely implausible.

>Really? If you're going to go assume someone else's identity with their cooperation and you're not stupid you're going to find out every little detail about their past life and remember it.

The only motive they managed to dig up for the potential daughter/mother swap was to avoid inheritance taxes. Would they really go through all that effort for something like that? Would the administration really start asking such minute details about Jeanne's life to make sure that it was indeed her? How would they have even known to ask for something like that? It wasn't some young jew trying to evade the Gestapo during WW2, it was (presumably) a rich family trying to avoid taxes. It doesn't really add up to me. Actually it sounds like a world of troubles to avoid paying taxes to me, but who knows, rich people are weird.

More generally I agree that her age is extremely anomalous and as such it warrants some skepticism and there might be something hiding underneath all that. Still, at this point we have decades of researchers who have investigated her case and found nothing weird, and then these two Russian researchers who built this theory comparing old photographs and making Facebook polls asking their friends who they thought looked more like Jeanne on the pictures (it's literally in their paper, I'm not making it up).

It's possible that it's true but the evidence so far is extremely circumstantial and rather weak. The most compelling argument is effectively "people don't live to 122, so something fishy is going on". I suppose it's worth considering.

> It doesn't really add up to me. Actually it sounds like a world of troubles to avoid paying taxes to me, but who knows, rich people are weird.

I'm not commenting on the plausibility of this woman assuming her mother's identity in 1934 to avoid taxation.

I'm pointing out that the comment about her supposed daughter knowing the name of her mother's math teacher doesn't make any sense as a refutation of those events if we otherwise assume them to be plausible, which that part of the Smithsonian article does.

Yes she's not fleeing the Gestapo, she's allegedly trying to avoid paying taxes. Are we to think that someone who's otherwise keeping up such a ruse wouldn't have thought that it could unravel because she doesn't know the name of her high school's best friend's sister's boyfriend or whatever?

Even if she hadn't thought about that at the time this quote is based on an interview she had in 1990 when she was 115 years old. At that point she'd have had a lot of time to consider that maybe her tax fraud was going to destroy most of her assets and possibly land her in prison, so maybe doing some research on her mother's life was in order.

The husband of Jeanne Calment was a rich merchant, a very social job, highly exposed in a small city. That not a single person in the city would have noticed a switch between the 2 especially during the funeral of her daughter is very very unlikely.

The research of the 2 Russian guys who don’t speak a single word of french is full of very basic error and is rather of the level of the usual conspiracy theory (the city knew but everybody remained silent)

To give you an idea of the mindset of some people, and for how much they are ready to lie and deceive, I have this gem:


To give you an idea of the mindset of some people, read about all the theories about who Shakespeare "really" was, particularly Mark Twain's.

> and then these two Russian researchers

Fix: and then these two researchers

I only included the nationality because I thought it was relevant here for purely geographical and possibly linguistical reasons: they appear to be working from quite far away and not using primary sources for a lot of their work.

then say that. it’s more clear. no need to use nationality as a roundabout shorthand.

tbf the "people would have noticed if Fernand Calment suddenly started pretending his daughter his was his wife" counter argument isn't that strong, since the average Arles resident had absolutely no reason to know which one was supposed to be dead on the census and they weren't exactly socialites (convincing relatives that would know the difference and might have stood to inherit might be trickier.). That's actually where the conspiracy theorists' arguments - at least superficially - make a lot of sense: censuses recorded Jeanne as living next door to Yvonne's husband and then moving in with him (probably not unusual for the time, but also not logistically difficult to maintain one family unit in the eyes of the census takers and officials and another in the eyes of close friends). And the census before Yvonne's recorded death somehow failed to record either of Yvonne or Jeanne but recorded two copies of Jeanne's mother-in-law - who then had a death certificate issued a few days later, another detail which apparently didn't raise any eyebrows in Arles...

Again, I find anecdotes about Jeanne apparently being able to name old professors Yvonne wouldn't have personally met but might have heard tales of whilst also getting some other events wrong and occasionally mixing up things her father owned with things her husband owned rather uncompelling (much like I find the conspiracy versions' photographic comparisons and weird obsession with "hunter's gait" uncompelling). I think the big hole in the conspiracy theory is "why not just pretend they were both still alive"?

Both sides' evidence is pretty flimsy considering the extraordinary claims standard we should be using for both: there's one way for anyone that cares enough to settle the question and that's DNA

I think the big hole in the conspiracy theory is "why not just pretend they were both still alive"?

One of them was definitely dead and inheritance taxes were very high at the time. There's a good motive for the daughter to claim to be her mother.

It also explains why the son-in-law happily lived with his departed wife's "mother" for the next several decades (she was actually his wife pretending to be the mother).

Quite frankly, there's a lot of silly logic required to justify a lot of bizarre things Jeanne did after this census, which all make sense if Jeanne was really Yvonne by then. Occam's razor: is it more likely that the mother kept calling her husband her father for a few decades in casual conversation and lived with her son-in-law but not her husband, or is it more likely the daughter kept slipping up while trying to maintain the facade and lived with her own husband?

I'm not sure one of them definitely being dead would necessarily have needed to be known to anybody not knowing which one anyway, unless there were separate financial motivations for not just concealing the fact of the death altogether and telling everyone that Jeanne was having a fantastic time convalescing in the countryside...

This is a better summary: https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/10.1089/rej.2018.2167

After the initial report was published a number of let's say "conspiracy theorists" made their own articles and tried to find new things sometimes with doubtful methods.

The original research doesn't claim that any particular piece of argument in itself is conclusive but that combined together, it creates a corpus of oddities that amount to a strong doubt.

> Meanwhile Jeanne was apparently able to name old professors and maids of hers, things that her daughter would probably not have known or remembered.

In particular she made several "mistakes" when relating the names of people living with them, including the maid as you mention, which would be consistent with a maid that accompanied Yvonne to school but not Jeanne. See "Whom did Marthe Fousson accompany to school?" from the link above. Similarly for the piano teacher.

