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Suspended Animation Inc. accused of incompetence

38 Post author: CronoDAS 18 November 2010 12:20AM

I recently found something that may be of concern to some of the readers here.

On her blog, Melody Maxim, former employee of Suspended Animation, provider of "standby services" for Cryonics Institute customers, describes several examples of gross incompetence in providing those services. Specifically, spending large amounts of money on designing and manufacturing novel perfusion equipment when cheaper, more effective devices that could be adapted to serve their purposes already existed, hiring laymen to perform difficult medical procedures who then botched them, and even finding themselves unable to get their equipment loaded onto a plane because it exceeded the weight limit.

An excerpt from one of her posts, "Why I Believe Cryonics Should Be Regulated":

It is no longer possible for me to believe what I witnessed was an isolated bit of corruption, and the picture gets bigger, by the year...

For forty years, cryonics "research" has primarily consisted of laymen attempting to build equipment that already exists, and laymen trying to train other laymen how to perform the tasks of paramedics, perfusionists, and vascular surgeons...much of this time with the benefactors having ample funding to provide the real thing, in regard to both equipment and personnel. Organizations such as Alcor and Suspended Animation, which want to charge $60,000 to $150,000, (not to mention other extra charges, or years worth of membership dues), are not capable of preserving brains and/or bodies in a condition likely to be viable in the future. People associated with these companies, have been known to encourage people, not only to leave hefty life insurance policies with their organizations listed as the beneficiaries, to pay for these amateur surgical procedures, but to leave their estates and irrevocable trusts to cryonics organizations.

...

Again, I have no problem with people receiving their last wishes. If people want to be cryopreserved, I think they should have that right. BUT...companies should not be allowed to deceive people who wish to be cryopreserved. They should not be allowed to publish photos of what looks like medical professionals performing surgery, but in actuality, is a group of laymen playing doctor with a dead body...people whose incompetency will result in their clients being left warm (and decaying), for many hours while they struggle to perform a vascular cannulation, or people whose brains will be underperfused or turned to mush, by laymen who have no idea how to properly and safely operate a perfusion circuit. Cryonics companies should not be allowed to refer to laymen as "Chief Surgeon," "Surgeon," "Perfusionist," when these people hold no medical credentials.

Comments (127)

Comment author: jsalvatier 18 November 2010 02:41:53AM *  13 points [-]

I am a CI member. For some reason, I find the charges of trying to reinvent what already exists particularly troubling. Perhaps because it seems like the activity of an organization trying to look like it's being a good agent rather than actually trying to be a good agent.

Comment author: Alicorn 18 November 2010 02:25:16PM 5 points [-]

If CI were trying to just look good wouldn't they hire someone to make their website better?

Comment author: Vaniver 18 November 2010 10:58:57PM 5 points [-]

If CI were trying to just look good wouldn't they hire someone to make their website better?

I think you mean "If CI were competent and trying to just look good, wouldn't they hire someone to make their website better?" When you add that unspoken assumption, the answer shifts quite a bit.

It also seems that if the money is primarily coming from on high, rather than from customers, having a slicker website wouldn't make a difference- the wealthy funders don't care.

Comment author: [deleted] 18 November 2010 02:48:53PM 4 points [-]

If your argument is "if they were trying to look good, they'd just make their website better," then I disagree for two reasons:

1) There is a lot more to looking credible then just having a fancy website. The most important thing is that CI's target audience believes that CI provides high-quality care; as Melody explains, Alcor and others are very good at making their services and their staff appear more competent than they actually are.

2) They actually explain why the site looks the way it is on their FAQ page:

[Why don't we] employ a paid professional Webmaster? A website capable of providing information need not be complicated. Fancy presentation also means slow download times, which can be frustrating for some readers.

Comment author: Alicorn 18 November 2010 02:52:29PM *  3 points [-]

Fixing their website seems like it would be low-hanging fruit on projecting credibility. It might not be optimally targeted at the sort of credibility they want to optimize for, but it would still be quite efficient.

The FAQ doesn't explain why the site looks the way it does. Their site is difficult to navigate and ugly, and both problems could be solved without making it bulky or complicated. I could design a better website than that, and I'm not even good at designing websites.

Comment author: [deleted] 18 November 2010 03:09:47PM *  3 points [-]

Fixing their website seems like it would be low-hanging fruit on projecting credibility. It might not be optimally targeted at the sort of credibility they want to optimize for, but it would still be quite efficient.

True, but it also occurs to me that making one's website look good is not a real test of credibility because CI would want to make their website appealing regardless of whether their services and staff are competent or not. That is, P(website looks good|CI is competent) = P(website looks good|not competent) and P(website not good|CI is competent) = P(website not good|not competent).

I'm inclined to agree that there could be ways to make the site look better, but given their explanation (the one I quoted above), perhaps they don't realize this.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 18 November 2010 03:29:06PM 7 points [-]

FWI, I'm considering cryonics and one thing that has set off warning bells is how bad the CI and Alcor websites are (CI is much worse of the two).

Comment author: David_Gerard 18 November 2010 04:32:59PM *  12 points [-]

If you do sign up, your next job is to help fix the many organisational and publicity problems cryonics has, let alone the technological ones. Cryoptimism (1 2) is an antipattern.

Cryonics deeply needs strong advocates who apply scepticism to it. I'd love cryonics to work, both technologically and organisationally. At present it does neither. I think it really needs the second even before the first, as the second is achievable right now.

Comment author: lsparrish 18 November 2010 08:29:03PM 2 points [-]

This is such a great comment over all that I'm not going to be pedantic about the pretense in "cryonics does not work technologically". Upvoted.

Comment author: David_Gerard 18 November 2010 08:44:40PM *  2 points [-]

Well, it might preserve information. We don't actually know that it does. As far as I can find out (and I've looked), there is no evidence that the strength of neural network connections - and that's what your mind appears to be stored in - is actually preserved by current cryonics practice. (If you have something that directly addresses that specific question, I'd love to see it.)

And, of course, revival requires not only as-yet uninvented technology, but as-yet unrealised scientific breakthroughs, and the assumption that the scientific breakthroughs we would need will in fact work out the way we would need them to.

This is a profoundly slim chance to pin one’s hopes on, but it does not provably violate physics as we currently know it.

I'd love cryonics to work. I was actually neutral to positive on it before ciphergoth provoked me into investigating for the RW article. But there is no evidence as yet that current practice does or can, only that it might. I feel that being uncompromisingly realistic and rational about the prospects of it working is quite important to behaving sensibly concerning it.

Comment author: timtyler 20 November 2010 10:53:41AM *  1 point [-]

Alcor says:

"It is a well-established fact that long-term memories are encoded in durable physical and chemical changes."

Usually the problem is not with freezing - but with thawing. Vitrification improves things further - but even without that an enormous quantity of information seems bound to be preserved. I don't think scepticism about this has much scientific basis. We know enough about the brain, and about freezing to see that a mountain of information will be preserved.

Also, check out the frozen frogs.

Comment author: lsparrish 18 November 2010 10:29:55PM 1 point [-]

Are you saying we don't know that it preserves information at all?

Comment author: Alicorn 18 November 2010 03:31:12PM 3 points [-]

This slowed me down too. (I'm now a CI member and I have my insurance policy, and I just need to do some more paperwork to let those two facts shake hands with each other, but the website made me feel like the entire process was going to be way more painful than it actually was).

Comment author: lsparrish 18 November 2010 03:21:26PM *  2 points [-]

CI is a different organization from SA. Suspended Animation has a much "nicer" website (i.e. looks more likely to have been professionally designed).

Comment author: bgwowk 19 November 2010 02:28:20AM *  17 points [-]

Lies travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes. This reply is mostly directed to David Gerard, whose comments have been generally sensible except for some misinformation.

Re:

"And Alcor (Mike Darwin in particular) is famously litigation-happy against those it perceives as critics, which is a BIG cultural warning sign these days."

That Alcor has a history of suing critics is apparently becoming a self-perpetuating myth. The truth is that Alcor has a long history of litigating rights to cryopreserve its members and keep them in cryopreservation. However, since 1972, I'm not aware of anyone being sued for defamation by Alcor prior to Larry Johnson in 2009. Not that there's been any shortage of people saying false things about Alcor during all that time. Anyone who wants to know why Johnson achieved the dubious distinction of being the first to actually be sued can read the civil complaint

http://www.alcor.org/Library/pdfs/NewYorkComplaintAmendedJan2010.pdf

and other information about the case

http://www.alcor.org/press/response.html

While he may have been the first, I can't promise he'll be the last. There comes a point where defamation becomes so extreme, persistent and damaging that if you don't seek legal redress, people will assume you can't. In Johnson's case there were also other issues that no decent organization could allow uncontested, such as selling alleged photographs of the remains of Ted Williams on the Internet. Not suing for something like that would expose the organization itself to liability.

By the way, I'm not aware of Mike Darwin suing any critics, at least not in the context of cryonics. Also, Darwin hasn't done anything for Alcor since 2002, or been an Alcor employee since 1991.

