Expected oldest person in history

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Expected oldest person in history

Postby Eebster the Great » Tue Apr 12, 2016 4:22 pm UTC

The oldest person in history whose age is confirmed was Jeanne Calment at 122 years, 164 days. But most people on Earth at that time would not have been able to confirm their exact age later in life, a fact increasingly truer the further back you go. Obviously it is near certain that there have been many people who lived longer than Jeanne Calmet, but how much longer? Is there any way to estimate statistically the longest individual lifespan in human history? What about just in the past 150 years?

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Re: Expected oldest person in history

Postby SDK » Tue Apr 12, 2016 5:30 pm UTC

Considering she's over 3 years older than second place, and almost 5 years older than third place, I'd hesitate to say "many" there. She's clearly a statistical anomaly in any case.

US census data has 0.0173% of the population over 100 years old in 2010. Go back to 1950 and it's 0.0015%, a decrease of more than 10 times. Life was pretty damn good in the US from 1850 to 1950, compared to the rest of human history, so it's fair to say that number's going to be dropping pretty quickly and pretty close to zero even going back another century. The number of people reaching 110 years old will reach zero with statistical certainty as the average life expectancy for adults moves from 85 down to 65-70 in Medieval times down to less than 50 in Roman times (and that's for the upper class folks).

So we've really only got a handful of years to pick contenders from here. This is also helped by our expanding population, where the more recent years are far more likely to produce anomalies simply because there are so many of us now. The individual would need to live somewhere affluent, yet not have accurate records of their birth, which basically limits us to the developed world, probably with a birth sometime in the 1800's (since most countries started keeping birth records in the late 1800's and early 1900's). Japan might be a good bet, with 0.0428% of their current population over 100. South Africa, Spain, Thailand, Italy and France all have more than 0.03%.

So let's look at longevity claims...
Studies in the biodemography of human longevity indicate a late-life mortality deceleration law: that death rates level off at advanced ages to a late-life mortality plateau. This implies that there is no fixed upper limit to human longevity, or fixed maximum human lifespan.

That bodes well.

According to the linked list we've got 5 living individuals that claim to be older than Jeanne Calmet, and 19 claims from deceased individuals. Based on the numbers above, it's probably fair to say that those 24 individuals comprise basically all the contenders throughout human history, with perhaps one or two outliers from earlier times. Who knows how many of those 24 are legitimate, but considering the fact that it takes three documents to have your lifespan considered "verified", I'd hazard that a good chunk of them probably are. If for every one person who makes a public claim, there's another who keeps to themselves, we're probably looking at upwards of 40 people here. That should be pretty close to a comprehensive estimate across human history, even if it's not statistically rigorous.
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Re: Expected oldest person in history

Postby Eebster the Great » Wed Apr 13, 2016 7:55 am UTC

I find it rather implausible that a majority of supercentenarians around the world in the nineteenth century would have been widely reported on and still have surviving records. Either way, it doesn't really answer the question. If it is true that death rates plateau after around 110 years, then what is that rate? For instance, the U.S. Social Security Administration uses extrapolated death probabilities at extreme age that definitely do not plateau, so I can't just get these numbers from census data.

If we take a 50% annual death probability as a reasonable guess, and I take your lowball estimate of 40 people older than 122 years, then it is unlikely any would reach the age of 128. However, that is not a possible conclusion from the data, since the only reason we came up with this number in the first place was by trusting (to some extent) the longevity claims you linked, of which a full third are older than 128. Obviously it would be a biased sample, but that makes no difference if these people shouldn't exist at all.

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Re: Expected oldest person in history

Postby Neil_Boekend » Wed Apr 13, 2016 9:15 am UTC

In addition to SDK's post: Advanced age comes with some increased medical risks. Jeanne Calment broke her hip at 114 years old according to her wikipedia page. This required surgery. What would have been the chances of surviving that 100 years ago? 200 years ago?
Going back a couple of centuries means extremely low chances of becoming 120 or older.
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Re: Expected oldest person in history

Postby Copper Bezel » Wed Apr 13, 2016 9:31 am UTC

If we take a 50% annual death probability as a reasonable guess, and I take your lowball estimate of 40 people older than 122 years, then it is unlikely any would reach the age of 128. However, that is not a possible conclusion from the data, since the only reason we came up with this number in the first place was by trusting (to some extent) the longevity claims you linked, of which a full third are older than 128. Obviously it would be a biased sample, but that makes no difference if these people shouldn't exist at all.