How old was she when she made these mistakes? Is conflating two different maids she hired 80 years ago a reasonable mistake for her to make? I would say definitely.

Yes, she was already very old, this is acknowledged in the report that it can be a factor to the mistakes. It's not about a single mistake though but a combination of them, that are all consistent with the identity switch and not consistent with the single identity. For this particular item, it's not conflating two maids, she was asked who accompanied her to school and volunteered a name that Yvonne went to school with.

A few years ago, the government of Japan decided to have people visit everyone over the age of 100, to see how they were getting along and what they were doing right.[1] They found 231 cases where pensions were being paid out but the person could not be found.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/15/world/asia/15japan.html

Thanks for finding that link! I saw this on the news at the time and I've never been able to find something in English to talk about it. One of things that shook out from this is that they redid the longevity studies in Okinawa and discovered that people in Okinawa have the same life expectancy as everyone else in Japan (which is not much different than the rest of the world). All of those nutrition studies in the 70's were based on government census data -- which turned out to be massive pension fraud.

There is also the reverse process: people who are older than officially recorded. When my in-laws came to the USA from Vietnam after the war they wanted to be able to work for a long time before anyone forced the to retire, so they just said they were 25 years old, an understatement of quite a number of years. Upheaval and displacement tend to wipe out government records.

We found this out about my grandma near the end of her life. Everyone had always thought she'd been born in 1927. Turns out, according to some paperwork we'd gotten from her home country she'd actually been born in 1923. It was all because she wanted to lie to my grandpa and seem younger than she was. At some point she just forgot about it.

We found out about a decade after grandma died that her age may have been off by a few years. She lived in a remote place and a few of the siblings all got their birth certificates in batches on rare (once every few years) visits to a city with a records office. I can't remember what tipped them off about being wrong but I think a few were officially born far to close together.

I kinda wondered that looking at the paper. It's hard to know from eyeballing such low numbers relatively speaking, but it seems like there's not only a large peak in supercentenarians born shortly before the introduction of records (suggesting erroneously reported very old age), but maybe also a smaller peak after the records.

With name databases, there seems to have been a phenomenon where people retroactively created records when they were introduced (e.g., people registered for SSNs after the fact). Maybe there's something similar going on: people are overreporting their age when born with no records, but also are overreporting their age when they registered their birth after the fact.

It's a bit hard to explain in terms of underreporting age, and the trends are such that I think they still largely support the authors' hypotheses in terms of relative overreporting and underreporting. But I agree there's probably more fuzziness here.

The bigger issue for me that this raises are the perils of making inferences on outliers of any distribution. The further out you go on any characteristic, the more likely you are going to run into similar problems with errors, fraud, or unusual circumstances.

> When my in-laws came to the USA from Vietnam after the war they wanted to be able to work for a long time before anyone forced the to retire, so they just said they were 25 years old

God bless your parents. I don’t care much for the immigration debate in our country, but we should be actively recruiting people like this.

>> I don’t care much for the immigration debate in our country, but we should be actively recruiting people like this.

Just to be clear, you're indicating that the criteria we should be selecting for is people willing to falsify information on official documents.

I think what he was getting at is that we should be selecting for people willing to work hard for long periods of time.

I also suspect that if you posed a force-choice question to most Americans, "Who would you rather have in this country: people who are willing to falsify official documents so they can work hard for longer, or people who stick to the letter of the law so that they can work as little as possible?", they would choose the former.

The criteria mentioned seem both parochial and specious.

I'd prefer meaningful criteria that result in new citizens who would make positive contributions to a community, not criteria that would encourage otherwise ethical people to falsify official documents nor ones that equate toil with virtue.

Now take a look at the other comment here.

I didn't know this was a trend! I also have several vietnamese relatives who faked their age except their logic was to use an older age so they can claim social security benefits earlier.

They usually don't even use the same month and day for their fake DOB. This is because everyone in the family only celebrate their chinese/lunar calendar birthday instead (which is already on a different western date each year).

Stop narcing on them on the internet, friend.

The migrants we have in Europe routinely claim they are underage. Most of them are easily 10 years older, if not with white beard. Both themselves and the immigration agents participate because they are so keen on helping them.

There's been recent controversy in Europe over refugees from Syria etc because they can't prove their age, and under-18s get better treatment for the obvious reason, so then governments want to use questionably-accurate methods like examining teeth…

I like how the ILO convention against forced labour worded it: “able-bodied men not under an apparent age of 18 and not over an apparent age of 45.” Makes me reflect on what “apparent age” means to a German officer.

Context: Men 18-45 were excluded from the ILO Convention on forced labour of 1930 which included all other humans. They had to wait until 1957 to be included in the UN one. It’s often cited when people talk about women getting the vote only in 1945.

> people who are older than officially recorded

This is a persistent story in professional football (soccer). Clubs have taken to measuring wrist bones and other techniques to avoid buying players who are older than they say. A problem for people from countries where the official documentation process is somehow lacking.

How would measuring someone's wrist bones tell you how old they are?

I have no idea, perhaps it's to do with the fusion of the growth plates in late adolescence.

In the UK I know there have been a few instances of people claiming to be minors, so they're less likely to be deported. I assume that 'age' would persist if they got leave to stay.

There are many such cases, not restricted to the UK. If you look you can find lots of rather amusing images about the topic. Photos of clearly adult men posing next to young teenagers, as if they are the same age. The amusing part is that everybody maintains the illusion.

But that is urban legend passed around illegal immigrants. Just watch "UK border force" or "Nothing to declare" on youtube. I am not from UK but it still was quite interesting thing to watch.

The legendary Delta blues musician Son House is usually regarded to have been born in 1902, but comments he made about his own age would imply that he was born around 1886.

It has been suggested that he lied about his age when he moved up north in order to avoid being discriminated against when applying for jobs. Or he may have been born in 1902 and simply lying about, or genuinely mistaken about, his age.

during the Hurricane Katrina displacements in 2005, public schools and Universities around the nation struggled with the lack of grade records, identities and birth certificates due to prevalence of Louisiana's (backwards, non-existent, inaccessible) wiped out systems

I wouldn't say much has changed in some regions of the US

> Thousands of Japanese centenarians may have died decades ago

> The justice ministry said the survey found that more than 77,000 people listed as still alive in local government records would have to be aged at least 120, and 884 would be 150 or older.

