Was Jeanne Calment a fraud?

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Did Jeanne Calment really live to 122?

Yes: 90% sure to certain
1
6%
Yes: 80% to <90% sure
1
6%
Yes: 70% to <80% sure
0
No votes
Yes: 60% to <70% sure
1
6%
Yes: >50% to <60% sure
1
6%
I'm 50/50 on it / Dunno / Need more information
2
12%
No: >50% to <60% sure
0
No votes
No: 60% to <70% sure
0
No votes
No: 70% to <80% sure
1
6%
No: 80% to <90% sure
0
No votes
No: 90% sure to certain
2
12%
Yes, but I'm not coming up with such a precise figure
2
12%
No, but I'm not coming up with such a precise figure
2
12%
Despite all these options, none of them encompass my position
4
24%
 
Total votes: 17

Gavin Chipper
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Was Jeanne Calment a fraud?

Post by Gavin Chipper »

As you might know, Jeanne Calment is famous for being the oldest person ever, dying in 1997 at the age of 122. Well, it turns out that "Jeanne" Calment might actually have been her daughter, Yvonne, who took on her identity when the real Jeanne died to avoid paying inheritance tax. What do you think? I'm about 99% sure that she was a complete fraud.
Last edited by Gavin Chipper on Fri May 03, 2019 6:45 am, edited 4 times in total.
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Re: Was Jeanne Calment a fraud?

Post by JimBentley »

I'm not surprised, this sort of thing isn't at all unusual. I remember reading a really old Guinness Book Of Records that my grandma had (1960 edition I think) and it was noted in there that the longevity records attract far more fraudulent claims than any other. They were at the time dealing with (and dismissing) one from Russia about a man who had apparently just died at 256 years old. Later on, start of the 1980s, there was a Japanese guy who was briefly held the record for oldest living person at 114. A detail I remember from that was that his hair had gone white when he was in his 80s but then had somehow returned to black when he reached 110. That one held on for a bit but was eventually dimissed. A lot of these are cross-generational so yeah, I'm totally with you. She was too much of an outlier to be true really.
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Re: Was Jeanne Calment a fraud?

Post by Gavin Chipper »

JimBentley wrote: Tue Apr 30, 2019 11:07 pm I'm not surprised, this sort of thing isn't at all unusual. I remember reading a really old Guinness Book Of Records that my grandma had (1960 edition I think) and it was noted in there that the longevity records attract far more fraudulent claims than any other. They were at the time dealing with (and dismissing) one from Russia about a man who had apparently just died at 256 years old. Later on, start of the 1980s, there was a Japanese guy who was briefly held the record for oldest living person at 114. A detail I remember from that was that his hair had gone white when he was in his 80s but then had somehow returned to black when he reached 110. That one held on for a bit but was eventually dimissed. A lot of these are cross-generational so yeah, I'm totally with you. She was too much of an outlier to be true really.
Was this the Japanese guy or is that someone else entirely? I remember him being in the Guinness Book of Records having reached 120 but when I looked him up again a while ago doubts had emerged.
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Re: Was Jeanne Calment a fraud?

Post by JimBentley »

Gavin Chipper wrote: Wed May 01, 2019 1:09 pm Was this the Japanese guy or is that someone else entirely? I remember him being in the Guinness Book of Records having reached 120 but when I looked him up again a while ago doubts had emerged.
Yep, that was him. I got a few details wrong though as I was going from memory but I've found my 1984 Guinness Book upstairs now. He was actually listed as the oldest person of all time (and still living in June 1983, which is presumably when the book went to press) at 118 years old. Next closest were a couple of 113-year olds (Fannie Thomas and Pierre Joubert) so it's similar territory to the Jeanne Calment case, a complete outlier at the time.

The introduction to the Longevity section is pretty much as I remembered from that early edition: "No single subject is more obscured by vanity, deceit, falsehood and deliberate fraud than the extremes of human longevity." Pretty sure that was the exact wording in the 1960 edition too. And alluding to the Russian case I mentioned: "The height of credulity was reached on 6 May 1933, when a news agency solemnly filed a story from China with a Peking date-line that Li Chung-yun, the 'oldest man on Earth', born in 1680, had just died aged 256 years (sic)"
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Re: Was Jeanne Calment a fraud?

Post by Innis Carson »

It's a fascinating case and I've been disappointed by the lack of any real follow-up to the allegations. On forums where the identity swap theory has been discussed, people generally seem inclined to just dismiss it as 'unproven' or whatever without making much effort to actually counter the points raised (with the occasional bit of customary incoherent frothing triggered by any sight of the word 'Russian'). Sadly it seems like enough people are attached to the idea of Calment's miraculous longevity that the definitive answer might never surface.
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Re: Was Jeanne Calment a fraud?

Post by Conor »

I don't think the argument that she was a fraud amounts to much. Statistically it's of course very unlikely that any individual person will reach 122, but we're looking for the probability of one person out the several billion candidates making it to 122, and that's much harder to answer. It's often said that the mortality rate among centenarians is around 50% chance of death per year, so with 1 other person having made it to 119 and 7 having made it to 117, someone getting to 122 is a bit of an outlier but nothing crazy.

(Facebook) polls are almost inherently going to be biased. If shown a picture of a 120-year-old, you're almost certainly going to think it more likely they look 105 than 135 just because nobody really knows what a 135-year-old looks like.

As a mentioned in some articles, the theory suffers from the same problem as most 'conspiracy' theories: how unlikely it is that so many people would be complicit in it. That said, the claim for her age verification does depend heavily on the details -- just how thorough and impartial were the gerontologists' investigations.
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Re: Was Jeanne Calment a fraud?

