QuackWatch dodgy on cryonics

For a change, here’s something that I hope those of you who disagree with me on cryonics can agree on — I think you would all agree that criticism of cryonics should be honest.

Stephen Barrett, M.D.’s QuackWatch (“Your Guide to Quackery, Health Fraud, and Intelligent Decisions”) has a page about cryonics, which places it firmly on the “quack” side. As evidence, they quote Michael Shermer’s Nano Nonsense and Cryonics:

Cryonicists believe that people can be frozen immediately after death and reanimated later when the cure for what ailed them is found. To see the flaw in this system, thaw out a can of frozen strawberries. During freezing, the water within each cell expands, crystallizes, and ruptures the cell membranes. When defrosted, all the intracellular goo oozes out, turning your strawberries into runny mush. This is your brain on cryonics.
But as regular readers know, this paragraph is entirely erroneous when it comes to cryonics practice. Shermer says as much himself.

I have sent six emails to Barrett and received two replies. The first was one of the many emails I sent to critics of cryonics asking for further reading; I accidentally lost track of who I had sent this to and so sent two such emails. Neither received a response. I later sent him a courtesy email advising him of my survey (since it mentions him), which garnered the response (in full) “Sorry, I am not interested in further involvement in your project”. I replied immediately to thank him for his time.

I then thought I should mention what Shermer had to say about the quote he uses on his website, and sent an email this morning linking to it. The response was (in full) “Kindly stop pestering me. ” I replied to that promising to “write up the outcome of this conversation” and send no further emails. (Of course, this means I now can’t alert him to this blog post — I should have thought of that before I sent it!)

Does anyone else think that using a quote to discredit cryonics which the author himself agrees is entirely misleading, and giving such short shrift to a brief polite email pointing this out, isn’t really in the spirit of scientific skepticism at its best?

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22.02.2010 14:00 David Gerard

At least “this was your brain on cryonics” would be accurate. (I suspect James Bedford is not coming back, not ever.)

22.02.2010 14:50 Paul Crowley

No, even in the James Bedford days this wasn’t accurate. For one thing, they used antifreeze even then to mitigate this effect; even in those days they knew more than nothing about cryobiology. For another, at least according to Ben Best, ice doesn’t form inside cells. Rather, ice forms between cells, and this causes cell damage mechanically and through salt buildup osmosis.

23.02.2010 0:34 Luke Parrish

Sounds like perhaps someone is more interested in adhering to a status quo than honest skepticism.

One thing that has always puzzled me is how aggressive some people are about their skepticism. When encountering an aggressive case of BS this may be merited, but it seems like they get into the habit of attacking to the point where simply admitting “I don’t know” is not an option any more.

I suspect it’s sort of an Alpha Wolf mentality… The Alpha can’t afford to question himself or he might appear weak in front of the pack.

23.02.2010 14:29 Alison Rowan

It sounds like the kind of overly aggressive skepticism that the aquatic ape theory got. I suspect this is in part because a certain class of skeptics LIKE are too wedded to knocking things that other skeptics have already attacked, and in part because both cryonics and human evolution suffer from not easily fitting the scientific method of falsifiability — one because it’s too far in the future and one because it’s too far in the past (which isn’t to say you can’t use science on them, but it’s harder than on a repeatable lab experiment)

23.07.2010 17:47 RichieKGB

Hi Paul,

Take a look at this thread — http://forum.rickross.com/read.php?12,64749,page=1 in particular the threads by poster ANTICULT and the links to information he has found.

Lets also make one thing clear, skeptics about cryonics are not anti-cryonicists. You are either a cryo-enthusiast or you are not — the reason that scientists and doctors dismiss cryonics with one paragraph is because they think that is all it merits.

A better approach to cryonics would be to hand your body over to medical science upon death with the hope that it will be used for cryonic research. To charge people thier estate upon death with no garuntees is a CON and no amount of arm-waving is going to persuade me or skeptics alike otherwise.

Ben Best cannot be trusted as a information source for many reasons — heres 2:

  1. he is a paid member of the cryonics industry and is well known as nothing more than a salesman that uses scientific buzzwords to sell his product. How can you trust somebody who is making money from the cryonics game and needs to insure his career??
  2. He is a Pharmacist NOT a doctor or scientist and we all know that pharmacists are very good at reading doctors handwriting so we get our correct subscription. But would you trust a pharmacist to deliver your baby or admister chemotherapy or for that matter perscribe you a treatment based on what he thinks?