> The nationwide survey was launched in August after police discovered the mummified corpse of Sogen Kato, who at 111 was listed as Tokyo's oldest man, in his family home 32 years after his death.

> Kato's granddaughter has been arrested on suspicion of abandoning his body and receiving millions of yen in pension payments after his unreported death.

> Soon after came the discovery that a 113-year-old woman listed as Tokyo's oldest resident had not been seen by her family for more than 20 years. Welfare officials have yet to locate Fusa Furuya, who was last seen in about 1986.


> 884 would be 150 or older.

It is kind of disturbing that these people are officially thought to be that age, but that nobody had been looking them up before despite them literally, albeit theoretically, being the oldest people alive on Earth!

Winston Churchill had special shipments of cigars from India with associated paperwork. The paperwork persisted a few decades after Indian independence and his death. Depending on data keeping, it will take a crackdown to find suspicious pensioners.

Boy this may change some recommendations about the “blue zone” diets and lifestyles.


I doubt that: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue_Zone#Characteristics

Pretty standard, unanimous lifestyle advice. Stay social, stay active, not too much alcohol, lots of plants, avoid stress, don't smoke.

How much of those are based on erroneous correlations based on blue zone data though?

>In his book, Buettner provides a list of nine lessons, covering the lifestyle of blue zones people:[13]

>Moderate, regular physical activity.

>Life purpose.

>Stress reduction.

>Moderate caloric intake.

>Plant-based diet.

>Moderate alcohol intake, especially wine.

>Engagement in spirituality or religion.

>Engagement in family life.

>Engagement in social life.

We don't know which ones of those are real and which signify you live in a zone which has bad records for birth certificates.

Also what does "high vegetable intake" or "Plant-based diet" mean? These can mean wildly different things to different people.

For example, how many people over 100 are lifelong vegetarians? Vegans? I bet the number is extremely small (or zero in the case of vegans, a term coined in 1944), but that's what many people think of when one says "plant-based diet".

Plant based diet?

Well, that means lots of HFCS and starch, fried in vegetable oil, of course.

Meat-heavy diets are a recent phenomenon in most societies.

> We don't know which ones of those are real and which signify you live in a zone which has bad records for birth certificates.

While that is true, many of those things (regular physical activity, stress reduction, engagement in family/social life, moderate alcohol intake) improve your quality of life regardless of whether it makes you live longer.

Read the linked paper. Low literacy, low income, short life expectancy (!), high crime, in these zones have been ignored until now and are good predictors. It's more likely error/fraud than lifestyle.

FWIW Sardinia has one of the lowest crime rates in Italy. Thoae factors might be good predictors but the paper does not appear to quantify the effect.

Unless of course eating vegetables raises crime rates.

Did anyone investigate if these traits differed from other regions in japan, italy, costa rica and greece? In particular back in 2005?

Note that the introduction of birth certificates in the US only reduced supercentarians, it didn’t eliminate them.

I would be willing to accept that most are frauds, but I do think it is possible for someone to live to be a supercentarian. I have met a couple people who are around 100 who seemed healthy and had it all together mentally. I’m sure some decent percent of people in that position have the ability to live for another 10 years

Of course, but that isn't what this study is about or why it (and other's like it) are important.

Researchers have spent tons of time trying to discover why certain areas are ripe with supercentenarians - what is it about their diet or environment or genetics or social structure. As a random person in the US, I have particularly heard about Okinawa in this regard.

This study is strongly implying that the only thing special about those areas is their ability and desire to commit fraud.

My great-grandmother died a month before her 100th birthday. Born in California with valid records and survived her husband by decades. She was pretty active and alert considering her age well into her 90s. We would walk together on the grounds of her retirement home (she needed a walker) until the last year or so.

Absolutely. My grandmother lived to 104. She had my mother when she was 45 and was still doing push-ups to stay in shape in her 80s. At her 100th birthday party, she blew out 100 candles in one breath. It's not hard to believe that at least a few people out of a billion could go well past that.

When the grandmother of, let’s say a friend, passed away at 96, I was surprised to note the local newspaper mention her age as 106, no doubt due to the political influence of said friend’s relatives. I didn’t realise at the time that this is a sort of thing people like to brag about.

You don't think it was simply an arithmetic mistake by the editor of the local deaths column? Given a birth date of 19xx and a death date of 20xx, an off-by-10 error doesn't sound too far-fetched.

The family didn’t know her date of birth. They had an estimate of her year of birth because she’d said she was x years old when her first child was born.

I guess i'm gonna start planning moving to a no-birth-certificate region. Hoping the somewhat late move will still have a positive effect on my life- and healthspan.

Avoiding refined sugars and grains will go a very long way towards this, which is likely a large part of the longer lived combined with modern medicine availability.

Right now the data is correlating better with no-birth-certificate regions so I'll follow the data.

Looks like the Antarctica continent has a large ratio of those regions. Time to pack the bags.

I'm having flashbacks to questionable product decisions made at work from blindly following multivariate testing results.

I've wondered about this for a long time. Finally somebody investigated, and lo and behold, a good chunk of this phenomenon is simply the result of lying.

Odd, since a birth certificate is not actually a valid proof of identity.

There is no biometric associated with a birth certificate created in year X that can be used to prove that the baby named in it has grown up to become the person claiming that identity in year Y.

An actual background check has to establish a chain of evidence linking the birth to the person being checked. This requires interviewing relatives, friends and acquaintances, collecting school and business records, drivers license records and any other public or private records.

The thing with birth certificates — it’s pretty difficult to backdate them or retroactively issue legitimate ones without rising red flags in process that would trigger some background checks.

So you need to assume identity of real person living or dead, which is more an effort than flat out bullshiting about your age.