Another misapprehension is that Alcor doesn't use medical professionals, or is averse to using them. This is dealt with at some length here

http://www.imminst.org/forum/topic/44772-is-cryonics-quackery/page__p__437779#entry437779

and here

http://www.alcor.org/Library/html/professionals.html

Alcor also has medical doctors among its advisors and board of directors.

The person making criticisms against SA hasn't worked there in years, and never under present management. SA in fact contracts with professional perfusionists and surgeons, despite the efforts of critics to sabotage that relationship. Something is really wrong when an organization that makes conscientious efforts to professionalize is held by critics at a lower stature than other organizations that are committed on principle to using only morticians to do cryonics procedures, and that criticized Alcor for decades for aspiring to a medical model.

Re:

"Cryonics deeply needs strong advocates who apply scepticism to it."

I don't know you if you mean skepticism in the card-carrying sense, or some other unspecified standard that you assume no advocates adhere to. If the former, for whatever it is worth, Alcor's Chief Medical Advisor, Steven B. Harris, MD, has sat on the Editorial Board of Skeptic magazine for many years and is respected for his contributions to scientific skepticism.

There are data showing the quality with which cryopreservation can preserve the fine structures of the brain.

http://www.alcor.org/Library/html/cambridge.html

http://www.alcor.org/Library/html/micrographs.html

and vitrification is currently a leading contender for the Brain Preservation Prize as a method for preserving "the connectome"

http://www.brainpreservation.org/index.php?path=prize

Finally, with respect to the question of whether there is skepticism in cryonics, and whether cryonics advocates are properly circumspect, consider this comment from a leading advocate of cryonics:

"There will never be proof that cryonics will work."

http://www.alcor.org/Library/html/NeuralArcheology.html

The basis of the comment is that there are two separate ideas called cryonics. The first is the proposition that people cryopreserved under ideal conditions with the best available methods might be recoverable in the future. That is certainly amenable to skeptical analysis and discussion, and maybe someday be provably correct. Indeed it must someday be proven correct if cryonics is ever to succeed. However the second idea called "cryonics" is that cryopreserving people even when they are badly damaged, and you don't know whether they will ever be recoverable based on present analysis, is the morally right thing to do. That idea, when adopted as a matter of principle, is hard to subject to scientific scrutiny barring obvious dissolution of the brain. However I don't think the difficulty of that scrutiny is reason to think less of people who adopt that idea as a moral principle or personal "medical" preference.

Comment author: melmax 29 November 2010 03:25:28AM 11 points [-]

Like Steve Harris MD, (Chief Medical Advisor to Alcor, and someone who responded to my criticisms of SA with secondhand blatant lies that were later retracted on the advice of an attorney), Dr. Wowk's activities are largely funded by Life Extension Foundation, the very same company that funds Suspended Animation.

Dr. Wowk informs the readers of lesswrong that SA contracts with professional perfusionists, but what does that really mean, to SA's clients? It's my understanding that contract does not require the perfusionists to actually show up for cases, and that SA does not guarantee medical professionals, of any kind, will perform their procedures. I believe they can send anyone they want, no matter how unqualified, to perform their cases, without repercussion. The same goes for Alcor.

Dr. Wowk also maintains that SA contracts with surgeons. If that is true, perhaps Dr. Wowk would like to enlighten us as to why historical cryonics figure, Curtis Henderson, was butchered last year, by SA manager, Catherine Baldwin, who is NOT a physician, much less a surgeon, (though she referred to herself as a "surgeon," in SA's case report, which was published on the SA website). Then, maybe Dr. Wowk could explain why another SA "surgeon," (again, someone who is not a physician, at all), butchered an Alcor member, during a case that also occurred, just last year. It seems neither Ms. Baldwin, nor the other SA pseudo-surgeon, could FIND the femoral artery and vein, (two of the largest blood vessels in the human body), much less competently cannulate those vessels. If SA has surgeons, they are a recent addition, (no doubt a response to harsh criticism), and it is extremely unlikely SA is willing to guarantee that a surgeon, qualified to perform vascular cannulations, will actually perform any of their surgical procedures. (Note that SA neglects to name their staff members, or to reveal their qualifications, (or the lack thereof), on the SA website.)

SA charges $60,000 for their services, and Alcor charges up to $200,000 for theirs, (not to mention membership dues, and additional fees, on top of that), all without any guarantee of competently-performed vascular cannulations and/or perfusion, (the procedures necessary to deliver cryonics washout and/or vitrification solutions). Take 40 years of making an almost-total mockery of existing conventional hypothermic medical procedures, and add the fact that cryonicists are encouraged to leave trusts and bequests to cryonics organizations, and the situation looks "shady," at best.

Please see my further comments, here: http://cryomedical.blogspot.com/2010/11/cryonics-well-oiled-propaganda-machine.html

Comment author: bgwowk 30 November 2010 12:55:16AM 9 points [-]

I don't have enough information to comment on the cases in question, except that I believe SA, like everyone else in cryonics right now, makes a good faith effort to do work that nobody else wants to do, and that most cryonics cases don't fully pay for. SA was founded and is heavily subsidized by people who want the cryonics stabilization service it provides. SA has motive to do a good job, and use the best people that resources and case logistics permit. Prior to SA, the best CI members could expect was to be collected by a local mortician. Prior to CI, the best CI members could expect from clinical medicine was to be put in the ground.

I can attest from experience on the board that Alcor also makes a good faith effort to do a good job consistent with resources available. In fact, it often makes extraordinary efforts. Nobody has any personal financial incentive to skimp. In fact there is incentive to develop and implement high standards of care because we are all signed up for that care. I've explained the qualifications of the contract surgeons (including a neurosurgeon) whom Alcor uses in its operating room, and I'm generally satisfied with the quality of cryoprotective perfusion.

The financial challenges of employing more full-time medical professionals than Alcor already does at its present size is apparent from this analysis

http://www.alcor.org/Library/pdfs/EconometricModelOfAlcorFinances.pdf

For example, although the new whole body cryopreservation minimum at Alcor is $200K, $110K of that is required for the Patient Care Trust to fund long-term storage. Of the remaining amount, $20K is earmarked for the CMS fund, and the balance pays for consumables, contract labor, overhead, and sometimes legal expenses to gain access to remains. Worst of all, the $200K is inflation-discounted future dollars at the time of cryopreservation, which may be decades in the future. Signing up today requires a six-figure life insurance policy, but some of the people actually being cryopreserved today are funded with only $35K policies arranged when they signed up in the 1980s.

Cryonics is a constant struggle to meet expectations that exceed available resources, while subject to withering public criticism and even personal attack. I believe that's why cryonics leaders don't engage in public dialog anymore.

A couple of factual corrections:

Alcor did sue Larry Johnson in 2003 for selling photographs of human remains on the Internet that year. Johnson had no misgivings about it because he did the same thing in bookstores in 2009.

I never called Johnson's book “400 pages of lies.” Without referring back to the original transcript, my recollection was that I said it was full of "disparagement, defamation, and privacy violation" or words to that effect. If I am to be quoted from a legal proceeding, I respectfully request that the quote be accurate and in context.

Peace.

Comment author: melmax 03 December 2010 12:20:15AM 8 points [-]

Dr. Wowk steps in to defend SA, with comments such as "SA contracts with professional perfusionists and surgeons," but then admits he "(doesn't) have enough information to comment on the cases in question," (two of their most recent perfusion cases). He also does not deny there is no guarantee Alcor, or SA's, clients/members will be cared for, by such professionals. (The situation brings to mind "bait and switch" sales tactics.)

My argument is that Dr. Wowk has little knowledge of SA's procedures, or capabilities, something he seems to be confirming. Now that he can't argue their actual capabilities, in regard to providing the very expensive medical procedures they are selling, Dr. Wowk seems to want to argue "good intentions." I think Dr. Wowk, (who has not worked at SA), should probably consider it possible he may also be lacking enough information, to come to that conclusion. Judging by the events I witnessed as an SA employee, my reviews of their recent case reports, SA's secrecy, and my knowledge of the medical procedures they are attempting to perform, I would say "good intentions" are not the prevailing winds, at SA.

I don't know why Dr. Wowk even mentions "skimp(ing)," as though I'm accusing SA of not providing quality services, due to financial reasons, when that has never been the case. In my opinion, SA spends significantly more than they need to, while providing seriously-deficient services. Qualified professionals, using state-of-the-art medical equipment, would cost a lot less than their ridiculous amateur engineering projects; their absurd laymen-training endeavors; their contracted professionals, who are not guaranteed to show up for cases; and their grossly-overpaid, underqualified staff. SA is anything but "financially-challenged," they are more likely "leadership challenged." The problem is, no one there really knows how to properly perform the surgical procedures they are selling. When they DID have someone who knew how to perform the procedures, they didn't want to accept the suggested changes, because it would have meant the end of quite a few very misguided equipment "R&D" projects, which were quite lucrative, for a handful of individuals.