Post by Gavin Chipper »

Conor wrote: Thu May 02, 2019 12:30 pm I don't think the argument that she was a fraud amounts to much. Statistically it's of course very unlikely that any individual person will reach 122, but we're looking for the probability of one person out the several billion candidates making it to 122, and that's much harder to answer. It's often said that the mortality rate among centenarians is around 50% chance of death per year, so with 1 other person having made it to 119 and 7 having made it to 117, someone getting to 122 is a bit of an outlier but nothing crazy.

(Facebook) polls are almost inherently going to be biased. If shown a picture of a 120-year-old, you're almost certainly going to think it more likely they look 105 than 135 just because nobody really knows what a 135-year-old looks like.

As a mentioned in some articles, the theory suffers from the same problem as most 'conspiracy' theories: how unlikely it is that so many people would be complicit in it. That said, the claim for her age verification does depend heavily on the details -- just how thorough and impartial were the gerontologists' investigations.
First of all, I understand that it's about any person reaching 122, rather than a specific person. If someone you know told you that they had a relative who lived to 120 then aside from the fact that they should be famous, you be immediately suspicious anyway. But if you just heard on the news that there was someone who was 120 you'd be less suspicious.

You have to take into account all this sampling stuff when you're doing your internal Bayesian calculations, but I still think she's a fraud anyway. There are quite a few things. There's a New Scientist article that you won't be able to read all of unless you're a subscriber which I found interesting. I'll stick in some quotes from it:
In 2007, in an obscure book on the insurance industry, Jean-Pierre Daniel made the allegation that Calment assumed her mother’s identity for insurance fraud purposes. Daniel further claimed that the insurance company discovered it near the end of her life, but chose to keep it quiet because of Calment’s iconic status.

The latest round of allegations was sparked by a Russian geriatrician called Valery Novoselov of RUDN University in Moscow. In his clinical judgment, Calment didn’t seem to display the hallmarks of a supercentenarian (the term demographers use for people over 110). He never met Calment but says there are enough photos and videos to make an assessment of three syndromes we know are an inevitable part of extreme age: the ability to sit up straight without assistance, marked skin atrophy and the loss of tissue and fat that makes bones appear more pronounced. “Her authenticity I never believed,” he says.
Zak also points out multiple inconsistencies in Calment’s on-the-record statements that fit the switch theory. For instance, in Vincent and Me Jeanne says she met Van Gogh in her father’s shop. Jeanne’s father did not own a shop, but her husband – Yvonne’s father – did. These slips were usually put down to old age, but Zak says that all are consistent with her being Yvonne, not Jeanne.

What’s more, when demographers interviewed Calment, she made no mention of a cholera outbreak that killed 118 people in Arles in 1884, when Jeanne would have been nine years old, but Yvonne was not yet born. Gerontologists often cite a person’s knowledge of such memorable events as part of age verification, says Zak.

As to how Yvonne could have assumed her mother’s identity without arousing suspicion, Zak says that despite being 23 years apart, the pair looked strikingly similar, and the family largely kept to themselves.
Zak alleges that the original motive for the switch was tax evasion and fraud. Jeanne’s death would have landed the family with a tax bill equivalent to hundreds of thousands of dollars – which was particularly unwelcome given they had recently paid a substantial tax bill after the death of Jeanne’s father Nicolas in 1931. Jeanne also received an annuity on an insurance policy which would have expired on her death. It continued to be paid throughout her life.
On the mortality plateau:
Even if Calment really was who she said she was, Zak isn’t the only scientist outside the gerontology mainstream who has been asking awkward questions about supercentenarians. Biologist Saul Newman at the Australian National University in Canberra recently published a paper showing that it only takes a small number of age errors (or frauds) to magic up a longevity plateau.
The guy who wrote the paper on it acknowledges that there is no smoking gun, but lots of small pieces of evidence that add up to a big suspicion. And I think it's highly suspicious because with most people there would be none of this weird stuff around them. How unfortunate it is that the oldest person ever also happened to have a daughter who died young and that this daughter would have benefited financially if it really was her mother who had died and she lied about it.

You also have to take into account that with longevity claims there is a lot of fraud anyway, so even if it is realistic for someone to reach 122, you still have to be suspicious of anyone actually getting there.

And a couple of bits from the article I linked to originally:
Yvonne was the one who is listed as dying in 1934 of pneumonia. At the time, she left behind her son, Frédéric, and her husband, Joseph Charles Frédéric Billot. After Yvonne’s death, Jeanne began living with them. Billot and Jeanne, apparently, got along great, and he never remarried, despite being only 42 when his wife died, which, Zak contends, may have simply been because he was, in fact, still living with his wife.

He also points to an interview in which Jeanne names a maid who used to take her to school. However, according to the records, that maid was ten years younger than she was, and had actually escorted Yvonne to school. Yvonne's death certificate was also signed by a woman "sans profession," not by medical doctor or coroner.
Of course, none of this amounts to proof, but the existence of all of this (or even any of it) is highly suspicious. Just imagine that if you lived until 122 and someone wanted to debunk the claim. How much stuff in your life could they point to remotely on the scale of the above? Probably none. And that would be the case for virtually everyone. And this isn't just about records being more hazy then. Obviously if you (Conor) reached 122, they'd have your Countdown appearances etc. and there's loads of online stuff nowadays. But the argument presented isn't about a lack of records. It's about positive things that make the claim suspicious. The lack of records makes it harder to prove one way or the other, but it's the positive existence of these suspicious things that simply wouldn't arise when investigating 99.9% of all people.
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Re: Was Jeanne Calment a fraud?

Post by Gavin Chipper »

The other thing about the mortality plateau is that there doesn't seem to be any particular reason for believing that it is a consistent thing above 105 anyway. Even if we include Calment, we have nine reaching 117, and only two going beyond that, and that's nowhere near the purported 50/50 figure. It's not much of a sample to dismiss it, but on the other hand there's no reason to say that it exists in the first place based on this data. Twenty people have also reached 116, so on the face of it although there might be something that looks like a plateau between 105 and 117, it looks more like a wall at that point.
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Re: Was Jeanne Calment a fraud?