And if you are assuming identity of other person, you cant simply snatch birth certificate and issue new id, but with your photo — if such id was issued before, it would be routine check to match photos. Alltogether it greatly limits, but not entirely eliminates this kind of identity thieft.

It is however other story to assume same identity (name, dob) but different parents (altought with same names) for inheritance or immigration fraud. That is pretty much undetectable in some circumstances.

> This requires interviewing relatives, friends and acquaintances, collecting school and business records, drivers license records and any other public or private records.

We are talking about people born before 1910 here. Friends and acquaintances are all dead by definition. Drivers license won't come into play for decades. Other mid-life documents like marriage are also going to be decades later.

It's a hard problem. Especially when identity fraud for other reasons may be involved (a chield taking the identity of a parent to bypass inheritance taxes).

We need a biological test. Is there a biological marker that can attest of someone's age?

> Is there a biological marker that can attest of someone's age?

No, especially when you'd expect that the same qualities that might allow someone to live a very long time would also make them appear "biologically" younger. We don't have rings like trees.

While true, doing such background checks gets a lot easier with documentation like birth certificates.

I assume a large fraction of people who have considered committing this kind of fraud, have decided against it because they realised it would be relatively easy to investigate.

(And I expect that places with birth certificates also tend to have a more consistent presence of other kinds of records, and a higher law enforcement budget for investigating possible instances of fraud, when compared to places without birth certificates.)

You don’t really need a better budget if you have vital records of sufficient quality — just a routine procedure to cross-reference them when issuing identity documents. Ex-soviet countries would be fine example for that.

While I've also congettured in the past that at least a good chunk of extreme supercentenarians are due to anagraphical errors if not outright fraud, I do not think that the paper support the thesis well.

For starter they do not have a global model, it seems that they handpicked different statistics for different areas that support their thesis (they do not even show anything concrete for Japan).

Regarding Sardinia, their numbers seem actually wrong: looking at the raw Istat data the numbers for 55 year life expectancy for the Sardinian provinces seem in line with the rest of Italy (95-96%) putting Sardinia somewhere in the middle of the (quite tight) Italian distribution.

It is possible that the researcher averaged the data over a longer period of time that I bothered to look is possible, but the paper doesn't discuss the methodology.

Their fitting, p value not withstanding, also seem a bit adventurous; the fact that all and almost only Sardinian provinces are extrme outliers shoud have been a tell. The rest of the Italian bprovinces are in a tight uniform cluster.

Sardinia, except for a very brief period in the mid 2010s,has only 4 provinces, so it is possible that messed up their data extraction (they show 8 provinces).

Also Sardinia is not particularly poorer than the rest of Southern Italy and actually has a lower crime rate (which they suggest but not outright state is a factor).

A better paper would probably try to build a single model for Japan, Italy and US using actual mortality, crime and poverty rates.

Did anyone pull the full study? Does it come out and take the supercentenarian-ship claimants to task for lack of probity?

It explicitly mentions pension fraud -- who wouldn't want to retire a little earlier?

> The hypothesis that these relatively low literacy rates and incomes are generating age-reporting errors and pension fraud, and therefore remarkable age records, seems overlooked. ...

> This issue presents a substantial problem for remarkable-age databases, embodied in a deliberately provocative, if seemingly absurd, hypothesis:

> Every ‘supercentenarian’ is an accidental or intentional identity thief, who owns real and validated 110+ year-old documents, and is passably good at their job.

I wonder if you get the opposite in regions with relatively better child benefits?

Child benefits lead to shorter lifespans...

Interestingly the holder of the record for oldest human being remains Jeanne Calment and there's a lot of evidence for her record. Wikipedia mentions a theory that her daughter might have assumed her identity in the 1930's[1] but it doesn't appear very credible.

So I guess it is possible to live that old, just extremely unlikely.


There's a very detailed analysis of Calment showing that it is most likely that the daughter replaced the mother, since the facial features of Jeanne Calment as a middle-aged or elderly woman don't match her earlier photos at all...but are a splitting image of her daughter's facial features.

Also, a lot of her photos feature her wearing clothes that were not in style at the ages she appears to be in the photos--but would have been right for her daughter.

And there's the bit where she keeps calling her putative husband her father...

And finally it's just plain weird that her son-in-law (i.e., her daughter's husband) moved in with her after her daughter's supposed death and lived with her in a common-law relationship for decades. But it makes perfect sense if it was actually just the daughter assuming her mom's identity for tax evasion purposes.

I replied to this in a similar comment above, I disagree that this analysis is very detailed, or at least that it's more detailed than the evidence in favor of Jeanne being who she claims to be.

I looked at the picture comparisons, it's not like they had 20Megapixel HDR cameras back then, the quality is not great. Besides only a handful of pictures exist, with a lot of variations in lighting and exposition. It's possible that it's true, but it's not exactly overwhelming evidence in my opinion.

>And finally it's just plain weird that her son-in-law (i.e., her daughter's husband) moved in with her after her daughter's supposed death and lived with her in a common-law relationship for decades.

Wikipedia says: "By the 1954 census, she was still registered in the same apartment, together with her son-in-law, retired Colonel Billot, Yvonne's widower; the census documents list Jeanne as "mother" in 1954 and "widow" in 1962. Frédéric Billot lived next door with his wife Renée."

Doesn't make it sound quite as weird as you make it out to be.

Wikipedia says: "By the 1954 census, she was still registered in the same apartment, together with her son-in-law, retired Colonel Billot, Yvonne's widower; the census documents list Jeanne as "mother" in 1954 and "widow" in 1962. Frédéric Billot lived next door with his wife Renée."

Doesn't make it sound quite as weird as you make it out to be.

That is extremely weird, and the simplest and most logical explanation is that Yvonne was committing estate tax fraud to avoid a ruinous tax on her inheritance of the family store.

Besides only a handful of pictures exist, with a lot of variations in lighting and exposition. It's possible that it's true, but it's not exactly overwhelming evidence in my opinion.