I think it would be better to say that the linked claims can be used to extrapolate a reasonably trustworthy upper bound. The people attempting to claim the world record do not have any exceptional incentive to understate their ages for the sake of vanity or modesty, so you could "distrust" the claims entirely and still use them to come to that conclusion. That said, it's probably no surprise if the guesswork involved is not entirely trustworthy, either. How specifically and how comprehensively do you expect to determine this age cap? That is, down to a single year and a single person, or something statistically representative?
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Re: Expected oldest person in history

Postby Eebster the Great » Wed Apr 13, 2016 10:05 am UTC

Well the idea was to find out a way to determine it as accurately as possible, whether that be to within one year or twenty. I'm just not sure how to approach the question.

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Re: Expected oldest person in history

Postby SDK » Wed Apr 13, 2016 3:42 pm UTC

Okay, so let's do some stats. I took all the individuals listed on Wikipedia, both verified and unverified claims, assumed they were all true (since you seem to think we're missing a bunch, the liars can stand-in for those not present), which totaled 261 individuals over 115 years old. Here's a histogram.

Aging.png


50% of those who make it to 115 will live to 117.6 (the median)
50% of those will live to 120.5 (third quartile)
50% of those will live to 123 (7/8)
50% of those will live to 126 (15/16)
50% of those will live to 128 (31/32)
50% of those will live to 128.8 (63/64)
and 50% of those will live to 129.3 (127/128)

So we're looking at about a 50% survival rate every 2.5 years for the first 10 years, give or take a bit, but based on these numbers, the mortality rate seems to jump after 127 years (which is in contradiction to the quote I said bodes well earlier). That's probably legitimate, but it's possible that it's due to the smaller sample size (we've only got 14 individuals over 127 - not bad, but not great). Makes a realistic upper limit difficult to guess accurately if we're going to doubt that. If that mortality increase is legitimate, and I think it is, getting much over 130 is near impossible (1/1000 who reach 115 will survive to 131, based on a 0.5 year halflife after 128.5). If we assume the last bunch of individuals in our sample here were just unlucky, and the 2.5 year halflife holds over a large enough population, then 1/1000 should survive to 140. I think that's unlikely.

So, long story short, we can be basically certain that no one has ever reached 140, and I personally think it's near certain that no one has ever reached 131 and very likely that no one has reached 130. Depends where you draw the line on your assumptions.
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Re: Expected oldest person in history

Postby Soupspoon » Thu May 12, 2016 5:18 am UTC

SDK wrote:Considering she's over 3 years older than the known second place, and almost 5 years older than the known third place, I'd hesitate to say "many" there. She's clearly a statistical anomaly in any case.
An outlier of the known data, but I added something to your text, which might be worth considering in a strict analysis.

If the known data is an impartial subset of the complete set, and a decent proportion of the totality to boot, then likely it's a good indicator.

But if it's a small fraction because of a general lack of records (going further along the probability curve, you still have 'room' for a number of individuals for decades to come) or there's a skew against reporting certain superannuated individuals (e.g. a 'Howard Families' type of thing, concealing a curve with a Lazaras Long type person approaching the limits of the curve, even with far fewer people hidden away from the public stats) then we might be well off the actual complete picture.

(I'll leave the meta-analysis to others.)

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Re: Expected oldest person in history

Postby SDK » Thu May 12, 2016 5:49 pm UTC

Yeah, I did account for that a bit in my most recent post, taking not just the confirmed individuals, but also any (potentially illegitimate) claims. You could still claim that there are unknowns out there, though I doubt there are many.

At this point though, knowing now what it takes to become "verified", I don't think Jeanne Calment really is much of an outlier after all. She's at the end of the curve, but fits in with the rest of the data.
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Re: Expected oldest person in history

Postby mfb » Thu May 19, 2016 7:17 pm UTC

I wouldn't trust all those unverified claims . Assuming the verification of the birth date is not related to the age reached (for 114+), we can use the confirmed list to estimate death rates, and see if the unconfirmed cases have the same distribution. Longer tails there would be a strong indication that something is wrong.

Based on this list, we have 93 dead persons reaching an age of 114 years and 74 days or more. I excluded the 7 living one as their final age is not known yet, the bias from this should be negligible. Only 37 of them reached their 115th birthday, only 13 their 116th, only 5 their 117th. Sarah Knauss got 119a+97d, Jeanne Calment 122a+164d. Using the first three steps, we get a survival probability of ~35% per year. I don't see why that rate should go up for later ages. The expected probability that anyone out of 93 in the confirmed list reaches the 122th birthday is then 2%, Jeanne Calment is an outlier, but still reasonable.