Post by JimBentley »

I'm actually sort of still with you (in that I think it's more likely than not that some kind of fraud went on) but Conor raises some good points. Far as I know, she only ever lived in a small town and it's really stretching credulity that everyone there would have been in on it. And really, who takes any notice of Facebook polls? Most people are fucking idiots. And as Conor also pointed out, nobody, not even gerentologists who have been studying these things all their professional lives, knows what anyone over 120 looks like, because there's no data. Also, was Jeanne Calment rich? I don't think she was, so why would there have been an incentive to avoid inheritance tax?

I'm in two minds about this to be honest and I don't think we'll ever know.
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Re: Was Jeanne Calment a fraud?

Post by Gavin Chipper »

You've both brought up this Facebook poll - probably the least significant piece of evidence. It has no bearing on it in the general scheme of things. It's certainly not the evidence that stuck out to me. Total straw man.

The thing about the town not noticing is the biggest sticking point, but I don't know everyone down my road. You wouldn't need the whole town to be in on it especially if you were fairly reclusive anyway.
Last edited by Gavin Chipper on Thu May 02, 2019 8:33 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Was Jeanne Calment a fraud?

Post by Elliott Mellor »

With almost 100% certainty no, she wasn't. One of my interests is in longevity and I've been following it for a number of years now and am thoroughly convinced of her case. For those unaware, to be validated by the GRG (gerontology research group) you have to have at least 3 (I think) documents supporting your claim, including at least one from the first 20 years of your life. Not only was Jeanne able to provide this, she actually has over 30 documents supporting her claim, more than any other supercentenarian (110+) validated. The theory posited has precisely 0, in my opinion, credible evidence, it seems largely based on claims that "she doesn't look 122" or "she doesn't look 60 in this picture earlier in her life" - which is not really a good way of going about these things. Of course people aren't going to think she looks 122 - because no one has ever seen a 122 year old that they can compare her to. There's also the "if you look at Jeanne and Yvonne together in this picture, then look at this picture from the 1950s of "Jeanne" it looks more like an aged Yvonne" which is tenuous at best.

With regards to her wealth - Jeanne married into wealth, and to the extent that she never had to work. She was well known in her community, meaning that if she died and Yvonne took her "position" at least some people would probably be suspicious.

Cases have emerged where they were wrongly validated, admittedly - such as Shigechiyo Izumi, so yes the GRG can be wrong at times. But over the extensive studies of her case, looking at census records, photographs, and recently handwritten letters from her early centenarian years, there's not really anything to suggest she was a "fraud" - it's just that some people find it so hard to believe that they invent a theory that Jeanne at 122 was actually Yvonne at 99 and try and impose it. For those who doubt this case - have you ever actually looked at any of her supporting evidence?

I'm happy to argue this further, if anyone wants to.
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Re: Was Jeanne Calment a fraud?

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Elliott Mellor wrote: Thu May 02, 2019 8:12 pm With almost 100% certainty no, she wasn't. One of my interests is in longevity and I've been following it for a number of years now and am thoroughly convinced of her case. For those unaware, to be validated by the GRG (gerontology research group) you have to have at least 3 (I think) documents supporting your claim, including at least one from the first 20 years of your life. Not only was Jeanne able to provide this, she actually has over 30 documents supporting her claim, more than any other supercentenarian (110+) validated. The theory posited has precisely 0, in my opinion, credible evidence, it seems largely based on claims that "she doesn't look 122" or "she doesn't look 60 in this picture earlier in her life" - which is not really a good way of going about these things. Of course people aren't going to think she looks 122 - because no one has ever seen a 122 year old that they can compare her to. There's also the "if you look at Jeanne and Yvonne together in this picture, then look at this picture from the 1950s of "Jeanne" it looks more like an aged Yvonne" which is tenuous at best.

With regards to her wealth - Jeanne married into wealth, and to the extent that she never had to work. She was well known in her community, meaning that if she died and Yvonne took her "position" at least some people would probably be suspicious.

Cases have emerged where they were wrongly validated, admittedly - such as Shigechiyo Izumi, so yes the GRG can be wrong at times. But over the extensive studies of her case, looking at census records, photographs, and recently handwritten letters from her early centenarian years, there's not really anything to suggest she was a "fraud" - it's just that some people find it so hard to believe that they invent a theory that Jeanne at 122 was actually Yvonne at 99 and try and impose it. For those who doubt this case - have you ever actually looked at any of her supporting evidence?

I'm happy to argue this further, if anyone wants to.
Well, of course I will.

Forget all the crap about photographs and what people think other people look like. That's not evidence either way. It's worse even than the poll thing. And documents are easily faked and were especially easily faked in the early to mid 20th century, there's countless examples that were only discovered as such with more modern forensic techniques.

But on the other hand (and I think this is the most pertinent point) it would have been a bit weird for the entire small town to go along with the fraud. Jeanne's daughter would have had to pretend to be married to her mother's husband for a start, which would have been a bit weird to say the least. Surely someone would have noticed this?

I'm aware that I'm kind of arguing both positions, but that's because I don't know which one is right. And I don't think we'll ever know short of digging up the graves.
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Re: Was Jeanne Calment a fraud?

Post by Elliott Mellor »

"The latest round of allegations was sparked by a Russian geriatrician called Valery Novoselov of RUDN University in Moscow. In his clinical judgment, Calment didn’t seem to display the hallmarks of a supercentenarian (the term demographers use for people over 110). He never met Calment but says there are enough photos and videos to make an assessment of three syndromes we know are an inevitable part of extreme age: the ability to sit up straight without assistance, marked skin atrophy and the loss of tissue and fat that makes bones appear more pronounced. “Her authenticity I never believed,” he says.