Yes, but pictures of the two of them are available and the older pictures of Jeanne clearly match the younger pictures of Yvonne. Jeanne would have needed to have had face surgery or some serious facial structural changes to have the face she did in her old age. The simplest explanation, again, is that Jeanne died young(ish) and Yvonne pretended to be her.

And again, this also explains why for decades, despite otherwise being sound of mind and coherent, she kept referring to her husband as her father in casual conversation.

A little bit? It does say that many _could_ be committing, e.g., pension fraud, but that the primary issue is with the data, and the reliance on documents as the "source of truth" of these claims, and this seems to accurately sum it up:

> This issue presents a substantial problem for remarkable-age databases, embodied in a deliberately provocative, if seemingly absurd, hypothesis: "Every ‘supercentenarian’ is an accidental or intentional identity thief, who owns real and validated 110+ year-old documents, and is passably good at their job."

> This hypothesis cannot be invalidated by the further scrutiny of documents, or by models calibrated using document-informed ages. Rather, invalidating this hypothesis requires a fundamental shift: it requires the measurement of biological ages from fundamental physical properties, such as amino acid chirality or isotopic decay.

> Until such document-independent validation of remarkable ages occurs, the type I error rate of remarkable human age samples will remain unknown, and the validity of ‘supercentenarian’ data in question.

There is a 'full text' tab in the linked article.

Easiest way to live past 100? Just say you did. 2nd easiest: use your grandfather's birth certificate.

Man, I must be old--the first thing to come to mind was the Dannon yogurt ads from the 1970s with the old people of Soviet Georgia. And, at the time, Dannon actually caught some flack because there was no documentation of how old these people really were.

Do not condemn those people as liars or frauds. They did what any sensible person would have done, avoided death by conscription during the Great War by assuming the identities of their older cousins, brothers, uncles and fathers.

Probably some of them didn’t really know for sure.

Dealing with my somewhat prematurely elderly father of 73 and his issues (my gps all lived relatively heartily into their 80 and 90s) I have to conclude my options in a few decades will be self-limited to driving my car off a cliff if I can't upload myself into a robot husk.

What I'm saying is that supercentenarianism seems heavily overrated.

If you are in bad shape at 73, you are probably not going to make it to 100. This is called 'compression of morbidity'. As people age better, the period of disability & lower quality of life shrinks, so you tend to live longer in good health but then once something goes wrong, you'll be dead quickly. A lot of centenarians are pretty active, even driving cars, until months or weeks before they die (and they may simply die in their sleep unexpectedly). It's the people who are in bad health in their 50s or 60s who can look forward to decades of expensive & painful ill health before they finally die... In any case, most centenarians I've seen interviewed seem happy to be alive, and don't wish for the sweet mercy of oblivion, so I am happy to take them at their word that they find their life worth living.

Most definitely, my father has recently been falling which is understandable with his Parkinson's but concerning as it is a recent development. My mother is exhibiting far more vitality and will probably outdo my gps as they all lived relatively unhealthy mid-Century American lives but into their 80s and 90s.

    > supercentenarianism seems heavily overrated.
Definitely true.

The oldest of the old don't have a quality of life that makes me (and many others) enthused about advanced age: cognitive-impairment, blindness, deafness, immobility, frailty, chronic disease-- all of these are "on the table" as normal expectations except for a few very rare exceptions.

Not to mention that at such advanced age, whether it's 95 or 105, people often need constant 24/7 care, usually from dedicated family members who sacrifice their time to extend the time of another.

I think it is a gamble. My grandmother was in a very good shape till around 100, she lived till 106 but she was sleeping most of the time (at least 16 hours a day) and the last time she took a walk in the yard was at around 104.

The point? She had a very good life up to at least 90 years old, much more than most people I know personally. Reaching 100 is not the point, living 95 good years is.

As if all the cars won't be self-driving in a few decades...

Why are those your options?

In a lot of places around the world, assisted suicide isn't an option.

Not the op, but after watching nearly all of my relatives loose their minds to dementia, altimeters (edit: mood swings can be a...) or something else in later life, the idea of being trapped in that state for any amount of time is terrifying. I know it sounds trite, but having a fast motorbike squirrelled away (even if it's entirely unrealistic in actuality, for a number of reasons) is surprisingly soporific.

I have witnessed people in my life go insane and now witnessed first-hand dementia with my father and I wouldn't wish either on my worst enemies.

Altimeters: Not even once.

Maybe not a bad idea, though. Buddy of mine plans to take up skydiving when he retires so he can pack his parachute wrong when the time comes.

I either need to stop using spellcheck when distracted or start wondering how early onset this might actually be o.0

> relative poverty and short lifespan constitute unexpected predictors of centenarian and supercentenarian status, and support a primary role of fraud and error in generating remarkable human age records

So I think for lack of birth certificates I can imagine the underlying process of unregistered people not being aware about their true age.

The claim that high poverty and crime rates produce such fraud feels prejudiced. also why would Sardinia be different in that regard compared to Sicily or poor regions on the Italian mainland?

Also I would be interested in how many hypothesis these researches tested on the data set and on whether they performed proper adjustments of thresholds (bonferroni correction)

As far as I know, all of these records are maintained at the comune[1] level in Italy, so high crime/corruption in one comume might manifest itself differently from how it does in another comune.


> The claim that high poverty and crime rates produce such fraud feels prejudiced.

I disagree. And note the claim was about "relative poverty and short lifespan".

Seems very straightforward reasoning that those in relative poverty with shorter lifespans have much more incentive to falsify their age to be older than they actually are.

> Finally, the designated ‘blue zones’ of Sardinia, Okinawa, and Ikaria corresponded to regions with low incomes, low literacy, high crime rate and short life expectancy relative to their national average. As such, relative poverty and short lifespan constitute unexpected predictors of centenarian and supercentenarian status, and support a primary role of fraud and error in generating remarkable human age records.

Or, bureaucracy kills.

I think the point is that any dietary or lifestyle recommendations to achieve a long life need to be reassessed.

Do recommendations to reduce intake or intermittent fasting rely on unverified population ages?

