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Accepted Paper:

Scientist as influencer: epigenetic clock testing and the place of experts in American public life  
Hanna Goldberg (Santa Clara University) Alexis Walker (Columbia University)

Short abstract:

With epigenetic testing companies as a case study, we demonstrate a shift in norms of expertise associated with the growth of self-diagnostics—not towards a democratization of knowledge as often heralded, but to the “scientist as influencer” promoted by today’s innovation infrastructure.

Long abstract:

In July 2023, a Business Today headline jubilantly proclaimed: “Harvard scientists unveil anti-aging drug combination to reverse aging in record time.” The article details the work of David Sinclair, a Harvard genetics professor whose team had “reprogrammed” cells to reverse cellular aging, as they described it. Sinclair’s work is part of the growing “epigenetic clock testing” industry, where companies have begun offering tests to give customers an estimation of their “true” or “epigenetic” age (as opposed to chronological age), as well as supplements and other interventions meant to reverse aging effects. This industry has been led by “scientist influencers” such as Sinclair, who have combined their social media presence and university prestige into substantial business interests – much as university tech transfer offices and innovation regulators of the past several decades have promoted. This paper presents an analysis of the phenomenon of the scientist-as-influencer, using epigenetic clock testing as a key site for understanding the evolving role of scientific experts and expertise in American public life. We base this analysis on an in-depth reading of the online world of epigenetic clock testing companies and leadership: on social media (Twitter/X and TikTok); company websites and public relations materials; customer review sites; and mainstream, business, and tech news sites. We argue that companies selling epigenetic age testing are drawing on shifting cultural narratives about aging and wellness, and are indicative of the future of biomedicine being encouraged by today’s “innovation infrastructure” in the United States – including regulatory and institutional infrastructure.

Traditional Open Panel P309
Governing biomedical tests: towards social studies of bio-medical testing?
  Session 1 Friday 19 July, 2024, -