Dr. Wowk disparages "local morticians," but the truth is, licensed embalmers are sure to be more adept at performing vascular cannulations, than SA's laymen! CI's funeral director/licensed embalmer is said to be very skilled in performing vascular cannulations, and he is almost-certainly more skilled in these procedures, than anyone on SA, or Alcor's, staff.

I was unaware Alcor sued Johnson, back in 2003. Is that what resulted in the settlement agreement, in which Alcor tried to pay Johnson to keep his mouth shut? Isn't that a little unusual? I would think it typical, in a civil suit, for the defendent to be the one who offers to pay, in a settlement, yet Alcor (the plaintiff) was the party willing to pay? Personally, I tend to think Alcor was much more interested in keeping Johnson from discussing their questionable activities, than anything else.

I distinctly recall reading Dr. Wowk's sworn testimony, in which he referred to Larry Johnson's book as something like "400 pages of lies intended to disparage Alcor." That may not be verbatim, but I'm quite sure it is a fairly-accurate representation of his testimony. It seems those documents, (I believe they were made publicly-available in February 2010), have been removed from the court's website, (for what reason, I do not know). I will request copies of that testimony, from Johnson's attorneys, and if I am wrong I will certainly apologize to Dr. Wowk. (I'm quite sure that, given Alcor did not hesitate to publish text from Johnson's deposition, Johnson's attorneys won't mind disclosing the details of Dr. Wowk's testimony.)

As for Dr. Wowk's belief that cryonics leaders no longer engage in public dialog, due to "withering public criticism and even personal attack" from people whose "expectations exceed available resources," I say, "Nonsense." Vascular cannulations and perfusion were handed to the cryonics community, on a silver platter, courtesy of conventional medicine, decades ago, and both Alcor and SA have adequate funding to provide these procedures, with some degree of competence. If it were not for a handful of six-figure salary-and-benefits packages, being paid to unqualified persons, who have wasted decades trying to reinvent these procedures, cryonics might be a lot further along. It's my opinion cryonics "leaders" don't partake of public dialog, because they cannot defend their mostly-ludicrous activities. (If Dr. Wowk wants to discuss personal attacks, perhaps he might recall the response of his peers, Harris and Platt, to my discussions of SA's activities.)

Comment author: bgwowk 04 December 2010 02:14:24AM 6 points [-]

Except for the very small number of people who choose to sign up for it, practically no one values or cares about cryonics. No one takes the time to learn its premises, its history, the technologies it's predicated upon, or what technical elements will ultimately determine its success or failure. There are no schools or generally-recognized standards. No one cares. This includes mainstream medicine and mortuary science. My understanding is that you yourself have no personal interest in cryonics.

Against this backdrop, it's not credible that there is a conspiracy among cryonics companies-- companies run by people who want cryonics for themselves --to suppress a tide of experts who could easily step in and do cryonics better. There is no corps of knowledgeable physicians or morticians ready and able to deliver cryonics services that is being displaced by incompetent lay people.

So what do cryonics organizations do? They train lay people and Emergency Medical Technicians to do tasks suited to those levels of expertise. They use morticians to help with some aspects of cases, including vascular cannulation. They contract with sympathetic medical professionals who help with expertise-intensive aspects of cryonics cases when they can, ideally multiple professionals for redundancy. They hire full-time medical professionals for certain roles when they can afford to do so, and when candidates can be found. Or they allow their members to contract with companies, like SA, who do the above.

This mixture of people is then cast into world where they must perform these unscheduled procedures at short notice anywhere within the country, and sometimes beyond. Where they must lug hundreds of pounds of equipment and perfusate to do it. Where sometimes they have to wait weeks at bedside, only for the patient to recover. And where there is no mainstream infrastructure, support, or understanding of what they do. And, recently, where they are bitterly criticized when cryonics cases fail to meet the same standards as scheduled mainstream medical procedures with entire hospitals, universities, and industries that support them.

There have been claims that cryonics has not progressed in 40 years. Leaving aside the enormous improvements in the cryopreservation process itself, it would be instructive to critique reports of past cryonics cases performed only by morticians without today's bedside teams. What was the E-HIT (equivalent homeothermic ischemic time) when the mortician was called after someone legally died, then packed them in unstirred ice with no cardiopulmonary support? What anticoagulants or ischemia-protective medications were administered? What perfusate did the mortician have, and what happened when it was perfused by an unsterile high pressure embalming pump?

With great irony, it is actually a sign of progress in cryonics that cryonics procedures are now being held to the standards of mainstream medicine. Twenty five years ago, there were raging debates about whether the kind of mortician response I describe above was completely sufficient for cryonics. Really.

I'm sorry that you had a bad experience working at SA under different management four years ago. I'm sorry that you worked with some difficult people. I've read your accounts of not purchasing commercial level detectors, and of building ramps instead of purchasing lift gates for cryonics transport vehicles, etc. I sympathize because I too have had the experience of people in cryonics sometimes underestimating the difficulty of building things rather than buying them. In my experience, these miscalculations occurred not because of personal profit motive, but because of the universal tendency of cryonicists to underestimate the difficulty of tasks, myself no exception. A belief that cryonics could work may be the ultimate example of that.

Re:

"If it were not for a handful of six-figure salary-and-benefits packages, being paid to unqualified persons, who have wasted decades trying to reinvent these procedures, cryonics might be a lot further along."

I can tell you that there is absolutely no one at Alcor who fits that description. Alcor employs approximately 10 people on a salary budget of $500K. There is very little room for waste.

I respect your knowledge of clinical perfusion as it pertains to certain specific aspects of cryonics, and I hope you respect my knowledge of the cryobiological aspects and other technical issues after 24 years of scientific and personal interest. As an Alcor board member, I have nothing to gain by promoting or tolerating any culture of waste or procedural negligence. I'm sorry that has become your perception of the entire field of cryonics because of your negative experiences for a short time with certain people years ago.

Comment author: melmax 04 December 2010 09:05:41PM *  2 points [-]

It is ridiculously absurd for Dr. Wowk to write that it is his "understanding" that I, (a person who has probably written millions of words about cryonics), "have no personal interest in cryonics." Dr. Wowk doesn't know me, and his sources of information, about me, are most likely lacking in credibility. (I'm sure Dr. Wowk is smart enough to have been able to recognize the MANY lies that have been told about me, by some of the people he frequently works with, in cryonics.)

Historically, cryonics organizations have focused on attempting to train laymen to perform procedures normally performed by vascular surgeons and perfusionists. If there have been recent efforts to retain qualified professionals, (as an added expense, rather than as replacements for unqualified persons), I think it most likely due to persistent, harsh criticism.

On the rare occasion a medical professional, (someone who has had the potential to bring other professionals into the field), has expressed an interest in cryonics, what was the result? What happened when Larry Johnson brought up the issue of OSHA violations, at Alcor? Did his superiors ask him to remedy the situation, or did they ask him to shred documents and delete computer files, related to his complaints? Does Dr. Wowk really know the truth, regarding the nature of the responses to my complaints, at SA? If I thought he did, I would be forced to think very poorly, of Dr. Wowk. Personally, I don't think Dr. Wowk really knows what goes on, on a daily basis, at some of the organizations he defends.

Whether intentional, or unintentional, Dr. Wowk's expressions of sympathy toward me, for trivial matters such as those related to the equipment at SA, appear to be an attempt to paint me, (once again), as nothing more than a disgruntled former employee. I assure Dr. Wowk I am not capable of carrying a personal grudge, to this extreme. (Dr. Wowk might also consider that the person who offended me most, left SA quite some time ago, and that I don't have any reason to have a personal grudge against anyone at Alcor; I don't even know any of their staff members.)

Dr. Wowk maintains there is no one at Alcor, with a six-figure salary-and-benefits package. I doubt that's true. According to Alcor's 2008 Form 990, Tanya Jones, (who was listed as the Executive Director/CEO/President/COO), was paid a total of $89,424, that year. Does Dr. Wowk think that doesn't come in, at six-figures, when the benefits are added? Does Ms. Chapman not earn a similar salary? (Keep in mind the actual cost of an employee also includes things such as office space and equipment, so any unqualified person, sitting at a desk, forty hours a week, accomplishing basically nothing, is a tremendous burden on their organization. Also consider that at least two of Alcor's allegedly underpaid staff members live at the facility, and there must be some value placed on their living quarters and utilities.)

Dr. Wowk does not deny that there are a number of six-figure salary-and-benefits packages, within the three LEF-funded organizations, (Suspended Animation, Critical Care Research and Dr. Wowk's organization, 21st Century Medicine). When I left SA, I was being paid $75K a year, plus benefits. I left behind three co-workers, known to have base salaries of $79K, $77K, $60K, along with three other employees who most likely had very similar salaries, and a consultant who was allowed to bill for 160 $50 hours, per month, plus expenses, which included a subsidized apartment. Catherine Baldwin was added to the SA staff, not too long after my departure, and I'm quite sure her salary and benefits add up to six figures.