:lol:

It's possible to not be part of the typical demographic - and in fact from the longest lived person on record I would expect them to not conform to the usual demographic. There's been plenty of people 110+ who could do remarkable things at their age - riding an exercise bike, walking unassisted, conducting long interviews etc. Some people just really are in better shape than most others at that age, due to perhaps a very healthy lifestyle or even just luck. I know a lady from Church who is 95, and when she was around 90 I asked someone how old she was, thinking she was about 70 and was amazed to be told she was actually 20 years older. Walking unassisted, perfectly lucid and not really visibly aged. In comparison I know people in their 60s who I would think were in their 80s on first looking at them.
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Re: Was Jeanne Calment a fraud?

Post by Elliott Mellor »

JimBentley wrote: Thu May 02, 2019 8:26 pm

But on the other hand (and I think this is the most pertinent point) it would have been a bit weird for the entire small town to go along with the fraud. Jeanne's daughter would have had to pretend to be her mother's husband for a start, which would have been a bit weird to say the least. Surely someone would have noticed this?

Precisely - and it's not as if she was some nobody - as far as I know she was quite a figure in the community. You'd think someone would have noticed.
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Re: Was Jeanne Calment a fraud?

Post by Fiona T »

Elliott Mellor wrote: Thu May 02, 2019 8:38 pm
JimBentley wrote: Thu May 02, 2019 8:26 pm

But on the other hand (and I think this is the most pertinent point) it would have been a bit weird for the entire small town to go along with the fraud. Jeanne's daughter would have had to pretend to be her mother's husband for a start, which would have been a bit weird to say the least. Surely someone would have noticed this?

Precisely - and it's not as if she was some nobody - as far as I know she was quite a figure in the community. You'd think someone would have noticed.
Agreed. :)
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Re: Was Jeanne Calment a fraud?

Post by Gavin Chipper »

I've added a poll just to gauge opinion.
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Re: Was Jeanne Calment a fraud?

Post by Gavin Chipper »

Elliott Mellor wrote: Thu May 02, 2019 8:12 pmFor those who doubt this case - have you ever actually looked at any of her supporting evidence?

I'm happy to argue this further, if anyone wants to.
Have you seen the evidence? Do you know what it consists of?
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Re: Was Jeanne Calment a fraud?

Post by JimBentley »

Gavin Chipper wrote: Thu May 02, 2019 10:32 pm I've added a poll just to gauge opinion.
Can you add a "not sure" or "can't possibly know" option? I genuinely don't know and can't go for a binary choice.
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Re: Was Jeanne Calment a fraud?

Post by Gavin Chipper »

JimBentley wrote: Thu May 02, 2019 10:53 pm
Gavin Chipper wrote: Thu May 02, 2019 10:32 pm I've added a poll just to gauge opinion.
Can you add a "not sure" or "can't possibly know" option? I genuinely don't know and can't go for a binary choice.
OK. I hope it is good enough for you now.
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Re: Was Jeanne Calment a fraud?

Post by Marc Meakin »

The oldest people alive are probably not known .
If they were born in a country that don't carry out a census who will know.
I used to use this argument for tallest Man , fastest man etc.
If they live somewhere remote how would we know
GR MSL GNDT MSS NGVWL SRND NNLYC NNCT
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Re: Was Jeanne Calment a fraud?

Post by Elliott Mellor »

Gavin Chipper wrote: Thu May 02, 2019 10:35 pm
Elliott Mellor wrote: Thu May 02, 2019 8:12 pmFor those who doubt this case - have you ever actually looked at any of her supporting evidence?

I'm happy to argue this further, if anyone wants to.
Have you seen the evidence? Do you know what it consists of?
A decent amount of it, yes.
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Re: Was Jeanne Calment a fraud?

Post by Gavin Chipper »

Elliott Mellor wrote: Fri May 03, 2019 8:10 am
Gavin Chipper wrote: Thu May 02, 2019 10:35 pm
Elliott Mellor wrote: Thu May 02, 2019 8:12 pmFor those who doubt this case - have you ever actually looked at any of her supporting evidence?

I'm happy to argue this further, if anyone wants to.
Have you seen the evidence? Do you know what it consists of?
A decent amount of it, yes.
I was hoping you might elaborate.
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Re: Was Jeanne Calment a fraud?

Post by Gavin Chipper »

Marc Meakin wrote: Fri May 03, 2019 7:17 am The oldest people alive are probably not known .
If they were born in a country that don't carry out a census who will know.
I used to use this argument for tallest Man , fastest man etc.
If they live somewhere remote how would we know
To be the oldest person alive you need to have certain conditions that are conducive to good health and a long life. I think that makes it more likely they will be in a "first world" country with good records.

And fastest man doesn't just happen by accident. It takes a professional commitment for years. This is just not going to happen outside the world of professional athletics.

Also most people don't live somewhere ridiculously remote. If someone is the tallest man, word will probably get round and it's easy to verify.

So unfortunately I think you're wrong on all of these!
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Re: Was Jeanne Calment a fraud?

Post by Elliott Mellor »

Gavin Chipper wrote: Fri May 03, 2019 8:31 am
Marc Meakin wrote: Fri May 03, 2019 7:17 am The oldest people alive are probably not known .
If they were born in a country that don't carry out a census who will know.
I used to use this argument for tallest Man , fastest man etc.
If they live somewhere remote how would we know
To be the oldest person alive you need to have certain conditions that are conducive to good health and a long life. I think that makes it more likely they will be in a "first world" country with good records.

And fastest man doesn't just happen by accident. It takes a professional commitment for years. This is just not going to happen outside the world of professional athletics.

Also most people don't live somewhere riduculously remote. If someone is the tallest man, word will probably get round and it's easy to verify.