So let's look at the past claims. The Wikipedia article has 192 claims, starting with the 115th birthday. If it would be complete, we would expect 67 with 116+, 24 with 117+, 8 with 118+, 3 with 119+, 1 with 120+, and the probability of anyone reaching 125 is just 0.5%.
How do the actual numbers look like?
154, that is 80% of the total list, claim 116+.
121, 79% of the previous year, claim 117+.
103, 85% of the previous year, claim 118+.
81, 79% of the previous year, claim 119+.
63, 78% of the previous year, claim 120+.
See a pattern? The mortality rate from the verified claims would predict 1 instead of 63. Either we have huge army of 115+ who never talked about their age but will do so once they get a few years older, or getting your birth date verified is the worst health threat ever, or we have a lot of wrong claims.

8 claim an age of 128+. Extrapolating back, we would expect about 7 million to reach the age of 115.
Let's extrapolate more: According to this article (I trust the reference there), about 1 in 1000 centenarians reach the age of 110. A conservative estimate assumes a constant death rate until 115, leading to another ratio of sqrt(1000)=31 (50% death rate per year). To get 7 millions to an age of 115, we need 220 million supercentenarians, and 220 billion centenarians. That exceeds the expected total number of humans who ever lived by a factor of 2.

The list of claims of living persons shows the same massive deviation from death rates.

Summary: Most to all of those 120+ longevity claims are nonsense. If all claims of reaching 115 would be actual persons reaching 115 (and if the list of claims were complete), we would expect the oldest of them to live to 120 or 121.


Let's start from scratch: In 2012, the UN estimated that 300,000 centenarian live worldwide. With a death rate of ~50%/year, we get 150,000 new per year. It is hard to find the rate of newborns 100 years ago, but with a world population of 1,6 billions, and rising by 10 millions per year, we have about 30 millions per year. That gives a chance of 1:200 to reach the 100th birthday. If all the ~100 billion humans who ever lived had the same death rates as the oldest people today, we had 500 million centenarians, 500,000 supercentenarians, 17,000 to reach their 115th birthday, 90 reached an age of 120, and the estimate for 124 is 1.3. The assumption is highly unrealistic, however. All those born after 1900 did not yet have the chance to become the oldest person to ever live, and all those born before 1800 didn't have today's health standards. If we limit the analysis to the ~3 billions born between those two dates, we get 500 to reach an age of 115, 8 to reach an age of 119, and the chance for someone to reach 122 is 30%.

Jeanne Calment could indeed be the oldest person so far. At least she should be in the top 5, with the oldest person probably very close to her age.

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Re: Expected oldest person in history

Postby Zamfir » Mon May 23, 2016 12:37 pm UTC

all those born before 1800 didn't have today's health standards. I

I wonder about this specific point. For example: Jeanne Calment's hip surgery at 114 seems to have been her first encounter with modern medicine. Up to that point, she was just healthy and didn't need much medical care at all.

She might have enjoyed indirect benefits, from cleanliness standards or vaccinations, or at least herd immunity with from other people's vaccinations. It's hard to put a number on that.

Still, there must be many people before 1800 who lived life somewhat similar to her. Exceptionally healthy people, born in a confortably high class of society, well fed from birth, not heavily burdened by work, taken good care of in their old age, no epidemics passing by when they are weak. A minority, but not a negligible minority. Modern health care adds another benefit to that, but I am not sure if it's a game-changing benefit for exceptionally healthy people.

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Re: Expected oldest person in history

Postby peregrine_crow » Mon May 23, 2016 2:05 pm UTC

There is also the fact that the world population has been increasing pretty significantly over the past couple centuries. If we assume that there is one person over 120 years of age alive today (not true as far as we know) that is 1 in ~7*10^9. If we take the 93% from https://what-if.xkcd.com/27/ as fact roughly 10^11 humans have ever been alive on this planet, which means (if I didn't miscalculate) we would statistically only have had around 14 people over the age of 120.

And if you then factor in modern healthcare, proper nutrition and all the other benefits modern life has on expected age it doesn't seem that unlikely that Jeanne Calment is the actual record holder.
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Re: Expected oldest person in history

Postby Zamfir » Mon May 23, 2016 2:26 pm UTC

Well, the current 7 billion is not quite the relevant number to use. Documented old people have to come from a specific set of births: before (roughly) 1900, but from a place and time with extensive records even of very young children. In practice that works out to just a few decades, and mostly in the US and Japan that had big census programs early on. Order of magnitude, that's a 100 million people or so.