The Curtis Henderson case report was a perfect example of one of LEF's highly-paid employees attempting to deceive the public, in regard to SA's capabilities. Catherine Baldwin's report was filled with medical terms, (some used improperly), and she referred to herself as a "surgeon," when she is not even a physician. I don't know how ANYONE, (Dr. Wowk included), could interpret such a report as anything other than intentional deceit. A layperson, not pretending to be a medical professional and misrepresenting the capabilities of her team, would have produced a very different report.

Quite some time ago, someone at CI asked Catherine Baldwin to admit SA's website was not a true representation of their capabilities. Allegedly, Ms. Baldwin DID admit that was true, saying the website was a representation of what she hoped SA would be, in the future. She is said to have added that she was not responsible for the content of SA's website. I found that pretty interesting, because I have an email, from Catherine Baldwin, (carefully preserved in my webmail), in which she clearly states that, while she was paying someone to design SA's site, she would be solely responsible for the content.

Several highly-paid people, connected to LEF, have engaged in many lies, in attempts to misrepresent their true capabilities and to discredit their critics.I disagree that Dr. Wowk has "nothing to gain by promoting or tolerating any culture of waste or procedural negligence." I think Dr. Wowk probably has HUGE professional and financial incentives, to defend the LEF-funded organizations and Alcor.

Until SA and Alcor either make the capabilities of their personnel, and the quality of their services, extremely clear to the public, I will not stop writing about what I believe to be gross misrepresentations of their services. Hypothermic medical procedures have played a huge role, in my life, and I'm not willing to sit by and watch a bunch of quacks make a mockery of something quite meaningful to me, especially in light of the fact that these companies charge exorbitant prices for their foolishness, and encourage people to leave trusts and bequests, to cryonics organizations.

Did the person who left the $7M bequest Alcor recently announced know the truth, regarding Alcor's personnel and capabilities? Or, did he/she read Alcor case reports filled with medical terminology and references to laypersons as "surgeons" and "perfusionists" and grossly overestimate Alcor's capabilities? One has to wonder. (By the way, someone tells me that bequest was originally $15M, is that true?)

Comment author: bgwowk 05 December 2010 10:23:09PM *  5 points [-]

It is ridiculously absurd for Dr. Wowk to write that it is his "understanding" that I, (a person who has probably written millions of words about cryonics), "have no personal interest in cryonics."

You've said elsewhere that you have no personal interest in cryonics for yourself, and that you don't believe cryonics will work. You imply that you don't believe it will work because it's not being done competently. However if the Mayo Clinic started offering human cryopreservation tomorrow, you would still believe that cryonics couldn't work. The reason is that if you believe that 10 minutes of surgical time vs. 90 minutes of surgical time is the difference between success or failure of cryonics, then you must surely believe that poisoning a brain with cryoprotectants and fracturing it during cooling utterly dooms it. However that is what happens with the best cryopreservation technology that exists today, no matter who does it. The success or failure of cryonics ultimately depends upon a type of information preservation that is outside the ken or even conception of mainstream medicine, and one that you yourself don't subscribe to because your criticisms are never with reference to it.

On the rare occasion a medical professional, (someone who has had the potential to bring other professionals into the field), has expressed an interest in cryonics, what was the result? What happened when Larry Johnson brought up the issue of OSHA violations, at Alcor?

Johnson's claims are presently subject to an active defamation lawsuit. Numerous medical professionals have done work with Alcor at various times, including nurses, clinical perfusionists, a neurosurgeon, two doctors who served as CEOs, and two full-time paramedics hired after Johnson. None of them behaved as Johnson did.

Your consistent defense of Larry Johnson is incomprehensible to me. This is a man who absconded with photographs of human remains, and sold them on the Internet and bookstores. He violated personal privacies in the most horrible ways that had nothing to do with any wrongdoing. He told vicious lies about matters of which I have personal knowledge. He was shown to have falsified death threats, violated court orders domesticated in three states, found in contempt of court, and is now subject to an arrest warrant in Arizona.

Dr. Wowk maintains there is no one at Alcor, with a six-figure salary-and-benefits package.

I didn't say that. I said there was no one at Alcor who fit the description of having such compensation and wasting time reinventing wheels. It should be clear from the salary budget at Alcor that not many people make large salaries. There is certainly not the salary budget for the full-time cardiovascular surgeon and clinical perfusionist whom you seem to be saying Alcor should hire.

I disagree that Dr. Wowk has "nothing to gain by promoting or tolerating any culture of waste or procedural negligence." I think Dr. Wowk probably has HUGE professional and financial incentives, to defend the LEF-funded organizations and Alcor.

Forget defending, what about tolerating? Cryonics is something you criticize as a hobby. For me, cryonics is a matter of survival. It's my body those things will be done to, any my belief (correct or not) that how things are done matters to my survival. You've said that you don't believe anybody's survival actually depends on cryonics because it won't work.

Regarding my financial incentives, a few facts: I have 23 years of education, three college degrees, including a PhD, and 20 years of experience doing and publishing scientific research. My salary before benefits is five figure, and way below what it would have been had I stayed in the medical field in which I did graduate studies, and not foolishly and idealistically changed fields to do research related to cryonics. I received $700 from Alcor in 2010 for work I did on a cryonics case, and that's it. My employer receives a negligible portion of its funding from sales to cryonics organizations, and no grants from them. My employer prefers that I not make public posts about cryonics, and so do the people who fund them, believing its not a good use of my time. They are probably right. Not following those preferences is actually contrary to my career interests.

As to my motives for defending cryonics and those who do it, you overlook the most obvious ones that have nothing to do with money. First and foremost, after 24 years of advocacy and other work to advance the idea, I care about it being presently fairly and accurately. In that respect, I am as passionate as you are about areas of cryonics that you don't believe are being represented accurately. For both of us, that has nothing to do with money. Second, there is pride involved. When I am a director of Alcor, and among those ultimately responsible for it, it's hard not to take unfair criticism personally. Finally, once again, it is a matter of survival, not just of myself, but many other people who for better or worse I've convinced to sign up for cryonics over the years. If exaggerated, misrepresented, or out-of-context criticisms of cryonics lead to outlawing of it, or severe restrictions on its procedures imposed by people with no understanding or personal value of it, that would be a disaster.

Comment author: melmax 05 December 2010 11:54:15PM 3 points [-]

Dr. Wowk is being dishonest, in his representation of my opinions of cryonics. I have never said I "don't believe anybody's survival actually depends on cryonics because it won't work." In fact, on numerous occasions, I've clearly stated cryonics has a basis in reality, based on existing conventional medical procedures, in which people are cooled to a state of death and then revived. Many times...many, MANY times...I have CLEARLY stated I believe someone preserved in a fairly pristine state might be revived.

However, I have also stated, on an equal number of occasions, that I don't believe the scientists of the future will be able to repair the damage being inflicted on cryonicists, by a bunch of unqualified, overgrown adolescents, who want to play doctor with dead people, while pretending to be surgeons and perfusionists. I'm sure Dr. Wowk's lack of understanding, as to why I defend Larry Johnson, can't be any more perplexing to him, than his defenses of Alcor and SA, or people like Harris and Platt, are, to me.

How many cryobiologists does Dr. Wowk think he can get, to support his opinions of the activities of Alcor and/or SA? The response to cryobiologist, Dr. Arthur Rowe's, remarks, regarding cryonics organizations not being able to "turn hamburger back into a cow," was clever, but ridiculous, at the same time. Yes, some of the molecules of the hamburger would be incorporated into the body tissues of the cow that ate it, but the original cow would still be quite dead. Being clever, in defending the cryonics organizations, isn't enough. The organizations are not going to be able to carry on the way they have been, much longer.

Dr. Wowk tries, yet again, to dismiss me as someone not serious about this matter, calling it my "hobby." I assure Dr. Wowk I am quite serious about not allowing people to bastardize procedures, near and dear to my heart, while pretending they are delivering some sort of futuristic medical care, with price tags up to $200,000, coupled with requests for trust funds and bequests, without objection. It seems more of a con game, to me, than a serious effort to make medical history.

Dr. Wowk fails to notice the situation IS ALREADY "a disaster," and always has been. If it were not for all the foolishness that has gone on, there would be no threat of regulation. Instead of debating with me, perhaps Dr. Wowk should start writing letters, directed at Alcor and SA, encouraging them to clean up their acts, before someone does it for them.

If Alcor and SA want to provide the public with FULL DISCLOSURE, regarding their capabilities and personnel, I'll limit my criticisms. But, for so long as cryonics organizations spew out reports I feel are clearly intended to deceive an unsuspecting public, I will feel obligated to inform people of the true nature of the situation.

Comment author: bgwowk 06 December 2010 05:13:43AM *  7 points [-]

Dr. Wowk is being dishonest, in his representation of my opinions of cryonics. I have never said I "don't believe anybody's survival actually depends on cryonics because it won't work."