So unfortunately I think you're wrong on all of these!
We agree on this, at least. Whilst there's probably a few unknown supercentenarians living - I'd say it's virtually certain that Kane Tanaka is indeed the world's oldest living person (unless she reaches 122, in which case we'll have to invent a conspiracy theory as to why she actually wasn't that old).
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Re: Was Jeanne Calment a fraud?

Post by Elliott Mellor »

Gavin Chipper wrote: Fri May 03, 2019 8:26 am
Elliott Mellor wrote: Fri May 03, 2019 8:10 am
Gavin Chipper wrote: Thu May 02, 2019 10:35 pm

Have you seen the evidence? Do you know what it consists of?
A decent amount of it, yes.
I was hoping you might elaborate.
I feel that no matter how many censuses and documents I cite you're just going to dismiss them as "could be fabricated". I'm happy to provide a list of the documents that exist for her life if you wish, but I'll throw a rather notable one out for now:

The death record for her husband has him dying in 1942: "Fernand Nicolas Calment, aged 73, son of the late Jacques Calment and of Marie Felix, spouse of Jeanne Louise Calment, departed this life on the second of October, 1942."
This is 6 years after her daughter Yvonne is listed as dying: "Yvonne Marie Nicolle Calment, aged 36, daughter of Fernand Nicolas Calment and Jeanne Louise Calment, spouse of Joseph Charles Frédéric Billot, has departed this life on the nineteenth of January, 1934."
For the "ID switch" theory to be true, it would mean that Fernand would have had to pretend to be married to Yvonne, his daughter, which I just can't see at all happening, especially when they were figures in the community and Yvonne was 23 years younger than Jeanne, meaning people would almost certainly have known the difference.
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Re: Was Jeanne Calment a fraud?

Post by Elliott Mellor »

Here's a stat that's useful: experts have estimated that the chances of any human being in the whole history living to the age of 122 is about 1 in 7. So, Jeanne Calment was unlikely, but not so unlikely that we'd have serious doubts about the validity of her claim purely based on statistical improbability and with so much evidence to support her claim.
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Re: Was Jeanne Calment a fraud?

Post by Elliott Mellor »

JimBentley wrote: Tue Apr 30, 2019 11:07 pm I'm not surprised, this sort of thing isn't at all unusual. I remember reading a really old Guinness Book Of Records that my grandma had (1960 edition I think) and it was noted in there that the longevity records attract far more fraudulent claims than any other. They were at the time dealing with (and dismissing) one from Russia about a man who had apparently just died at 256 years old. Later on, start of the 1980s, there was a Japanese guy who was briefly held the record for oldest living person at 114. A detail I remember from that was that his hair had gone white when he was in his 80s but then had somehow returned to black when he reached 110. That one held on for a bit but was eventually dimissed. A lot of these are cross-generational so yeah, I'm totally with you. She was too much of an outlier to be true really.
Jeanne Calment (122 years, 164 days) is 2.67% older than Sarah Knauss (119 years, 97 days).

For those claiming this to be "too much an outlier" - do you also believe that Mount Everest isn't actually 8848m? Mount Everest (8,848m) is 2.75% taller than K2 (8,611m).

There's loads of sets of data where the outlier is more of a respective outlier than Jeanne, yet no one seems to question these: the tallest known tree known is actually 14.9% taller than the second tallest.

If you're willing to accept all these as just "statistical perks", then surely it's nonsensical to have serious doubt on this case due to her being "too much an outlier"
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Re: Was Jeanne Calment a fraud?

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Elliott Mellor wrote: Fri May 03, 2019 1:29 pm
Jeanne Calment (122 years, 164 days) is 2.67% older than Sarah Knauss (119 years, 97 days).

For those claiming this to be "too much an outlier" - do you also believe that Mount Everest isn't actually 8848m? Mount Everest (8,848m) is 2.75% taller than K2 (8,611m).

There's loads of sets of data where the outlier is more of a respective outlier than Jeanne, yet no one seems to question these: the tallest known tree known is actually 14.9% taller than the second tallest.

If you're willing to accept all these as just "statistical perks", then surely it's nonsensical to have serious doubt on this case due to her being "too much an outlier"
Exactly how implausible an outlier Calment's accepted age is is a matter of debate for the statisticians in the relevant field of study and not something I can venture a confident opinion on, but you do the researchers (who publish in the highest levels of the academic literature, and some of whom regard Calment as an extraordinary outlier) an incredible disservice by suggesting that they simply haven't thought of such a trivial point as this. Human mortality is not a generic random process, and the probability of an outlier can only be assessed in reference to the specific statistical models developed for it - these would have no applicability whatsoever to the heights of mountains or trees.
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Re: Was Jeanne Calment a fraud?

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Innis Carson wrote: Fri May 03, 2019 2:13 pm
Elliott Mellor wrote: Fri May 03, 2019 1:29 pm
Jeanne Calment (122 years, 164 days) is 2.67% older than Sarah Knauss (119 years, 97 days).

For those claiming this to be "too much an outlier" - do you also believe that Mount Everest isn't actually 8848m? Mount Everest (8,848m) is 2.75% taller than K2 (8,611m).

There's loads of sets of data where the outlier is more of a respective outlier than Jeanne, yet no one seems to question these: the tallest known tree known is actually 14.9% taller than the second tallest.

If you're willing to accept all these as just "statistical perks", then surely it's nonsensical to have serious doubt on this case due to her being "too much an outlier"
Exactly how implausible an outlier Calment's accepted age is is a matter of debate for the statisticians in the relevant field of study and not something I can venture a confident opinion on, but you do the researchers (who publish in the highest levels of the academic literature, and some of whom regard Calment as an extraordinary outlier) an incredible disservice by suggesting that they simply haven't thought of such a trivial point as this. Human mortality is not a random process, and the probability of an outlier can only be assessed in reference to the specific statistical models developed for it - these would have no applicability whatsoever to the heights of mountains or trees.
Actually, they do have relevance and such a point was made by Robert Young, senior researcher at the GRG - so to suggest I'm doing people like him a disservice, when I'm basically quoting him seems a little bizarre. I'd argue that believing a conspiracy theory that relies on trivial evidence such as this is undermining the researchers far more, when they have worked tirelessly locating censuses, death records and conducting interviews with her in the past 30 years.
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Re: Was Jeanne Calment a fraud?