My personal take on living long is to get regular health checkups and seek medical care early if there are any issues.

What do people like Queen Elizabeth, Warren Buffett, Rupert Murdoch do to remain healthy and still working at their age?

Interesting enough, the article doesn't mention that in a lot of places (and possibly a bit too long ago for any of those to be affected), baptismal certificates substituted for birth certificates

Sure, there might have been some time difference between date of birth from date of baptism, but it was usually short enough (even if it might have been a couple of years)

But surely you are baptised after you are born so it would skew the data in the other direction.

Another explanation could be that all the young people have moved away from the poorest areas and older people stayed and kept getting older. It depends if they are dividing supercentenarian population by today's population or by the area's population when they were born.

One thing I heard (not sure whether it's true) is that in Ottoman empire, when I child died, parents often used the his or her birth certificate for the next child. That way they could avoid all the associated paperwork.

>Instead of prompting skepticism, under the relatively safe assumption that smoking, drinking, poverty, and illiteracy should not enrich for remarkable longevity records, these contra-indications of survival are routinely ignored. In contrast, it could be suggested that the abundance of supercentenarians in these regions reflect high rates of undetected error.

One bluezone is loma linda, california. Why was this not factored in this study. I find this study to be quite biased as well.

Proof that bureaucracy kills!

Elephant in the room...no birth certificates.

I also have been thinking of ways that I can extend my life. I'm not sure this is what I'm looking for. Perhaps a therapy animal such as a dog or a cat... It seems like the probability of an accident occurring with an elephant in the room would be very high, and only a small percentage of people would live past a hundred.

Just claim you were born years earlier, tada!

How old was this guy?... man he was so old, it was before written history. well then, he must be a centenarian then. for sure.

The lawyer in me suggests removing that comment asap. Lying on immigration forms, no matter the reason or timeline, can be a big deal. The US recently setup a "denaturalization task force" to look for technical reasons to deny/deport and generally be evil towards immigrants who have done things like lie on immigration forms. But maybe you really hate your in-laws.

"A United States Citizenship and Immigration Services team in Los Angeles has been reviewing more than 2,500 naturalization files for possible denaturalization, focusing on identity fraud and willful misrepresentation. More than 100 cases have been referred to the Department of Justice for possible action." (2018)


We've detached this subthread from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20626090.

I see your point, but are there records to verify his claim? If not, what's the government going to do?

Oh, I dunno, lock people up and/or deport them anyway?


Whatever they want to do. There is zero penalty or downside for them to falsely imprison someone for months or years.

Yeah, but nobody with at least half a brain is gonna try and prosecute old Vietnamese couple who lied on a form so they could escape communism and spend more years working. That would go against basically every "traditional American value" and even if they did (federal law enforcement does not have a reputation for being reasonable) it would just be a political time bomb until the story got out.

Edit: I guess I was wrong and they are targeting these kinds of people.

Yes, they will. The goal is to remove immigrants. There are no consequences for doing it improperly or failing to "uphold traditional values".


Have you heard about this story? Do you think it's a political time bomb? What about this one? https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/08/01/540903038...

Sadly, one can find many stories of decent, well-liked, completely harmless people being harassed, detained, and/or deported based on the whims of immigration officials. This includes green card holders and even citizens. It’s horrifying, but that’s where we are currently as a country.

I disagree, ICE are going absolutely crazy locking up people they even suspect of immigration discrepancies.

Your level of trust in the US government is unfortunately vastly unwarranted. Hundreds if not thousands of children will never see their parents again as a result of the US government policies; this has been widely publicized. Do you think an elderly Vietnamese couple will move the needle?

It's worth noting that a lot of children held separately were brought into the country not by relations. Beyond this a huge number of those children have been reunited. Note that this is separate from those children separated from parents that are being charged and prosecuted, much like any other crime. Also, most of these policies were started under Obama or previously. Personally, I think that illegal border crossings should be prosecuted.

On the flip side, I also feel that work visas should be granted under a very few limitations centered around having a job and place to live lined up along with English proficiency and/or enrollment in an ESL program. This should be combined with requiring that a company with work visas employ no more than 25% of staff on work visas and that the average pay matches the company's average pay as a whole. Under those conditions the issue could mostly self-regulate in terms of the rate of immigration vs. a sustainable level.

> I also feel that work visas should be granted under a very few limitations

The problem is that everybody and their Uncle has a detailed plan for a fairer immigration policy, but every plan is different and nobody is willing to compromise. So everybody gets to claim that they're the reasonable one while simultaneously persisting the patently unreasonable and inhumane status quo.


their agenda is less non-White people in the US. it fits with that perfectly.

It's a little more subtle than that. What they want is more people who assimilate.

The issue with immigration from Latin America is that the volume has been high enough that their original communities and cultures survive in tact, and those cultures involve a lot of socialist policies. It's Republicans not wanting to import people who vote for Democrats.

That's not really the case for immigration from places like Vietnam who assimilate much faster, but if they treat people differently like that then they get accused of racism and sued over it. So if they want to stymie net-Democrat-voter overall immigration by being pedantic about old forms then they have to do it uniformly.

> More than four decades after the Vietnam War brought waves of expatriates to the United States, the Trump administration wants to deport thousands of Vietnamese immigrants, including many refugees, because of years-old criminal convictions.

> U.S. officials have been working behind the scenes to convince the Vietnamese government to repatriate more than 7,000 Vietnamese immigrants with criminal convictions. They have all been ordered removed from the U.S. by a judge.


> The U.S. government is trying to deport Vu over two criminal charges of assault and larceny dating back to 2001, even though both of those convictions have since been vacated.


> Vu was born in Saigon in 1967. His father was a U.S. serviceman fighting in the country, and he barely knew his mother.


> Now, in Boston, he has a steady job, a longtime partner and two U.S. citizen children. He doesn't want to return to Vietnam, but he might not have a choice.


I agree with you but I would have said "Your level of trust in the extreme right-wing Trump government ..."