On that ground, I would expect to see much more cases popping up in the next decades, because the early 20th century saw a great increase in record keeping.

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Re: Expected oldest person in history

Postby Eebster the Great » Mon May 23, 2016 4:00 pm UTC

When correcting old numbers, we would have to compare the effect of increased accurate reporting over time and the effect of increased longevity (for many reasons, including medicine). In the former case, there have been exponential improvements, but there has also truly been a profound increase in longevity. If we're looking at a potential sample of 10^8 people who, if they lived long enough, would have reported their verifiable birthday to the press, out of a total historical population of 10^11, we can essentially expect to be one full standard deviation off from the true record. But that's before accounting for other factors.

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Re: Expected oldest person in history

Postby SDK » Thu May 26, 2016 5:45 pm UTC

I like your analysis, mfb. Pretty convincing that the unverified folks are lying, which also explains why I saw that higher death rate above 127 years old - apparently people don't lie too much. I think you might have carried your assumed mortality rates a little too far, but it's good stuff nonetheless.
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Re: Expected oldest person in history

Postby Eebster the Great » Thu May 26, 2016 11:10 pm UTC

Lying is probably part of it, but keep in mind these people are not able to verify their birth date. In at least some cases, they might not know their own age exactly. To me at least it doesn't seem implausible that some small fraction of supercentenarians would believe themselves to be five or even ten years older than their true age.

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Re: Expected oldest person in history

Postby gmalivuk » Fri May 27, 2016 12:32 pm UTC

I imagine that many of them believe they remember things that happened before they were born, because they'd heard them talked about enough to feel like they were present, and didn't have the recordkeeping available to correct themselves.
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Re: Expected oldest person in history

Postby p1t1o » Wed Jun 01, 2016 1:07 pm UTC

gmalivuk wrote:I imagine that many of them believe they remember things that happened before they were born, because they'd heard them talked about enough to feel like they were present, and didn't have the recordkeeping available to correct themselves.


Hasn't anyone ever done that?

"Oh me yarm yeah that was a great night! Remember when so-and-went did that thing?"
"What? You weren't even there!"
"Oh. Oh right yeah, thats embarassing..."

I also remember some of my childhood memories from a third person perspective. So memories are weird right?

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Re: Expected oldest person in history

Postby Eebster the Great » Wed Jun 01, 2016 1:27 pm UTC

Everybody has lots of false memories of things they never experienced but only heard about secondhand. Claims that "everyone remembers where they were when the towers fell" and similar are absolutely false, even though most people believe them to be true. Studies of older events like the JFK assassination show that the overwhelming majority of people have false memories of that day. That's pretty much how brains work.

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Re: Expected oldest person in history

Postby gmalivuk » Wed Jun 01, 2016 2:39 pm UTC

I remember reading that one of the most obviously false memories people have about 9/11 is seeing the first plane hit the tower either live or later that day. We know it's false because that footage wasn't broadcast at all on the 11th.

And if you don't have dated records to prove something like that, I find it very easy to believe that in 100-odd years people who remember conversations about 9/11 and remember seeing recorded news footage will eventually "remember" experiencing that day, even if it turns out they hadn't been born yet.
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Re: Expected oldest person in history

Postby Eebster the Great » Wed Jun 01, 2016 3:00 pm UTC

Footage exists of the first plane hitting the towers, but it was from a personal camera, not a news camera, and wasn't broadcast until the next day. Obviously there would be no reason for a news crew to be there before the attack. However, there was live footage of the second plane hitting the south tower and of both towers collapsing.

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Re: Expected oldest person in history

Postby Beavertails » Wed Jun 01, 2016 4:30 pm UTC

I know that there was live footage of the second plane hitting the tower from one of the news stations because I was watching it when it occurred. It was from a bit further away though. Maybe the Jersey side?
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Re: Expected oldest person in history

Postby SDK » Wed Jun 01, 2016 4:36 pm UTC

Or so you remember.
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Re: Expected oldest person in history

Postby gmalivuk » Wed Jun 01, 2016 8:54 pm UTC

I edited the post to reflect the fact that the false memories are about the first plane.

People have seen the video and know when it happened, and in response they "remember" seeing it happen at that time (or in later news coverage that day).
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Re: Expected oldest person in history

Postby Eebster the Great » Thu Jun 02, 2016 2:49 am UTC

That very thing happened to my brother, who remembers in some detail attending a baseball game he can't possibly have been to. He had remembered the game for a while before talking about it with me (who actually was there) and realizing he had only seen it on TV. It was only later we realized he couldn't even have seen it on TV, and was thinking of a different game he did see on TV, combined with our stories of the game in question, and possibly actual games he had been to, all sort of synthesized into a single jumbled memory.