I know you reasonably well Paul and have chatted with you and been to your presentations in London, Normally your scientific reasoning is something to be admired, but you havent done your research properly. There is a lot of litreture debunking cryonics if you look (see the thread) Read through it and I think you will agree that cryonics is nothing more than a immortality cult which is making some people very rich indeed.

The UK is a little behind on developments, cryonics is BANNED/ILLEGAL in some parts of the world and there is a lot of stuff coming to the surface which may ban it in other parts. But Then again the NHS is coming under flack for threatening to close its homeopathic hospital so maybe us brits really are irrattional when it comes to the science of medicine.


24.07.2010 7:51 Paul Crowley

you havent done your research properly

Please read A survey of anti-cryonics writing and More on anti-cryonics writing. As far as I know, I’ve done the most thorough search ever conducted for the case against cryonics, including emailing six prominent scientific critics of cryonics (which is all I could find email addresses for) asking for pointers on what to read. Could you be more specific on the concrete steps you think I should take that I haven’t taken?

I’ve read that thread already, it seemed like the usual dross. If you think there are gems in the slurry, please pick them out, clean and polish them up, and present them in an actual article. As the posts above make clear, you have a very low bar to clear to write the best anti-cryonics article in the world. Not for my sake, but for the sake of the people who I might persuade to sign up, please write the article you’d want someone thinking of signing up to read.

24.07.2010 9:14 Paul Crowley

Also — I’d be VERY interested to hear you address what this post is actually about. Do you agree that Barrett is not being honest with his readers?

24.07.2010 19:44 Luke Parrish

The BC law does not prohibit cryonics. Read:


To be clear, should a consumer wish their remains to be preserved using cryonics, a BC funeral provider is not prohibited from performing any related services such as preparation and transport, as per the Cremation, Interment & Funeral Services Act regulations.

This should tell you something about Mr. “The Anticult” and his credibility, given that he says it is illegal in BC.

From: http://forum.rickross.com/read.php?12,64749,65294#msg-65294

There is a movement starting to make “cryonics” illegal in some countries. When you really look into it, it does seem the only reasonable way to move forward is to make “cryonics” illegal, or at least very highly regulated and monitored. If at some future time, if a mammal can be frozen for years, and then brought back alive, then it can be debated in government if it could be considered for humans.

But until then, due to the myriad serious abuses, it should be made illegal, or highly regulated. There is some text out there from the Canadian province of British Columbia where “cryonics” is illegal? It seems these folks have thought it through, and realize “cryonics” has to be banned. That is the logical conclusion when one looks at the evidence at this time.

The real kicker is how that particular law mentions irradiation, a nonexistent practice, as the equivalent of cryonics. The law was evidently put in place by a lone crackpot with no understanding of the issue whatsoever. Read the section for yourself, if you don’t believe me:

14 A person must not offer for sale, or sell, an arrangement for the preservation or storage of human remains that is based on

(a) cryonics, (b) irradiation, or (c) any other means of preservation or storage, by whatever name called, and that is offered, or sold, on the expectation of the resuscitation of human remains at a future time.

Any other means” implies that this law’s author seriously feels that irradiation is something someone would intentionally apply to preserve a human for resuscitation at a future time. In other words, their understanding of the issue had not progressed beyond a simple analogy to food preservation. Forgive me if this does not exactly boost my opinion of anti-cryonics activists and the amount of deep consideration they give to the topic.

24.07.2010 1:04 Luke Parrish

Richie, I have no clue why you think “hand your body over and hope” is a viable strategy, nor why anyone might think cryonics ought to be banned. However I find it slightly scary that anyone would take Mr. ANTICULT seriously.

I’ve met Ben Best, and he is about as polar opposite from a salesman as you can get. I don’t know where you get this “is well known as a salesman” crap from. He is just someone who has put a lot of work into making something affordable which would otherwise not be.

The fact that “THE ANTICULT” (claims that cryonics is illegal in British Columbia should tell you something about his credibility. There is no organized movement to make it illegal, nor is there any reason to do so, nor is it illegal to perform in BC.

The few laws against it seem to originate from a few hostile individuals who have not done any research nor written any papers about why it wouldn’t work.

If you want a laugh, read the BC law for yourself, which forbids selling (not performing) cryonics in that province, together with “irradiation” (!) and any other procedure performed on the dead with expectation of future resuscitation.