Post by Gavin Chipper »

I think Innis's point is that you can't just look at the percentage difference between top and second in a completely different thing and expect it to have some relevance. Different distributions have different standard deviations etc., so you can't just look at percentage difference to see which is a bigger outlier. That's not to say that there aren't bigger statistical outliers than Jeanne Calment of course. But I think I mentioned above that in the absence of concrete evidence, all of this really needs to be looked at in a Bayesian framework where we assess the likelihoods of all the relevant factors, not just how much of an outlier 122 is.
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Re: Was Jeanne Calment a fraud?

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Gavin Chipper wrote: Fri May 03, 2019 3:24 pm I think Innis's point is that you can't just look at the percentage difference between top and second in a completely different thing and expect it to have some relevance. Different distributions have different standard deviations etc., so you can't just look at percentage difference to see which is a bigger outlier. That's not to say that there aren't bigger statistical outliers than Jeanne Calment of course. But I think I mentioned above that in the absence of concrete evidence, all of this really needs to be looked at in a Bayesian framework where we assess the likelihoods of all the relevant factors, not just how much of an outlier 122 is.
The point I (and indeed Mr Young when posed this very same argument) were making was that dismissing something "because they seem too much an outlier" is a bit of a weak way of going about things. Calment was indeed an exceptional outlier and quite an unlikely scenario, but certainly not out of the realms of possibility. I agree that the only way to be 100% certain is to do exhumation of the body and do DNA testing, but without that and with all the evidence supporting her, I'm 99.99% sure of her case.
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Re: Was Jeanne Calment a fraud?

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Elliott Mellor wrote: Fri May 03, 2019 3:36 pm I agree that the only way to be 100% certain is to do exhumation of the body and do DNA testing
Image

(no disrespect intended to Mrs Calment!)
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Re: Was Jeanne Calment a fraud?

Post by Conor »

Using statistics can help with your own probabilistic acceptance of Calment's case (e.g. maybe based on the evidence you'd be 95% sure she's genuine but you think she's enough of an outlier that you'd revise it down to 80%) but will not provide a conclusive answer on its own. There are too few data points at these extreme ages to get a reliable distribution for human mortality in the tails, plus it's not clear just what the sample size is. Anyway yeah, just dig up the bodies.
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Re: Was Jeanne Calment a fraud?

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Dig up the bodies it is then. We're all agreed.
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Re: Was Jeanne Calment a fraud?

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I'm sufficiently intrigued by this to lend you a shovel. I want it back though.
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Re: Was Jeanne Calment a fraud?

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I enjoyed this thread and now also endorse exhumation. If I live to 122 I'd be fine with someone messing with my grave to double-check.
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Re: Was Jeanne Calment a fraud?

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This has certainly put a wrinkle in the whole story.
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Re: Was Jeanne Calment a fraud?

Post by Gavin Chipper »

I came across this this BBC article yesterday saying that French officials are refusing to change the death certificate. Also, I came across this article saying that there's a new study finding that she's genuine. The new study can be found here. I might give it a proper read later, but my current suspicion is that it's more of an opinion piece than a "new study".
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Re: Was Jeanne Calment a fraud?

Post by Gavin Chipper »

Gavin Chipper wrote: Thu Sep 19, 2019 11:29 am I came across this this BBC article yesterday saying that French officials are refusing to change the death certificate. Also, I came across this article saying that there's a new study finding that she's genuine. The new study can be found here. I might give it a proper read later, but my current suspicion is that it's more of an opinion piece than a "new study".
Having been reminded by the discussion here, I finally got round to reading the article I linked to above. It's quite interesting. The two biggest things in favour of Jeanne Calment being genuine are that her and her daughter were known by too many people and a lot of people would have been in on the fraud, and that Jeanne's daughter Yvonne was quite ill generally and had tuberculosis. Documentation doesn't really mean much when we know the person existed anyway, and that's not the point of contention. However, they don't really go into some of the specific claims of inconsistency:
We have identified three main limitations of this study. First, time and space limitations to answer in this journal to the dozens of arguments challenging the reported age of JC gathered by Zak and Novoselov. Therefore, we only focused on the main arguments concerning the motive and the practicability of the identity fraud. However, we examined many other arguments and we discovered some errors which at least show great negligence in their work.
They've used some statistical models to decide how unlikely reaching 122 is, and based on them they concluded that it's reasonable that at least one person could have reached that age by the late 1990s. But:
It must be underlined that these maximum ages were observed even when extrapolation of the functions leads to qx exceeding 0.6 that is a probability of dying above 60%. Thus, in silico, JC’s age can be reached and even exceeded, even though the probability remains very low.
I presume that means 60% per year. But if we look here, ignoring the 117-year-old that's still alive and Calment herself, 7 out of the 8 people reaching 117 have died before their 118th birthday. It's not a massive sample, but they've made out that using a probability of 0.6 in their models is some sort of extreme case. It is not.

Also, some of the models did not achieve the age of 122 at all in the simulations.
In the best simulation set (set 3 and Logistic 1903), this event occurs on average once every 10 million centenarians.
What do they mean by best? They haven't given a reason why it's the best as in most likely to be accurate, so it seems they just mean the best as in most likely to produce a 122-year-old. It seems a little sleight-of-handy, especially when they've put in their tables "Probability of maximum age or 122+". We only want to know the probability of reaching 122+ actually. And that would be a big fat zero in many cases.