You've been saying it by implication. See below.

In fact, on numerous occasions, I've clearly stated cryonics has a basis in reality, based on existing conventional medical procedures, in which people are cooled to a state of death and then revived. Many times...many, MANY times...I have CLEARLY stated I believe someone preserved in a fairly pristine state might be revived.

There is no present technology for preserving people in a "fairly pristine state" at cryogenic temperatures. Present cryopreservation technology even under perfect conditions causes biological effects such as toxicity and fracturing that are far more damaging than the types of problems you've expressed concern about. Even if the hypothermic phase of cryonics were done perfectly, with completely reversibility, what happens during the cryothermic phase is so extreme as to make the damage from poorly-executed blood washout insignificant by comparison.

If you believe that for cryonics to work, preservation must be so pristine that the number of minutes taken for a femoral cannulation can determine whether cryonics succeeds or fails, then you necessarily believe that cryonics today cannot work no matter who does it. That's because enormously worse damage is unavoidably done during cooling to liquid nitrogen temperature.

Cryobiologists wouldn't be impressed if the Mayo Clinic did cryopreservations. Who does cryopreservations is just window dressing as far as cryobologists are concerned. They know that technology for preserving people or human organs in a reversible state (as reversibility is currently understood in medicine), doesn't exist. Most cryobiologists would regard the idea of repairing organs that had cracked along fracture planes as preposterous, as I'm sure you do if you believe that 300 mmHg arterial pressure or one hour of ischemia is fatal to a cryonics patient.

In summary, the force with which you believe that departures from clinical ideals in the hypothermic phase of cryonics are fatal necessarily means that you believe the cryothermic phase of cryonics today is fatal no matter who does it. As a cryobiologist, I'm telling you that the damage of cryothermic preservation is that bad independent of who does it. The technology for "fairly pristine" just isn't there.

It seems more of a con game, to me, than a serious effort to make medical history.

Maybe you are projecting here about why you took your job at SA four years ago (the medical history part, I mean). I don't care about making history, I care about surviving history. As far as cons go, there has never been a bigger money losing pit for individuals than cryonics. Anyone who bothers to look will see that money Alcor receives is either spent on legitimate activities or set aside to ensure continuity of patient care, and long-term survival of the organization. I don't have to tell you how modest compensation is at CI. Saul Kent often observes wryly that cryonics is the most famous least successful idea in history. I'll add to that, least personally rewarding. In what other fields do sincere people have the opportunity to be mercilessly pummeled as dishonest, incompetent, ignorant, unethical, con men while making below-market pay in most cases, and not seeing any results of their work for centuries, if ever? Although it's not my thing, cryonics would be great for S&M types.

Comment author: melmax 08 December 2010 04:51:05AM 3 points [-]

I just want to make sure I have this straight…

Is it Dr. Wowk’s position, the vitrification solutions are so very toxic, it’s acceptable to subject Alcor and Suspended Animation’s clients to additional injury, via grossly incompetent personnel, when delivering those solutions? Wouldn’t it make more sense for organizations advertising the possibility of future resurrection, (and charging up to $200,000 for their services), to provide the best possible care? Shouldn’t they be doing as little harm, as possible?

Dr. Wowk’s attitude seems to be, “Oh shucks, we’re filling them so full of highly-toxic solutions, it doesn’t matter what else we do to them. We might as well throw in some warm ischemia, some inappropriate perfusion pressures, or maybe even massive boluses of air.” Is that the mentality??? Personally, I don't think there's much chance of success, with that attitude. If the damage is as extreme, and as unavoidable, as Dr. Wowk writes, maybe they should just straight-freeze their clients, until they can offer something better.

Dr. Wowk attempts to trivialize the mistakes I've been criticizing, by making reference to “one hour of ischemia.” The truth is, most, (if not all), cryonics suspendees have likely been subjected to much more serious abuse. The last SA case report was that of historical cryonics figure, Curtis Henderson. Mr. Henderson’s groin was prepped, for cannulation, at 6:50am, but the washout was not started, until 12:11pm. That means it took SA about FIVE HOURS longer than it should have, to perform the cannulation. Even then, it was not the SA team that accomplished the cannulation, but a local funeral director. If this is the treatment an historical cryonics figure gets, what does the Average Joe get?

What was most offensive about the Henderson case, was Suspended Animation’s published case report, in which Catherine Baldwin referred to herself as a “surgeon,” and spewed forth more than enough medical jargon, (some of which she used, improperly), to make the average layman think her team was comprised of knowledgeable and competent medical professionals. I think Ms. Baldwin’s report was, quite clearly, a blatant attempt to deceive the public and to defraud SA’s potential clients. I think this is a very well-established pattern, at organizations, such as Suspended Animation and Alcor, and I think anyone who spews forth that amount of deception, when trying to sell some very expensive services, should be arrested.

Once more… If Alcor and SA want to provide the public with FULL DISCLOSURE, regarding their capabilities, (or lack thereof), and the qualifications of their personnel, I'll limit my criticisms. But, for so long as cryonics organizations publish garbage I feel is clearly intended to deceive an unsuspecting public, I will be inclined to expose them.

Dr. Wowk writes: “As far as cons go, there has never been a bigger money losing pit for individuals than cryonics. In what other fields do sincere people have the opportunity to be mercilessly pummeled as dishonest, incompetent, ignorant, unethical, con men while making below-market pay in most cases, and not seeing any results of their work for centuries, if ever?”

While cryonics endeavors may not have been lucrative, for Saul Kent and Bill Faloon, I think the business of cryonics has been quite lucrative, for many, especially the LEF-funded employees. I’ve never seen so many overpaid, underqualified people, accomplishing so little of significance.

Comment deleted 10 December 2010 05:26:52PM *  [-]
Comment author: lsparrish 06 December 2010 12:38:38AM 2 points [-]

I have CLEARLY stated I believe someone preserved in a fairly pristine state might be revived.

Can you please clarify whether you mean a state obtainable by present technology or some hypothetical future achievable state? The way you phrase it this could be taken either way.

However, I have also stated, on an equal number of occasions, that I don't believe the scientists of the future will be able to repair the damage being inflicted on cryonicists, by a bunch of unqualified, overgrown adolescents, who want to play doctor with dead people, while pretending to be surgeons and perfusionists.

It sounds like you think cryonics could work in the present day, but only if performed by trained, licensed medical professionals. If that is the case, would you sign up for cryonics if they started offering it in your local hospital tomorrow?

The response to cryobiologist, Dr. Arthur Rowe's, remarks, regarding cryonics organizations not being able to "turn hamburger back into a cow," was clever, but ridiculous, at the same time. Yes, some of the molecules of the hamburger would be incorporated into the body tissues of the cow that ate it, but the original cow would still be quite dead

Could you provide a link? I don't recall reading this response. Dr. Rowe's assertion always seemed to me to be rather ridiculous to start with because it does not address the structural preservation levels possible with vitrification (as opposed to freezing).

I assure Dr. Wowk I am quite serious about not allowing people to bastardize procedures, near and dear to my heart, while pretending they are delivering some sort of futuristic medical care, with price tags up to $200,000, coupled with requests for trust funds and bequests, without objection.

Most other medical professionals (aside from yourself and Larry Johnson) seem to completely ignore cryonics. Which is part of the problem. If you want to stir up interest in the scientific and medical communities in making sure this is done right, more power to you. But it has to be done one way or another.

Comment author: melmax 07 December 2010 12:05:13AM 2 points [-]

I would like to ask Dr. Wowk to show me where Larry Johnson "was shown to have falsified death threats," and where he "violated court orders in three states."

During this discussion, Dr. Wowk has identified himself as being on the Board of Directors of Alcor, so I assume he can be considered to be representing them, here. Alcor has accused Mr. Johnson of many wrong-doings, but I do not believe he has been "shown to have falsified death threats."

In addition, it's my understanding the agreement, in which Mr. Johnson was not supposed to publicly comment about Alcor, was supposed to work both ways. Is that correct, Dr. Wowk?

As for violating court orders, I believe the State of Arizona has ruled that Mr. Johnson violated a court order, but are the States of Nevada and New York like-minded?

Comment author: lsparrish 05 December 2010 11:22:45PM 0 points [-]

Forget defending, what about tolerating? Cryonics is something you criticize as a hobby. For me, cryonics is a matter of survival. It's my body those things will be done to, any my belief (correct or not) that how things are done matters to my survival. You've said that you don't believe anybody's survival actually depends on cryonics because it won't work.

And this can't just be because current organizations are not competent. If she were committed to being signed up for a hypothetical future ultra-competent organization the moment someone puts one together, it would do wonders for her credibility as far as I a concerned. At present she gives me the impression of a nosy outsider who feels the need to offer condescending advice and harsh socially stigmatizing criticisms to a marginalized group she neither likes nor identifies with.

Comment author: David_Gerard 06 December 2010 04:21:00PM *  1 point [-]

Before you extrapolate from yourself - are you sure that you're even a sufficiently typical cryonics advocate, let alone a typical enough example of a disinterested third party?