27.07.2010 0:52 RichieKGB

Alright Paul,

Listen i really cannot be be bothered to get worked up any more about cryonics. If you don;t like my opinion thats pretty much fine by me, we all know I am pretty extreme with my views on any particular subject.

This is what I come up with so far — sorry if its hard to read, writing is not a strong point with me. Most of the sources for this conculsion all come from the same sources we have been looking at recently. From ben bests and alcors pro stance to cult watches anticult stance.


One of the things that has become more common in the last century is the removal of death in society and some would say a rising fear of our own mortality. We used to be really familiar with death and it wasn’t something to fear. Up until relatively recently death was a big family occasion that everybody was encouraged to take part in. You would try your best to try and go back to the home you were born in when you felt your time was near. People would come and visit you on your “deathbed” to try and get your last words and even the youngest children were encouraged to come and say goodbye. When you did finally die you were dressed in your Sunday best and moved to the front parlour where you would receive further visits. Often (perhaps because people were so worried about being buried alive) you would reside in the family parlour for a number of days so everyone would get a chance to pay their respects to your corpse. After a big funeral which would take most of the day including a pissup you finally put into your family plot with your ancestors. Different countries of course had different rituals and ways of going about it but in essence this was pretty universal concept in American/European culture till the turn of the 20th century. During this time a few ladies magazines wrote articles about how the display of dead bodies in the front parlour was deemed unsightly. They suggested that they should be out of site and encouraged their readers to redecorate their parlours and perhaps as a ultimate fuck you to the dead rename them the living room! The funeral home was born shortly afterwards and coffin builders went from wooden boxes in open yards to today’s ultra modern coffin showrooms.
It could be argued that as a result of all these things we as a society have removed ourselves from the death process. Instead of being something we would deal with in a open basis it has gone behind closed doors and become enshrouded with secrecy. Nobody wants to know what happens to them when they die and the whole process of dying is something we now dread. Most people imagine that they will die alone in a hospital bed with tubes hanging out of them with no-one to witness their last ragged breath. Then perhaps a few close members will come to whatever funeral home you signed up with say a few words and then it’s into the fire for a quick cremation. Is it any wonder that people are so afraid to die and are prepared to go to extreme measures and make huge expensive mistakes when they do? The funeral industry these days is quite shameless in its handling of the dead. One of my favourite examples of this if from the Film the Big Labowski. When the surfer dude dies he is cremated and only the Hero and his dysfunctional Vietnam vet pal are at the cremation. The surfer dudes dream is to have his ashes scattered on the pacific and they are in the funeral home office trying to buy a “receptacle” to collect his ashes in. The Funeral sales guy is trying to sell them a urn but even the cheapest is way too expensive for our hero who feels he is being taken advantage of because he is bereaved. In the end they put the ashes in a fast food container for FREE and scatter his ashes’ as he wished. Very funny especially when the Vietnam Veteran gets narky but also very true about the business of death in this century. People are often ripped off pretty hard when they die and relatives can end up paying thousands for coffins and other paraphernalia. One thing which is really expensive and very futuristic is the rise in the interest in cryogenic preservation. This is the idea of freezing yourself down after death in the hope that one day your death can be cured and you can live again in some future era. To be able to postpone your death and live in the future has long been a dream of humanity. The egyptians built pyramids, alchemists mixed potions and even in recent history no less than benjiman franklin dreamed about it. In Victorian fiction Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein dead body parts are put back together and re-animated with disastrous results. Countless science fiction writers since have written about cryonics as a suspended animation technique for space travel or as a time travel device. The premise is simple, freeze a person and revive them again in the future. This person can then enjoy any benefits which the future may bring, be it a cure for whatever deadly illness they may have or perhaps advance life-extension techniques which we don’t know about yet. On face value it sounds great doesn’t it? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if it was possible who wouldn’t want to get the chance to join Fry (from Futurism) in the year 3000 when robots and space aliens are the norm. It sounds like sci-fi doesn’t it and it probably should be sci fi. But there are already several companies offering this “service”, for around $150,000US they will pick you up from your death-bed. Then they will freeze you down using the their best techniques and store you for as long as it takes to cure you of your death. These firms will have you believe that future advances in medical technology will be able to overcome any problems you may have now including of course your death. They say that it’s better to freeze yourself down on death than be buried or cremated as you have a chance of revival by their methods.