So what's the conclusion? Well, while they say it only needs to happen once, one could also argue that fooling the right number of people only needs to happen once. There have been loads of fraudulent/mistaken longevity claims, and even if it's unlikely that a particular one will slip through the net, it's not that unlikely that one of many will. Also not everyone with tuberculosis died early back then. People could still recover. So I would say it's inconclusive.
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Re: Was Jeanne Calment a fraud?

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A couple of other things - the authors of the pro-Calment paper want the ant-Calment paper to be retracted because of its unsubstantiated claims. I think maybe certain parts of the paper could be changed for a version 2 but I think it's wrong to request a retraction. There are at least legitimate doubts and I think it's right for these to be put into an academic paper.

And on exhuming the body, there is supposedly a blood sample in existence that could prove the case one way or the other without need for exhumation.
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Re: Was Jeanne Calment a fraud?

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I feel I need to address the statistics side of things and how likely reaching 122 is. In the paper I was discussing they ran simulations of hundreds of thousands of centenarians with various formulas of how likely people are to die each year. But it's unlikely that you're going to get a nice formula that works from the age of 100, or even 110. Real life is much messier than that. We really just need to look at the top-end stats. If we just look at women then according to the Wikipedia, we've had 45 reaching 115 but we'll make that 44 because we're not counting Jeanne Calment. It's not the biggest sample ever, but it's going to tell us something. Of the people who reached 115, 19 reached 116. But it's 19 out of 42 because two are still living at 115.

Surviving 115: 19/42 = 0.45.

Now let's look at those reaching 116. It seems there are no living 116-year-olds. Of those 19 who reached 116, 9 reached 117.

Surviving 116: 9/19 = 0.47

We have one living 117-year-old. Of the other 8, 1 reached 118.

Surviving 117: 1/8 = 0.125

That one person also reached 119, but died at the age of 119 years and 97 days.

What does this tell us? 1 out of 8 is quite low and the probability of 1 or fewer out of 8 surviving if the survival rate is 45% is around 6%. But does the one out of one surviving 118 push it back to more likely? Well, I still think surviving each year is going to get harder. If it stays at 45% then the probability of surviving from 115 to 122 is 0.45^7 = 0.0037 or about 1 in 270 and that's a best case scenario. And not including survivors or Calment, we've only had 43 people reach 115. It's not that unlikely by that but more likely not to have happened. But realistically, I think there is at least a 70% chance of dying per year from 117 onwards, so if we do 0.45^2 * 0.3^5 we get less than 1 in 2000 with around 43 people to get it from which is around 2%. Looking less likely. But even then I doubt very much that someone who is 119, 120 or 121 has anywhere near a 0.3 chance of surviving the year. If those last three became 0.2 we'd have nearly 1 in 7000 for someone reaching 115 to get to 122 and less than 1% chance that one of 40 something people would reach it.

OK, I'm making up probabilities at this point, but it still probably has more basis in reality than any of these models and I would still maintain that anything below 115 is irrelevant for this. I'd like to call 115 irrelevant too but the sample size gets too low. In any case, taking this into account and the likelihood of Calment's fraud, do your Bayesian calculations and get back to me. But I still say fraud.
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Re: Was Jeanne Calment a fraud?

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Re: Was Jeanne Calment a fraud?

Post by Gavin Chipper »

That's a very long article, but I finally read it. Well, it seems her conclusion is that Jeanne was genuine. There's too much to really summarise but the closing bit is this:
How many people would Yvonne have had to co-opt? Two notaries, a priest, a seven-year-old boy, a crowd full of mourners, a whole city? The theory made no sense, and, even though I knew it, I was already thinking about what Zak would say next.
(Zak is the guy who is trying to prove the fraud.)
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Re: Was Jeanne Calment a fraud?

Post by Gavin Chipper »

I thought I might come back to this topic after the death of Kane Tanaka.
Gavin Chipper wrote: Thu May 02, 2019 3:08 pm The other thing about the mortality plateau is that there doesn't seem to be any particular reason for believing that it is a consistent thing above 105 anyway. Even if we include Calment, we have nine reaching 117, and only two going beyond that, and that's nowhere near the purported 50/50 figure. It's not much of a sample to dismiss it, but on the other hand there's no reason to say that it exists in the first place based on this data. Twenty people have also reached 116, so on the face of it although there might be something that looks like a plateau between 105 and 117, it looks more like a wall at that point.
I think this quoted bit is quite relevant now because Kane Tanaka went beyond the 117 wall (reached 119) and the new oldest person, Lucile Randon, is already 118 without having had to do any of the hard work leading out front. So now four people (if we include Calment) have beaten the 117 wall. Calment on 117, Tanaka and Sarah Knauss on 119, and Lucile Randon still living at 118. All the rest of the top 10 are on 117 though. And 116 takes you down to 23rd. Also Kane Tanaka reached 119 and 107 days with Knauss on 97 days so both in the first half of the year. So other than Calment, no-one has made it much more than a year past the 117 wall. And Calment went plus 4 years (and 164 days).

But anyway, I don't think Tanaka made much difference here to the likelihood of Calment's claim. If she'd gone 120+ then obviously Calment would be de-outliered to some extent. But while Tanaka beat the non-Calment record, it was only by 10 days. The differences are small, so that's why Calment's >3-year lead looks so outlandish.
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Re: Was Jeanne Calment a fraud?

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Gavin Chipper wrote: Thu May 02, 2019 3:08 pm already 118 without having had to do any of the hard work leading out front.
Haha, love the pacemaker analogy
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Re: Was Jeanne Calment a fraud?