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Re: Expected oldest person in history

Postby Xanthir » Thu Jun 02, 2016 5:32 pm UTC

Oh thank god, I was like "I KNOW I saw the second plane hit, every classroom in the building turned on their TV to the live news coverage minutes after the first one hit".

This was especially bad because I *know* most/all of my actual childhood memories are reconstructed, not originals.
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Re: Expected oldest person in history

Postby mfb » Mon Jun 06, 2016 6:41 pm UTC

Zamfir wrote:I wonder about this specific point. For example: Jeanne Calment's hip surgery at 114 seems to have been her first encounter with modern medicine. Up to that point, she was just healthy and didn't need much medical care at all.

She might have enjoyed indirect benefits, from cleanliness standards or vaccinations, or at least herd immunity with from other people's vaccinations. It's hard to put a number on that.
That is one of the main points. A much lower child mortality, a massively reduced rate of various epidemics, poisonous materials and so on.
The hip surgery would have been tricky to impossible 100 years earlier, and at that age I would expect an impact on life expectancy without surgery.

Still, there must be many people before 1800 who lived life somewhat similar to her. Exceptionally healthy people, born in a confortably high class of society, well fed from birth, not heavily burdened by work, taken good care of in their old age, no epidemics passing by when they are weak. A minority, but not a negligible minority. Modern health care adds another benefit to that, but I am not sure if it's a game-changing benefit for exceptionally healthy people.
If the minority is 1%, that's probably sufficient to make it irrelevant, especially if you take the additional medical care we have today into account.

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Re: Expected oldest person in history

Postby Liri » Fri Sep 16, 2016 4:00 pm UTC

I took a biology of aging class in my undergrad (and it's what I'm interested in studying). We spent the first crew weeks going over statistical models, and like people alluded to earlier, the data we have suggests human mortality is decidedly non-Gompertzian - it stops increasing at a certain point and begins to decrease slightly. How much of that is just a statistical fluke is harder to suss out, though. A 115 year old's expected mortality is based on previous 115 year olds, and there just aren't that many of them, relatively.

Centenarians are also divided into three groups: those that overcome diseases, avoid diseases, or delay diseases (you could probably replace 'disease' with injury, too). Women are more likely to fall into the 'overcome' category, while men are usually 'avoiders' - probably indicating that the men who do fall ill usually die from it, not that they have better first line of defense response (because there are a lot more women who make it past 100).

As quality of medicine increases and synthetic/mechanical organs become the norm, does the age they reach still count for oldest individuals?
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Re: Expected oldest person in history

Postby Soupspoon » Fri Sep 16, 2016 7:25 pm UTC

As this has popped up again (ressurected?) perhaps we might postulate what this example does to the longevity-relative-to-Bar-Mitzvah figures... ;)

Yeah, not much. Especially given a certain historic skew against generations of Bar Mitzvahrers(?) aging. But that's less of a humorous take on the news.

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Re: Expected oldest person in history

Postby Yablo » Thu Sep 29, 2016 11:48 pm UTC

According to the wikipedia page, that guy could have had a Bar Mitzvah 30 years ago, so he's actually missed two.

Among some Jews, a man who has reached the age of 83 will customarily celebrate a second bar mitzvah, under the logic that in the Torah it says that a normal lifespan is 70 years, so that an 83-year-old can be considered 13 in a second lifetime.
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Re: Expected oldest person in history

Postby mfb » Sat Oct 08, 2016 12:19 pm UTC

A recent study (NY times) suggests that 115 (+- a few years) is an upper limit on the human lifespan, and that Jeanne Calment was a huge outlier, with a probability of at least one person reaching 125 below 1/10000.

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Re: Expected oldest person in history

Postby Eebster the Great » Sat Oct 08, 2016 3:31 pm UTC

The fact that Calment lived so long suggests the distribution is not Gaussian, and if rare exceptions are all that matters for setting records, how can a model that does not predict them prove anything useful in this respect?

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Re: Expected oldest person in history

Postby mfb » Fri Nov 18, 2016 9:31 pm UTC

Gaussian? Where do you expect a Gaussian? The distribution looks like an exponential decay.
Eebster the Great wrote:The fact that Calment lived so long suggests the distribution is not Gaussian
It is very weak evidence. A constant ~2/3 per year mortality is perfectly compatible with a single person reaching 122.


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