It’s something that maybe you can imagine a desperate person close to death may entertain as a possibility but this is not the case at all. Cryonic preservation is something that some people (and intelligent people too) think is very viable. In fact my co-organiser on all things futuristic believes that with current methods the chance of revival is 10-50%! He is no wacko either — a author of books, confident public speaker and has run high-technology companies. His understanding is that advances in nana-tech and genetics will cure him of any death he may suffer from. Not only that he will be given a more robust body (perhaps even a robot body) and some form of him will be able to live on. He is of course a keen Tranhumanist who believes that the technological singularity is going to be the key to this dream and I guess that where he gets his 10-50% chance from. I am a betting man myself, cards is my game and I can tell you: I don’t like to put my money down unless I got all the info I need. I think that cryonics is a very expensive gamble and your real odds on revival are the same as hitting all six numbers in the lottery. From the bookies (cryonicists) point of view its a perfect bet, the punter is a high-roller, unconcerned with the odds, needs no grantees and will be legally dead when he makes his bet. It would be easy to get a few oversized Dewar flasks, some antifreeze and some scientific looking promotional literature and make a fast buck undercutting cryonics firms before emigrating to the Caymans with the profits. I suppose it’s easy for me to be cynical and make fun of cryonics, I am still far from a old age, let alone considering any funeral arrangements. I suppose I find the whole subject rather grisly, sometimes it makes me quite angry and I want cryonics companies closed down as I feel they are taking advantage of vulnerabilities. Other times I wonder why I even waste my time thinking about a silly expensive burial and why should I even let it affect me.
The reason is that Cryonic Preservation is becoming more mainstream all the time. Its recently enjoyed a few spotlights in the media even so far as Breakfast TV with Richard and Judy. We have UK cryonics firms and of course it’s something that the transhumanist community just loves as a potential stepping stone to their imagined future. Another development is the normalisation of cryonics preservation before just something the rich eccentric could afford — now companies offer life insurance premiums to cover the costs. Self-help groups are springing up around for users of these services one boasts how even a homeless person could afford cryonic preservation. I recently read a article on the less wrong website how a mother has signed up her kids and how “it tears her heart out” that other mother don’t do the same. Is this a good or bad thing? I believe that it a bad thing, in fact I would go as far as saying I think it’s a con-trick. The cryoncists don’t believe it’s a real con, they really believe that they are onto something big and feel it’s a good cause. But in my mind it does not make it less of a con just because people are blinded by beliefs, religions have started on less and cryonics cults are something we may have to learn to live with. The problem that I can see is simple — People do not want to be told that they only have 80 years to live, so cryonics is seen by some as a solution to this age old problem. Throw in the promise of a new body or anything really as you are speculating on hypothetical technologies of the future and you have something people will be prepared to pay for. The promise of everlasting life is something alchemists offered their rulers for centuries — there is virtually no difference in the 21st century except your stereotypical alchemist is now wearing a flashy suit, has some brilliant anti-freeze and calls himself a cryonicist. One of thing I need to make clear is that to the best of my knowledge all cryonics companies are run as not-for-profit firms. This just means they don;t pay tax and don’t have to publish their accounts like a normal company. They are not normally run by group’s of scientists or doctors as you may think, but generally by enthusiasts who are self educated on the subject. Most companies don’t even have any doctors on the payroll let alone any cry-biologist’s — most nitrification is done by self-trained members and its best to think of them as more like self help groups rather than a professional organisation.