Post by Elliott Mellor »

Gavin Chipper wrote: Sat Apr 30, 2022 5:18 pm I thought I might come back to this topic after the death of Kane Tanaka.
Gavin Chipper wrote: Thu May 02, 2019 3:08 pm The other thing about the mortality plateau is that there doesn't seem to be any particular reason for believing that it is a consistent thing above 105 anyway. Even if we include Calment, we have nine reaching 117, and only two going beyond that, and that's nowhere near the purported 50/50 figure. It's not much of a sample to dismiss it, but on the other hand there's no reason to say that it exists in the first place based on this data. Twenty people have also reached 116, so on the face of it although there might be something that looks like a plateau between 105 and 117, it looks more like a wall at that point.
I think this quoted bit is quite relevant now because Kane Tanaka went beyond the 117 wall (reached 119) and the new oldest person, Lucile Randon, is already 118 without having had to do any of the hard work leading out front. So now four people (if we include Calment) have beaten the 117 wall. Calment on 117, Tanaka and Sarah Knauss on 119, and Lucile Randon still living at 118. All the rest of the top 10 are on 117 though. And 116 takes you down to 23rd. Also Kane Tanaka reached 119 and 107 days with Knauss on 97 days so both in the first half of the year. So other than Calment, no-one has made it much more than a year past the 117 wall. And Calment went plus 4 years (and 164 days).

But anyway, I don't think Tanaka made much difference here to the likelihood of Calment's claim. If she'd gone 120+ then obviously Calment would be de-outliered to some extent. But while Tanaka beat the non-Calment record, it was only by 10 days. The differences are small, so that's why Calment's >3-year lead looks so outlandish.
At 117 you're really approaching biological limits, so it shouldn't be a surprise that a "wall" exists there.

It was pretty incredible that Tanaka got to 119 considering the amount of health issues she had faced over her life (including pancreatic cancer at 45, colon cancer at 103). She was ill shortly before all three of her last birthdays, and managed to pull through. What got Tanaka in the end was too much collateral damage to her body, as opposed to necessarily just "biological limits". I'd argue that her getting to 119 with the plethora of health issues she'd faced is possibly more impressive than Calment getting to 122 by virtue of getting ludicrously lucky genetically and health-wise.

Worth noting that you're also basing your statistics purely on public data, when in reality you've got a number of private cases that are almost definitely true. You're talking about 30-odd 116+ people in reality (though it doesn't really negate the point you made, I just like accuracy).

Lucile Randon is in pretty exquisite shape for 118, and remarkably doesn't seem to have declined very much as a supercentenarian (I can remember when she was only a "young" supercentenarian, and there's really not been much change between then and now). I wouldn't be surprised to see her getting further than Tanaka did, and Calment getting "de-outliered" to some extent. Obviously anything can happen at such an extreme age, but she's possibly the most robust 118 year old to have existed.
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Re: Was Jeanne Calment a fraud?

Post by Gavin Chipper »

Elliott will no doubt know this but Lucile Randon has died at 118. The first person to die at 118, as of the three others who have officially reached 118, two died at 119, and one (Calment) reached 122 (perhaps).
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Re: Was Jeanne Calment a fraud?

Post by Mark James »

Saw a tweet lamenting that the oldest person in the world is always some withered French nun and never a thawed out caveman.
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Re: Was Jeanne Calment a fraud?

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Re: Was Jeanne Calment a fraud?

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I don't know what a 31 year old dog looks like, but it isn't that.
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Re: Was Jeanne Calment a fraud?

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I'm amazed anyone even believed it in the first place. The dog was supposedly a full 7 years older than the dog that had previously been crowned and over double the breed's life expectancy, was obese, and had no signs of extreme age. I'd be amazed it it was older than 14/15. Hugely embarrassing for GWR, though they've always had shockingly low standards for validation.
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Re: Was Jeanne Calment a fraud?

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Just read through this whole thread again. One of my favourites that I like coming back to every so often. So thanks for the bump!
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Re: Was Jeanne Calment a fraud?

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Elliott Mellor wrote: Wed Jan 17, 2024 4:24 pm I'm amazed anyone even believed it in the first place. The dog was supposedly a full 7 years older than the dog that had previously been crowned and over double the breed's life expectancy, was obese, and had no signs of extreme age. I'd be amazed it it was older than 14/15. Hugely embarrassing for GWR, though they've always had shockingly low standards for validation.
That's what I've been saying all along. Bit rude to call her a dog though.
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Re: Was Jeanne Calment a fraud?

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Gavin Chipper wrote: Wed Jan 17, 2024 4:46 pm
Elliott Mellor wrote: Wed Jan 17, 2024 4:24 pm I'm amazed anyone even believed it in the first place. The dog was supposedly a full 7 years older than the dog that had previously been crowned and over double the breed's life expectancy, was obese, and had no signs of extreme age. I'd be amazed it it was older than 14/15. Hugely embarrassing for GWR, though they've always had shockingly low standards for validation.
That's what I've been saying all along. Bit rude to call her a dog though.
Yawn.
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Re: Was Jeanne Calment a fraud?

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Deserved more.
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Re: Was Jeanne Calment a fraud?

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Gavin Chipper wrote: Wed Jan 17, 2024 10:45 pm Deserved more.
I have no... dog in this fight (re: Jeanne Calment) but I enjoyed the joke :D
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Re: Was Jeanne Calment a fraud?

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I just can't believe that Bluey's dead.
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Re: Was Jeanne Calment a fraud?

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Ian Volante wrote: Thu Jan 18, 2024 12:49 pm I just can't believe that Bluey's dead.
To be honest that was the main take-away from the article for me too.
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Re: Was Jeanne Calment a fraud?

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Elliott Mellor wrote: Wed Jan 17, 2024 4:24 pm Hugely embarrassing for GWR, though they've always had shockingly low standards for validation.
I was just wondering what Great Western Railway had to do with this
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Re: Was Jeanne Calment a fraud?

Post by Marc Meakin »

I think in 30 years time living to 100 plus will be the norm however as we are all gifted with a limited amount of brain cells I can envisage 120 year olds roaming the streets like zombies.
There's a horror movie in that
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