Medicine: No Methuselahs

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The Soviets' Methuselah cult is explainable in social and political rather than medical terms, says Medvedev. In the hotbeds of centenarianism, the aged are venerated and may even have postage stamps issued in their honor. The cult's prominence in Georgia was fostered by Georgian-born Stalin, who apparently began to hope, at around age 70, that longevity might rub off on him.

Medvedev's most compelling explanation: hundreds of thousands of draft dodgers and deserters during World War I and subsequent civil warfare got themselves false papers to greatly exaggerate their age. There is one authenticated case of a man who was lionized in the Soviet press as having reached the age of 128, then exposed as being only 78. In the U.S.S.R., as elsewhere, there is no fountain of youth.

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