Comment author: jsalvatier 06 December 2010 04:38:10PM 0 points [-]

I thought he meant credibility with cryonics advocates.

Comment author: jsalvatier 06 December 2010 04:12:11PM *  0 points [-]

I second your suggestion, though not necessarily your impression. If she would not sign up with such an organization it doesn't mean she can't be an objective observer, but it does make it less likely.

Comment author: Vaniver 06 December 2010 06:06:10PM 2 points [-]

Honestly, the fact that she's not signed up makes her far more credible in my eyes. Has no one here heard of consistency bias? Dr. Wowk has stated that he needs cryonics to work, and so it provides me no information that he thinks cryonics works. For someone without a horse in the race to look at cryonics and have a low opinion of it does provide me information.

Comment author: David_Gerard 06 December 2010 08:31:11PM 1 point [-]

How precisely does it make it less likely?

Comment author: lsparrish 05 December 2010 06:14:09AM *  1 point [-]

I disagree that Dr. Wowk has "nothing to gain by promoting or tolerating any culture of waste or procedural negligence." I think Dr. Wowk probably has HUGE professional and financial incentives, to defend the LEF-funded organizations and Alcor.

This is a specious argument. Plausible motive for defending organization X does not imply plausible motive for promotion/tolerance of supposed practice/culture Y within organization X.

Brian has actually provided a very solid motive for himself and other Alcor board members to oppose waste and procedural negligence. They are signed up for cryonics themselves. If there is too much waste or procedural negligence, they and people they care about could be harmed or killed.

Comment author: melmax 05 December 2010 05:49:29PM *  4 points [-]

lsparrish writes: "Brian has actually provided a very solid motive for himself and other Alcor board members to oppose waste and procedural negligence. They are signed up for cryonics themselves."

Luke may not know I was encouraged to sign up, while I was working at SA, to appease Saul Kent, so that I could be eligible for the management position. The person encouraging me knew I was not interested in being cryopreserved, at the time. In other words, I was encouraged to trick Saul Kent, the man responsible for funding our very-generous paychecks. I was even told Mr. Kent could, most-likely, be convinced to fund my insurance policy, if I were willing to sign up. Contrary to what, the very naive, Luke Parrish believes, being signed up is NOT "solid motive" for insuring the quality of cryonics services. (I do not mean to cast doubt on Dr. Wowk's sincerity, but only to point out the obvious flaw in Luke's logic.)

For anyone who is interested, I was not interested in my own cryopreservation, due to the gross inadequacies of the protocols, the equipment and the personnel. I don't believe anyone who has been cryopreserved, thus far, will ever be revived. I am not inclined to pay $60,000 for a quack like Catherine Baldwin, to make sure I am REALLY dead, by keeping me at relatively warm temperatures, while she bumbles around, for many hours, trying to perform a vascular cannulation. Nor am I inclined to pay $200,000, to Alcor, for what I consider to be grossly-inadequate services. It seems the people in control of cryonics organizations greatly-underestimate the amount of education and training required, to be a REAL vascular surgeon, or perfusionist. It is absurd, for cryonics organizations to think they can train laymen to perform the tasks of these professionals, by practicing on pigs in the back of a van, or even through their very infrequent human cadaver experiences.

SA and Alcor, can each afford to fund the salary of at least one full-time staff member competent in performing vascular cannulations, and one full-time staff member skilled in perfusion. That they do not do so, is only reflective of their extremely poor leadership. Of course, if they were to hire such medical professionals, for their staff, there would probably be a repeat performance of what happened, when I was at SA. The professionals would want to change things, which would set in motion tremendously-subversive efforts, on the part of the unqualified status quo, to maintain their positions and salaries. Either that, or they will hire medical professionals, who don't believe, for one second, that cryonics will ever work, but who are happy to "go along, to get along," since they see no harm in botching surgeries on the already-dead. Again, it all boils down to a leadership issue.

Finally, don't expect me to respond to the posts of Luke Parrish, with any sort of regularity. I have no time for someone, whose greatest contributions to these discussions are fantasies of how scientists of the future are going to repair the damage being done, by the crackpots of the present, or who has a habit of spewing forth uninformed criticisms of the critics of cryonics organizations. Besides, there's little hope of having a rational discussion with a boy who thinks a hydrogen atom, drawn on a piece of paper, is a real hydrogen atom. http://cryomedical.blogspot.com/2010/10/too-much-fantasy-not-enough-reality-in.html

Comment author: lsparrish 05 December 2010 07:25:01PM *  1 point [-]

Besides, there's little hope of having a rational discussion with a boy who thinks a hydrogen atom, drawn on a piece of paper, is a real hydrogen atom. http://cryomedical.blogspot.com/2010/10/too-much-fantasy-not-enough-reality-in.html

(Edited in response to downvotes.)

Consider this. You are attacking me based on a misunderstanding of something I said on another forum, on an unrelated topic. I think this is questionable debate ethics at best.

In a nutshell, my position in the argument you reference is that a description is a real entity, and in Robert's hypothetical example he described something exactly equivalent to an atom at a moment in time. At the level of abstraction he was talking about, the atom was a real atom to the exact same degree and for the exact same reasons that a physical atom (in a given instant of time) is a real atom. Your comment about atoms exploding and undergoing fission because of the paper being torn makes no sense in the context of the argument I was making. The paper is not a part of the framework in which it makes sense to think of the atom existing, nor is the atom undergoing time in the same framework as the paper.

Comment author: lsparrish 05 December 2010 06:45:13PM *  0 points [-]

You seem to be claiming that your disinterest in the service is solely motivated by it is not being good enough to justify the investment. But you also say you were offered the possibility of getting the service for free, with a promotion thrown in.

I'm having a hard time being convinced that your rejection of cryonics is motivated solely by a financial cost-benefit analysis.

Comment author: melmax 05 December 2010 07:13:04PM 4 points [-]

Luke misses the obvious point, as usual. I am not inclined to endorse, (or allow someone to endorse, on my behalf), the activities of those I consider to be quite incompetent, unprofessional and unethical. These organizations have consistently failed to provide the services they sell, with any degree of skill and finesse. They've made a mockery of all that is dear to me, in regard to hypothermic medicine. In my opinion, to provide any sort of funding to them, (whether directly, or indirectly), would constitute participating in fraudulent activities, perpetuating extremely substandard services, and delaying any possible real progress, in the field of cryonics.

Comment author: jsalvatier 06 December 2010 04:55:24PM 1 point [-]

For those of us who don't have any experience in this area, approximately how much would hiring "one full-time staff member competent in performing vascular cannulations" cost? How much would hiring "one full-time staff member skilled in perfusion" cost?

Comment author: bgwowk 06 December 2010 09:31:43PM *  2 points [-]

Alcor already employs a full-time paramedic with surgical training in large animal models to do vascular cannulations when it is possible to do so in the field. Cannulations at Alcor are typically done by either a contract neurosurgeon or a veterinary surgeon. I've written further details about who does surgeries at Alcor, and who has done them historically, here:

http://www.imminst.org/forum/topic/44772-is-cryonics-quackery/page__p__437779#entry437779

It's misleading for people to keep saying that Alcor sends out "laypeople" to do vascular cannulations.

The standard being applied to Alcor in recent criticisms is not just that people doing the cannulations be competent, or even have a medical credential, but that they should be the same professionals who do vascular cannulations for elective surgeries in tertiary care hospitals, i.e. cardiovascular surgeons. According to this website

http://www.studentdoc.com/cardiovascular-surgery-salary.html

the lowest reported salary for a cardiovascular surgeon is $351108 per year. According to this website

http://www.bestsampleresume.com/salary/perfusionist.html

the average salary of a clinical perfusionist is $122,000 per year. The sum of these two figures is approximately equal to Alcor's entire staff budget. Notwithstanding, a clinical perfusion credential was listed as a desirable qualification in Alcor's last clinical cryonics job ad. No perfusionists responded.

Surgeons and perfusionists employed full-time by a cryonics organization might only do a couple of cryonics cases per year, quickly losing their clinical-level skills, and employability outside of cryonics. The perfusionist making all these recent criticisms against cryonics, and insisting that full-time cardiovascular surgeons and perfusionsts be hired (not just contract ones), herself never had the opportunity to work on even one cryonics case during her entire employment at SA four years ago. Cases are that infrequent.

Comment deleted 04 December 2010 09:49:11PM [-]
Comment author: lsparrish 03 December 2010 01:15:04AM *  1 point [-]

How much information do you have about SA these days Melody? I thought you quit your job there a couple years ago. (Welcome to Less Wrong by the way!)

Comment author: Kenb 20 November 2010 06:33:55PM 3 points [-]

Brian, you are defending Alcor, but you failed to disclose that you are a long standing member of Alcor's Board of Directors. Why you concealed that important fact?