While the Trump government has taken things to extremes for our time, the US government has a long and storied history of genocide [1], forced relocations [2], mass deportations of citizens [3], and internment [4] that doesn't get washed away just because Trump is the leader of the day.

Also worth mentioning that several of the horror stories that hit the news during the Trump administration happened under the Obama administration. Yes, Trump is significantly worse, but one administration does not achieve this level of viciousness this quickly unless the way is well and clearly paved.

[1] https://www.history.com/news/native-americans-genocide-unite...

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trail_of_Tears

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mexican_Repatriation

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internment_of_Japanese_America...

> That would go against basically every "traditional American value"

Welcome to the Trump administration.

> old Vietnamese couple

They are not old, they are only 55 according to the documents. /s

The worry would be them saying "we have evidence of your x-in-law stating you lied. Prove otherwise."

Yes, there is this post on HN.

That's not snark--a relative willingly divulged that information in a public forum. That's sufficient evidence.

They're going for the low hanging fruit. They aren't trolling random internet forums, getting subpoenas for ip addresses, then tracking down relatives.

Except that they actually do. They're not as incompetent or as lazy as you think. Even if they didn't watch search engine results, all it takes is one deranged individual seeing this and making an anonymous tip.

I think this stems from a case in which an NYC immigration lawyer processed thousands of fraudulent applications. I think now they are looking for similar unusual activity elsewhere.

> The lawyer in me suggests removing that comment asap. But maybe you really hate your in-laws.

Yikes. Let's not overreact to a nondescript HN comment.

Talk to an immigration lawyer, a non-government immigration lawyer. The best strategy is to avoid triggering any sort of investigation. Even if there is zero evidence, even if you have done absolutely nothing, the investigation can make your life hell for years. As a private person I support freedom of speech. As an attorney, in this political climate, I advise not saying anything that might draw the attention of federal officials. They do trawl online forums for comments. They do investigate facebook posts. They do target individuals vindictively. I advise never saying anything about anyone's immigration history.

I advise not making overly aggressive insinuations if you want your comments to be taken seriously: "But maybe you really hate your in-laws." Was that really a necessary addition? Even if it is possibly damaging I don't see any reason to assume malicious intent rather than ignorance.

In-laws are one of the most common tropes in comedy. You're missing a harmless and obvious joke.

You really think INS are monitoring and investigating comments from throwaways in an anonymous forum like HN? Easy with the tin foil.

Your faith in your anonymity online anywhere is much more of a tinfoil belief.

I didn't refer to absolute anonymity, but to an anonymous design (anybody can register, without an email even). The point is that it's far easier for INS to troll a place with real identities like Facebook. I don't think the NSA's resources are about to be spent on determining the commenter's Vietnamese parents' identities. If parent were threatening a mass shooting, that would be another story. But as they say, technically correct is the best kind of correct, so kudos.

I'm not being flippant. It's not a question of what was required for you to register. Your requests to this web server are very likely logged, therefore subject to search by law enforcement. Depending on the details logged, your browser fingerprint will very likely uniquely identify your device and could be matched.

You should also understand that authorities do not seek that kind of evidence for violent crimes in the moment. Intelligence services capture massive amounts of traffic for future investigation. What you post today could be evidence for an offense you can't imagine ten years from now.

> evidence for an offense you can't imagine ten years from now.

If your argument rests on future, unknown abuses... I'm afraid that's tin foil territory.

Your comments sound like regurgitated talking points from when Snowden was in the news, so I'm not sure who you think you're educating about fingerprinting, etc. It's been common knowledge for years.

It's clearly more him trying to make a point about immigration.

Homer: "Oh Lisa! There's no record of a hurricane ever hitting Springfield."

Lisa: "Yes, but the records only go back to 1978 when the Hall of Records was mysteriously blown away!"

I guess that means the secret to a long life is the lack of government paperwork.

Bet they claimed there benefits nudge nudge wink

Sorry to be cynical.

This isn't cynical; plenty of dead people in Japan (or I should say their children) were claiming benefits.

It's odd you're down voted when other comments in this page say they did exactly what you're implying.

I'd rather people said what they mean, instead of trying to be witty. Also typos.

Aww diddums

so it's time for Carbon-14 then ...

Carbon-14 datings works because once an organism dies, it stops exchanging carbon with its environment, so C14 stops coming in. Carbon dating any living organism will come back with "it died 0 years ago/hasn't died yet", give or take whatever details make it more complicated in reality than it is in theory, as it always is.

As I recall, there's also an issue with radio-carbon dating anything after atmospheric atomic weapons testing commenced.

That problem started earlier, when we started burning significant quantities of coal. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radiocarbon_dating:

”Research has been ongoing since the 1960s to determine what the proportion of 14C in the atmosphere has been over the past fifty thousand years. The resulting data, in the form of a calibration curve, is now used to convert a given measurement of radiocarbon in a sample into an estimate of the sample's calendar age


Because the time it takes to convert biological materials to fossil fuels is substantially longer than the time it takes for its 14C to decay below detectable levels, fossil fuels contain almost no 14C, and as a result there was a noticeable drop in the proportion of 14C in the atmosphere beginning in the late 19th century. Conversely, nuclear testing increased the amount of 14C in the atmosphere, which attained a maximum in about 1965 of almost twice what it had been before the testing began.”

Is there any dead carbon, like perhaps in the teeth? Have never heard of it being done, but would be neat.

Apparently it is possible to do radiocarbon dating on tooth enamel. Enamel contains 0.4% carbon and is indeed frozen at time of development. Unfortunately, we're limited to post-nuclear testing because without the atmospheric diffusion C14 has very low precision due to the half-life of 5730 years.



Thanks! That's interesting, to use the post-nuclear curve as a modern clock, instead of using C14's half life for an ancient clock. For a given tooth they seem to assume all enamel was from one date, during childhood.

Teeth mostly consist of hydroxyapatite, which doesn't contain any carbon.

Not 100% sure, but for someone that just died, you might be able to do it with their brain, as brain cells are hardly ever renewed. For a living human I don't think there is any way that's non-invasive.