They (cryonics firms) bill themselves as some kind of private hospital preserving their patients for a future cure. The high fees are due to the expensive nature of storage for a potentially very long time. After freezing costs the diseased persons money is put into a trust fund to pay for ongoing matianence for potentially a very long time. Cryo-preservation is not illegal its seen by the undertakers trade as exotic cemetery and they will happily organise it for you if it is your choice.

I strongly suspect as others do that a lot of people are making some serious money out of it. As these people are (IMO) not credible (ie getting paid to be cryonicists) you can’t really talk to them about it as they are effectivly volcano insurance salesmen. Cryo-biologist’s, doctors and sensible scintists don’t really want to talk about it either. In fact its rather well known that cryo-biologists are NOT allowed to prostitute their skills to cryonics firms. Now in some ways this could be seen as draconian or in other ways rather pragmatic. Cryo-biologists are pretty damned cool — they have worked out ways to make human organs transportable for transplant and have even preserved rabbit kidneys and defrosted them and got them working. But guess what — they do not use tissue from dead animals (or cadavers) they use living tissue and then preserve it. Cryoncists are well aware of this but due to the rules you can’t do experimental cryonics on living humans. So what they sell you with no garuntees and make sure you sign away any rights to them. Cryonics companies will advise you to object to autopsy on religious grounds to ensure that they can start the freezing process quickly and that your body isn’t damaged by the coroner. That fact alone is dodgy enough let alone the rest of what happens to you. On pronouncement the stand-by team will put you in a ice-water bath and attach you to a heart-lung resuscitator. The reason they do this is to attempt protect the brain any further damage by heart and lung functions stopping. Then as the body is cooled intravenous lines are attached and various protective medicines are pumped into the body. These include free radical inhibitors, anti-coagulants and anaesthetics this is to maintain blood pressure and further attempt to preserve brain tissues.
If you’re in a hospital where they don’t allow cryonic procedures you are moved to an alternate location and cooling is maintained without interruption. You are then surgically attached to a portable heart-lung machine which takes over your own heart and lungs. Within minutes a heat exchanger in the heart lung machine reduces the body temperature to a few degrees above freezing. Blood is also replaced with a organ preservation solution very similar to procedures for organ shipment for transplants and then you are packed in dry ice for air shipment to Arizona. At the Alco facility a volunteer “surgeon” connects you by the heart and pumps you through with a solution which washes away any blood, that is of course if you opted for a whole body preservation. A lot of cryonics enthusiasts only want their heads frozen so they are quite literally decapitated (this time by a real surgeon) before being attached to the anti-freeze tan. Reputedly baseball legend Ted William’s head was mounted on a tin of tuna so to avoid skin tissue damage during the freezing process! Cryonics firms are keen to stress that they do not “freeze” you, due to the advanced anti-freeze they use it is more like Vitrification which turns organs more like glass than ice. However they still have to be very careful with handling and monitor the freezing process with specialist equipment to help avoid fracturing. While this is going on the temperature is cooled to -125 C with nitrogen. This process takes around 3 hours and hopefully at the end the body or head is vitrified (in a stable ice free state) . Then you need further cooling to -196 C which takes about 2 weeks to do, then your put into your Dewar flask upside down for long term storage. The main here is that at no point are you handled by proffessional mortician’s or medical staff. The process of freezing has been cobbled together by keen amateurs and engineers not professional cryo-biologists. Cryonics companies are keen to stress that they are “self-help” groups who offer no garuntees — buyers beware. This self-help description of themselves should be the one that sends alarm bells ringing to any potential buyers of this process. Self-help groups are bullshit organisations which offer alternative therapies for a wide range of problems. Some offer to change your life by walking on fire others give bad relationship advice and there are literally 1000’s of books you can buy. A freind of mine is in the Self-help business and considers himself a PUA (pick up artist), based on a book called “the game”. The idea is that for a fee PUA will train you unconfident, outta shape male into attracting the most beautiful women using their “system” and NLP techniques. These guys are quite happy to charge you up to £3000 for a weekends intensive training and promise to get you laid. These guys are running a great little con, they know that some men are really bad at talking to women and all they actually do is try and build up your confidence a little. They are not too proffessional that when they get a real loser they can;t help they use some of the £3k to get a couple of high class whores.

Alcor has had to go to court on a couple of occassions already — they are well documented on the internet — just do a search for dora kent and everybodys favourite — ted williams. There have been well documented cases of the faiiures even on Alcors website: http://www.alcor.org/Library/html/suspensionfailures.html But they don’t stop selling this even though they know that they have made big mistakes in the past. If that all happenned in living memory imagine whats going on at Alcor and other firms now. Only very recently an ex employee came out and wrote a book about his experinces at the firm. In this book are lots of documentation of the malpractise done at that firm. Unfortunately his book is copywrited material so it cannot be scanned and reposted — but you can pick it up cheap at amazon. I did think it had been written by a disgruntled ex-employee with a axe to grind but he has at least provided evidence to support his claims. This is the problem with unregulated cryonics — human nature pretty much garuntees that somewhere along the line going to get conned conned. They should see whats really in those dewars and close those companies down. Again its not being a anti-cryonicist its just being against companies selling untested altenative therapies on dead bodys with no regulations. I would as said before be all for letting a cryo-biologist mess around with my dead tissue in the name of science. But giving a load of fanatics 100K is not my cup of tea and it should be banned till a proven science.

27.07.2010 0:54 RichieKGB

oops sorry paul — accidently posted this 3 times

28.07.2010 23:23 RichieKGB

p.s. TYVM for tidy up :)

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