Comment author: bgwowk 20 November 2010 10:21:29PM 5 points [-]

I assumed readers of this blog would recognize my name, which I wouldn't have logged in under if my intent were concealment. I've been on Alcor's board since 2004. In any case, most of what I said was objective and can be verified.

Comment author: AngryParsley 21 November 2010 01:34:40AM 3 points [-]

This is offtopic but I recognized your name and I just wanted to remind you that you are awesome. In addition to your research, you do a great job of accurately portraying cryonics to laymen. This presentation has helped convince at least two people to sign up for cryonics.

Comment author: chkno 10 June 2015 04:17:11AM 0 points [-]

That presentation link has gone 404. Do you know where else it might be found, or remember the name or context of the presentation?

Comment author: lsparrish 20 November 2010 06:45:13PM *  2 points [-]

It seems to me Brian's affiliation with Alcor is implied by the wording of the comment. I don't think it is correct (or reasonable) to conclude that he has "concealed" anything simply from the fact that he did not explicitly mention his position there. It is publicly accessible information, after all.

However it is not clear to me why this is such an important fact to disclose in this context. Is the validity of his factual arguments dependent on who says them? Unlike Melody, he has not taken an authoritarian position based on his educational background. Brian Wowk is a PhD cryobiologist who has participated in some of the most important research on cryonics-relevant science to date.

Comment author: Nic_Smith 18 November 2010 06:05:53AM 6 points [-]

I will subscribe to this blog, but I'm far from completely convinced. In particular, my impression has always been that, yes, it'd be to nice to have lots of cryonics-friendly doctors and surgeons involved, but the number that are willing, even at a premium, are few.

Putting aside the issue of how deep or superficial troubles in cryonics are, the proposed solution does not follow. Most voters, and politicians, are extremely hostile to cryonics and transhumanism at large. I suspect a serious appeal for regulation in the industry would most likely lead to a blanket ban, or at the very least that the resulting regulation would be not as desired, possibly even preventing others from entering the industry (but who knows for sure; my proposal: let's not find out).

Comment author: [deleted] 18 November 2010 02:50:02PM 10 points [-]

it'd be to nice to have lots of cryonics-friendly doctors and surgeons involved, but the number that are willing, even at a premium, are few.

Then shouldn't cryonics organizations admit this?

Comment author: David_Gerard 19 November 2010 11:38:35AM 3 points [-]

I suspect a serious appeal for regulation in the industry would most likely lead to a blanket ban

In other fields, external regulation often comes in when internal regulation has failed.

Maxim's claims suggest that internal regulation has failed.

Suggestion: Cryonics advocates need to go through all Maxim's posts, work out the factual claims being made and investigate and report on them.

Comment author: ACFH 26 July 2011 11:00:50AM 2 points [-]

cryomedical.blogspot.com was deleted ~6 (?) months ago, but you can read it by pasting this Atom feed into Google Reader: http://cryomedical.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

Comment author: lsparrish 18 November 2010 01:16:12AM *  1 point [-]

The trouble with Melody is it can be hard to tell where the FUD ends and the legitimate criticism begins. I would welcome the existence of more impartial/rational sounding critics with inside experience.

Comment author: jsalvatier 18 November 2010 03:35:56AM *  5 points [-]

The articles on her blog near the beginning (http://cryomedical.blogspot.com/2007_07_08_archive.html) are interesting and troubling. They seem more credible because she appears to be in constructive criticism mode rather than in FUD mode. I encourage other Cryonics members to read these.

Comment author: lsparrish 18 November 2010 05:38:13AM -1 points [-]

Assuming there's something to what she says, it would be interesting to consider why this is happening. Why is competence so hard to come by in the cryonics world? Is it because cryonics is a small isolated community that tends to operate more by group loyalty rather than meritocracy? Are there other factors of the small scale, such as a relatively small hiring pool? Does belief in cryonics tend to act as a negative filter towards responsible people, or towards responsible thinking?

Comment author: jsalvatier 18 November 2010 04:04:54PM 5 points [-]

Part of it may be that it filters for people predisposed to think they know better than others, since they are already bucking the trend. This might lead them to rely less on established practice than they should.

Comment author: [deleted] 18 November 2010 06:04:12AM *  3 points [-]

I think the first thing to consider is incentives. The cryonics industry is for-profit, meaning that it is in the best interest of cryonics providers to attract more patients. This also means that they have incentives to keep their costs down wherever possible. One way to do this is, as Melody suggests, is to make it look like you know what you're doing--whether you actually know what you're doing is irrelevant. Hence, if cryonics providers think they can continue to appear competent, they have no incentive to actually become competent by performing research and hiring trained personnel, as doing so would only raise costs.

Comment author: lsparrish 18 November 2010 05:56:25PM *  6 points [-]

The cryonics industry is for-profit

Um, SA is nominally for-profit. EUCRIO might be as well. CI and Alcor aren't.

But that's irrelevant, as keeping costs down is obviously a priority regardless of the nature of the institution. I'm not sure the appearance of competence is cheaper in the real world though -- Melody accuses them of being inefficient with their resources and underutilizing pre-existing technologies.

Hence, if cryonics providers think they can continue to appear competent, they have no incentive to actually become competent by performing research and hiring trained personnel, as doing so would only raise costs.

Cryonics is run largely by cryonicists. There is a non-monetary incentive to actually be competent. It's just (apparently) not working well enough.

Comment author: [deleted] 18 November 2010 06:11:20PM 3 points [-]

I'm not sure the appearance of competence is cheaper in the real world though

You may be correct in terms of equipment and research, but not in terms of hiring competent staff. It might be that Meoldy's assessment of the situation is closer to the truth:

When I tried to convince my manager that the equipment SA needed to perform these procedures already existed, I was met with a tremendous amount of resistance. I wanted to believe that person was simply ignorant of vascular cannulations and perfusion and the related equipment, but it was impossible to believe that, for very long. It soon became quite clear to me that he did not want to use existing equipment because the "research" we were doing was the construction of HIS designs. Not only were his designs vastly inferior to existing equipment, but they were exponentially more expensive than existing equipment, due to the man-hours involved. He was easily making six figures, and he was paying several people, very generously, to assist him with his "R&D" projects, none of which would have made sense to anyone familiar with the medical procedures SA was trying to deliver. (He was also engaging in adolescent, manipulative behaviors, such as asking his employees to spy on one another, and coercing them into allowing him to use their email addresses, to support his own projects and further his political agendas.)

What are your thoughts on her conclusions?

There is a non-monetary incentive to actually be competent.

I agree only to a certain extent--I wouldn't be surprised if a large number of cryonicists were just trying to make some money. From Melody's blog:

At first, I was unaware of the amount of money involved, so when I was told SA couldn't buy certain equipment, or hire qualified personnel, because such things were "too expensive," I believed those lies. Later, I found out Suspended Animation was receiving over a million dollars a year, from Life Extension Foundation (LEF) / Saul Kent and Bill Faloon. Others at Suspended Animation agreed with me, that the many of the projects were a ridiculous waste of time and money, but at least two of them encouraged me to "play along," so we could all keep collecting our very generous salaries. It's hard to blame them, for wanting that. We could come and go, as we pleased, or sit at our desks playing on the Internet all day, and no one would complain...at least not for so long as we didn't object to the mind-bendingly ridiculous design and fabrication projects, going on in the workshop.

Comment author: advancedatheist 07 December 2010 02:02:18AM 3 points [-]

Actually cryonics resembles progressive talk radio in most American markets. Those stations can't compete with profitable conservative talk radio stations, so they need private donations to stay on the air.

Cryonics also resembles Austrian economics, which requires subsidies from American businessmen like the Koch brothers to stay in existence because otherwise its professors can't find regular academic jobs and get their books published. (I call these professors "kept Austrians," analogous to "kept women.") Even then Austrian economists often have to give their books away, like Jehovah's Wtinesses or something, because nobody wants to buy them. By contrast, the non-Austrian economists who publish those Freakonomics books seem to meet a genuine market demand.

Comment author: Khoth 18 November 2010 05:28:01PM 2 points [-]

Competence is pretty hard to come by in any industry. There's no reason to expect cryonics to be different, especially when you can't really tell from the outside which companies are competent until it becomes time to revive people.

Comment author: lsparrish 19 November 2010 04:45:50PM 2 points [-]

It seems to me there should be some less direct way to measure competence of personnel besides the patient being revived with intact memories. I believe this kind of feedback mechanism was the original goal of case reports. Perhaps having everyone wear video glasses and audio recorders would be ideal. The more detail of what actually goes on is available for review (not necessarily to the public for patient privacy reasons, but perhaps to independent experts) the less likely mistakes will be repeated.

Comment author: David_Gerard 18 November 2010 10:10:38AM *  18 points [-]

I am, as you know, deeply sceptical concerning the prospects of a cryonics technology that works any time in the foreseeable future, for scientific and technological reasons.