That thing about brain cells not regenerating is a myth, btw.

Could you provide a source for that?

I recently tried to read up on the topic and everything I found stated that brain/nervous cells are generally barely regenerated and can stay with you your whole life. Granted, most articles trace back to this source[0] from 1967, but if newer information exists, they've done a really bad job at spreading it.

[0]: https://bionumbers.hms.harvard.edu/bionumber.aspx?&id=101940

Nope. As long as you're alive, you're breathing and taking in C14 from the atmosphere (it's produced by cosmic rays turning N14 into C14). When you did you no longer breathe and the C14 decays. So radiocarbon dating measures the time from the death of the organism to the present. edit: ninja'd.

Maybe there's a part of the body that stops exchanging carbon with the lungs after a certain point? Like maybe the teeth or the corneas.

Assuming this worked, it seems a bit extreme.

You want to validate the age of a person, so you remove one of their teeth or take a tissue sample from their eye?

"The Orville" had an episode where an alien culture used a procedure that sampled teeth to determine the exact birthdate of a person.

There's not much in the tooth apatite that would be useful for radiometric dating on the time scale of a single human lifespan, though. I don't think you could do it with radiometrics, no matter what you sampled. Anything precise enough to indicate one year within a range of 100 would probably kill the animal with its radiation, even if it were naturally common enough to be taken up by living organisms.

It may be that a tooth is an easy source of original DNA, and approximate age may be extrapolated from accumulation of copy-error mutations in different types of cells in the body, which would be affected by the frequency of division. So by comparing DNA found in the tooth mineral against that found in the tooth nerve cells, and in the tooth blood supply, it might be possible to narrow the range of possible whole-organism ages by referencing mean mutation rates, and then further narrow it by checking telomere lengths. Seems like that might vary somewhat by individual, and their history of radiation exposure.

The half life of Carbon 14 is 5,730 years. So all it would be able to do is tell you the person is between 0 and 5,730 anyway right?

That wouldn’t help solve these cases.

No, the radioactive decay will follow a (nearly) continuous exponential curve. Half-life is just an arbitrarily chosen point on that curve: the point at which half of the atoms have decayed. With carbon dating you are basically solving this equation: percent of carbon 14 left = 0.5 ^ (years since death/5,730). If it has been 500 years since death, you would expect 94% of the original carbon 14 to remain.

That said, you generally have error boundaries spanning multiple decades and it measures since time of death (when new carbon stops being integrated into the body) not time of birth, so it would not be useful for this.

Note that you can use tooth enamel, which freezes its carbon at time of development (instead of death). https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20627335

That said, the error bars are simply too large to do anything reasonable for dates prior to 1955. The difference between 80 years and 110 years is 98.7% vs. 99.0% of the original C14 concentration... and while you may be able to get a very precise measurement of the remaining C14 you also need to very precisely know the baseline from that era to determine the percentage. Thus typical radiocarbon error bars are at least ±60 years.

Thanks for the details.

Oof, HN does not like jokes.

I live in Sardinia. We have both birth certificates and supercentenarians.

From the first paragraph of the abstract:

> In Italy, which has more uniform vital registration, remarkable longevity is instead predicted by low per capita incomes and a short life expectancy.

> Finally, the designated ‘blue zones’ of Sardinia, Okinawa, and Ikaria corresponded to regions with low incomes, low literacy, high crime rate and short life expectancy relative to their national average.

I don't think lower income is necessarily strange.

For example, it seems that as people get richer their diet becomes less healthy (too much quantity, too much meat, too much processed food, etc).

So there seems to be a sweet spot for healthy diet between "starving poor" and "decadent rich", at least when as long as 'traditional' diets survive.

Did you read the article? There is a clear statistical anomaly centered about 10 years before reliable birth records were introduced. You are ex post facto rationalizing the longevity of a region for where there is evidence of age-related fraud.

"Please don't comment on whether someone read an article. "Did you even read the article? It mentions that" can be shortened to "The article mentions that.""


I did read the article, and the anomaly only exists (or at least is shown) only for US data.

Thank you for your nice reply.

I was making a general point independent of any fraud or lack of records.

I didn't really understand what the point was there - are they saying it's because of fraud? Or a real thing?

I think they are implying that it could be fraud, but since there are birth certificates available, you couldn’t commit this fraud by simply making up a birth date. So a fraudulent supercentenarian would likely have assumed the identity of someone older, perhaps to claim a pension earlier.

As for the correlations, low incomes would provide a motive for age pension fraud. Short life expectancy being correlated with more supercentenarians suggests it’s not because people in those areas are naturally healthier.

Yes, they are saying that fraud is a more likely explanation for the phenomenon of blue zones.

The crime rate is low, the literacy level medium-high. I wonder if any of the authors ever came to Sardinia.

Do you have citations for this?

They are specifically pointing out the "blue zones" where a high percentage of supercentenarians live. It's possible that the average literacy of Sardinia is separate from these pockets.

I mean I'm guessing the authors didn't just sit around and say, "hmm, I wonder what the literacy rates are in Sardinia? Let's say low." I guess it's possible though.

The article does not provide citation for Sardinian literally rates either (they make a claim only for some of the Japanese numbers).

For Sardinia they only claim poverty (with a qualitative, non quantitative claim) and life expectancy which, if I'm reading the ISTAT tables correctly, they got spectacularly wrong.

Also there are no blue zones within Sardinia. The demographic data is the for the all the provinces of the island.

From Wikipedia "According to the ISTAT census of 2001, the literacy rate in Sardinia among people below 64 years old is 99.5 percent. "


What's the population of supercentenarians in Sardinia who are under 64 years old?

Higher than you'd think, apparently.

You need the literacy rate from the time the supercentenarians were in their 40's or something. Or of people over a certain age like 80. And compate with the rest of the country.

I would guess the biggest factors are very limited consumption of heavily refined foods (in particular sugar and refined grains) as well as some access to modern medicine (antibiotics, hospital births).

edit: And, of course, there's a lot of fraud cases.

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