The organisational issues are a whole other reason to worry, however. You have a lot of financially shaky organisations (it's an expensive business to run as a charity) run by people who radiate weirdness signals and thus make it less likely for the rest of the world to take their concerns seriously. Which is a failure in instrumental rationality. And Alcor (Mike Darwin in particular) is famously litigation-happy against those it perceives as critics, which is a BIG cultural warning sign these days.

I must stress that I do not see any reason whatsoever to assume villainy. I am struck by the deep sincerity of pretty much any cryonics advocate I have ever encountered. However, organisations of smart, sincere people are remarkably capable of stupidity.

And engineer hubris is endemic amongst technologists. Reinventing the wheel is perfectly normal behaviour, unfortunately.

I think the questions Maxim asks can be asked in a reasonable form, and are the sort of questions that cryonics advocates need to be able to answer. That is, you can separate the factual questions from the tone of the piece. And you in particular need to, because you're a staunch advocate.

You get the critics you get, not the idealised ones you'd like. Do you think you could go through and extract the reasonable questions to ask? Someone really, really needs to. The issues Maxim raises are not inherently unreasonable questions, even if you want to set the "villain bit" on her. She won't stop asking, and her questions sound reasonable and others will start asking and wondering if there aren't answers.

  • CI suspension reports appear to include made-up and misunderstood medical terms. What is going on here?
  • Where did EUCRIO come from? Where did 26-year-old David Styles find the many qualified, trained, cryonics-friendly medical personnel he says he has on call? Who are they? [*]
  • How closely aware of the state of mainstream medical technology are cryonics advocates, so as to avoid reinventing the wheel?
  • etc., etc.

You must also remember that every other human endeavour with thousands of dollars sloshing around (even from life insurance) attracts a vast ecology of financial parasites, who are in it for a buck. Compare a technology that sells hope but works, such as IVF - there the technology works well enough, but the bit that involves selling hope attracts an amazing range of parasites who have caused much more of its regulation than the philosophical issues did.

I'm frankly amazed that, as far as I can tell, cryonics hasn't attracted this sort of parasite, and divining the reasons it hasn't would be worth study. However, you can't expect people to just believe the parasites aren't there, because that's out of step with reasonable human expectation based on the way it plays out in almost every other field. Cryonics has to look extremely honest as well as being honest.

[*] and please note that I'm not in any way doubting David Styles' sincerity either. I do, however, think it sounds like previous cases I've seen of someone who's in way over his head and doesn't realise it yet.

Comment author: lsparrish 18 November 2010 05:09:29PM *  4 points [-]

You get the critics you get, not the idealised ones you'd like.

This is a good point. But... at the same time, there are limits to who should be taken seriously. If a person insists on questions on the order of whether you've stopped beating your wife yet, they aren't a critic worth replying to. That said, in this context the term would have to be "bozo bit" not "villian bit" as far as I'm concerned -- I tend not to paint things black and white as far as character goes, but I accept that there are those who are pointless to reason with (at least at given points in time, for given topics). It seems very plausible that Melody has laudable motives.

I'm not particularly good at ignoring noise, unfortunately, and I am not an expert at what goes on at cryonics organizations. If someone who is wants to step in and reply that's great. (I am definitely glad this topic has reached the attention of Less Wrong.) My own staunch support for cryonics is not aligned with the success of any particular organization. I think some stabilization is better than no stabilization, but I don't have an opinion on whether SA is grossly incompetent or not.

It does seem likely to me that they are at least under-utilizing available technologies and probably not using specialists to the degree possible.

Comment author: David_Gerard 18 November 2010 05:20:54PM *  7 points [-]

Indeed. The critics of cryonics on the Rick Ross boards, for example, have gone way over the edge of serious consideration. And I know some of these people - they were fellow critics in the great battle against Scientology, they sincerely believe they're doing a good thing, and they have a great deal of experience in dealing with cultishness, financial parasites and those who sell false hope. Unfortunately, they then take this to presume clear organisational incompetence is evidence of actual evil, and then start dehumanising the people they've assigned the villain bit. It's a good example of a failure to examine one's own thinking.

Comment author: advancedatheist 07 December 2010 01:47:56AM 3 points [-]

The Anticult accuses me of advocating child sacrifice because of a thought experiment I posted on the ImmInst forum, which he pulled out of context. I can understand now how Jews feel about blood libel.

Comment author: David_Gerard 07 December 2010 08:42:05AM 1 point [-]
Comment author: FormallyknownasRoko 05 December 2010 08:11:26PM 0 points [-]

I am, as you know, deeply sceptical concerning the prospects of a cryonics technology

And yet, it still seems more likely to succeed than bury-and-allow-to-rot technology, or burn-at-a-high-temperature technology.

Comment author: Emile 18 November 2010 09:40:46AM 7 points [-]

The trouble with Melody is it can be hard to tell where the FUD ends and the legitimate criticism begins.

'FUD' seems unwarranted here - she seems better informed on the subject than the average LessWronger.

You may disagree with her conclusions, but I don't see any reason to think she's motivated by fear.

I would welcome the existence of more impartial/rational sounding critics with inside experience.

If Alcor and the like are a bunch of incompetent on-artists squeezing money out of gullible con-artists, then any rational critic with inside experience will start screaming bloody murder about them - and thus, won't sound impartial at all. Would you only listen to criticism of say Josef Mengele if it sounded "impartial"? Taking sides isn't evidence of irrationality.

Now, I don't know nearly enough about Alcor and the like to know whether they are con artists or not, and even if they are they might still be the best chance for today's 70-year-old to see what the 30th century looks like.

Comment author: lsparrish 18 November 2010 05:30:45PM 1 point [-]

Fear, uncertainty, and doubt would be the feelings I think Melody is trying to instill, not necessarily the ones motivating her. She seems motivated by anger.

Comment author: David_Gerard 18 November 2010 05:33:55PM 3 points [-]

This does not necessarily mean that fear, uncertainty or doubt are irrational feelings about the prospect of trusting one's infinite future to apparent organisational incompetents. Especially sincere ones, as sincere ones are much harder to convince they're doing anything wrong. Organisational robustness is actually really really important.

Comment author: Nick_Roy 18 November 2010 08:19:55PM 1 point [-]

Wouldn't insincere ones be harder to really convince they're doing anything wrong (in terms of actions taken, not words spoken), since they don't care whether or not they're doing it right? Insincere ones might accept criticism and then not make any changes, whereas sincere ones might fight harder against criticism but actually make real changes if convinced. There may be some usefulness in contacting cryonics organizations about criticisms against them and eliciting responses, as well as eliciting evidence to back up responses.

Comment author: David_Gerard 18 November 2010 08:33:05PM *  1 point [-]

Not in my experience - the insincere can be convinced to fall back to a different not-necessarily-sincere position, whereas the sincere tend to take an attack on their beliefs or actions as an attack on themselves.

The apposite consideration here is Dumas' razor, "I prefer rogues to imbeciles, because rogues sometimes rest."

(In the original French, "J'aime mieux les méchants que les imbéciles, parce qu'ils se reposent." Or various other renderings, e.g. "Je préfère le méchant à l'imbécile, parce que l'imbécile ne se repose jamais" ["... because the imbecile never rests"] or "Si je devais faire un choix, entre les méchants et les imbéciles, ce serait les méchants, parce qu'ils se reposent." It appears to be something Dumas fils said in response to Victor Hugo saying "Les méchants envient et haïssent; c'est leur manière d'admirer" ["The wicked envy and hate; it's their form of admiration"] and others liked and wrote down, not something he wrote, but it's a popular quote for a reason.)

Comment author: JoshuaZ 18 November 2010 01:49:22AM 3 points [-]

That's true. And she does seem to have some amount of motivated cognition. But it does seem like she has outlined correctly some pretty glaring problems with general competence and ethics of cryonics organizations.

Comment author: [deleted] 18 November 2010 02:25:31AM *  14 points [-]

As we all know by now, we shouldn't use cognitive biases as a counterargument against people we disagree with. Either her criticisms are true or they aren't; whether she is committing motivated cognition is irrelevant.

I agree that she brings up some very important points, and I would be very interested to see them discussed herein.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 18 November 2010 03:20:23PM 7 points [-]

Well, yes, but in so far as she is an expert in her subfield and some amount of judgement about her as an expert is occurring, that she's engaging in motivated congnition does become relevant.

Comment author: NihilCredo 18 November 2010 08:45:06PM 1 point [-]

Taking advantage of the the fact that lots of people who signed up for cryonics will be reading this thread, I'd like to ask: how much does it cost you to get vitrified?

I haven't found official price lists, and the third-party estimates I have encountered ranged from $300 per year to $200k total. It would surprise me if there were a full order of magnitude between the most basic and the most complete option, and since cryonics advocates treat the various providers as mostly equivalent I doubt they have wildly different prices.

Comment author: [deleted] 07 August 2015 01:18:55PM 0 points [-]

Gross incompetence is nothing knew in cryonics. Check out the Australian history of cryonics...I suspect a smart enterprising rationalist would rather try and start their own service then join the existing lot bumbling around trying to get something started...