WTF, New Scientist? WTF?

I guess New Scientist is feeling some heat over their disgraceful advocacy of Canavero’s ludicrous head transplant scheme. They just posted a rather defensive follow-up, and they’re still getting it all wrong.

It is one thing to find the science risibly weak, but on the bigger issue of head transplants – or more accurately, full-body transplants – nobody is laughing. The surgery seems macabre but is scientifically feasible and could offer real benefits to some people.

No. That’s the whole point. It is not feasible, no one is even close to being able to do it, and risibly weak is a ridiculous understatement. You can’t claim it’s feasible while also admitting that the science is weak. This makes no sense at all, especially considering how they close the thing.

Even if head transplants prove impossible or unacceptable, full spinal cord repair would be a breakthrough of huge importance. It’s time to get serious, lest this opportunity is lost.

It’s simultaneously feasible, but may also prove impossible? Who is writing this drivel?

No one is arguing about whether spinal cord repair would be a fantastically important advance. It would be. The point is, if you want to get serious about accomplishing that, you’re not going to get there by promoting an irresponsible hack like Canavero, or by touting nonexistent advances and bad papers as breakthroughs of huge importance.


  1. Rob Grigjanis says

    Triple WTF. I just came across the kerfuffle about New Scientist’s 2006 cover story of Roger Shawyer’s EmDrive, which they also lamely defended. New Scientist has a link to Shawyer’s 2006 “theory” paper here. What’s clear is that Shawyer would fail a high school physics course. On page 4 is this sentence;

    This independence of transmitter and plate movement [conclusion reached via criminal use of ‘negligible’], leads to the conclusion that if the transmitter and the plates are connected, the whole assembly will move.

    This literally translates to being able to pull yourself up by your bootstraps. Like Greg Egan, I am gobsmacked, not just by the magazine’s scientific illiteracy, but Shawyer’s. Even engineers should know better ;-)

  2. Rob Grigjanis says

    Re #1: My bad. If the surfaces are reflective (as Shawyer specifies), you would get some propulsion from an onboard light source, if some of the reflected light escapes the ‘ship’. In other words, the system cannot be enclosed.

  3. Friendly says

    It’s time to get serious, lest this opportunity is lost.

    What opportunity is that? The “opportunity” to create flesh golems and Robocops??

  4. Friendly says

    P.S. New Scientist has always been as bad as Omni ever was about wallowing in sensationalism with flimsy to nonexistent scientific and evidentiary support.

  5. Randall M. says

    Will they be able to transplant my head onto the body of a gorilla? No? What kind of mad science is this?!

  6. robro says

    It seems to me that spinal chord repair, which we still can’t do, is not the same thing as a full body transplant at all.

  7. trollofreason says

    Repairing the spinal chord? I agree 100%, that would be huge, but head transplants? There is literally nothing I can fathom to be therapeutic about that. Muscular dystrophy was mentioned, but that is more a technological and economic problem (requiring better, cheaper prosthetics and therapies) instead of a surgical one. I mean, by its very nature, a full body transplant would require the death of another for the continued betterment of an individual who can afford the resources for everything to be going right, and for the best results it would require the death of a previously healthy “donor” as well! The implications are just… just monstrous.

  8. John Morales says


    It seems to me that spinal chord repair, which we still can’t do, is not the same thing as a full body transplant at all.


    Sorry, but I am so very amused by the term “full body transplant” that I can’t resist.

    (Even the joke about getting a new house for one’s door-knob makes more sense!)

  9. prae says

    Professor Dowell’s Head all over again?

    But, as a complete medicine n00b, why shouldn’t it be possible? Besides the whole reconnecting the spine thing, I mean. With the usual immune system blocking drugs, shouldn’t it at least be possible to hook up one person’s head to a second person’s blood stream and keeping it alive?

  10. jacksprocket says

    Suggestion: drop all the silliness about head (or body) transplants, it’s many steps too far to take all at once. There are many people who have sustained accidental injury to the spinal cord, at various points from the neck down, and I’m sure that some of these would feel they have little to lose by participating in in reconnection trials. The first wave would inevitably be the “folorn hope”, with only a remote prospect of recovering lost sensation of limb control, but when Canavero (or another medic) has demonstrated, say, recovery of bowel and bladder control in patients with lower back injury, we can move- gradually- up the back, checking each step as we go, and gaining information about longer term outcomes from the less ambitious procedures. In ten years, or a hundred years, or never, we will then be ready for the full monty. Just like happened with organ transplants.

  11. davidnangle says

    I’m sure this is one area of science The Donald would invest (our) money in. For immortal dictator-for-life purposes.

    I want to read next month’s slush pile at New Scientist. I’d send them something myself, proposing experiments already covered extensively on the silver screen, from the middle of the 20th century, but alas, I’m not a scientist and have no idea what a submission looks like.

  12. wcaryk says

    New Scientist, which I’ve subscribed to for years, combines the finest of science reporting and British tabloid journalism. Every issue, it seems, features some startling and innovative new approach which will then never be heard of. ever again (most frequently in physics). Still, there’s a fair amount of gold among all the dross, and I enjoy it.

  13. busterggi says

    Everyone should have a small extra head transplanted onto them because who doesn’t want a little head?

  14. says

    I’m reminded of the tyrant in Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun who has his head grafted onto another body, the other head supplying the autonomous functions to keep the body alive (they being more tricky to swap over or something, I forget) while the tyrant has voluntary control of the body. I guess splitting the blood supply was child’s play compared to regrafting the nerves.

  15. agp says

    Perhaps this has already been mentioned in a previous thread on this topic (or in the New Scientist article), and under all circumstances I agree that there are multitudes of ethical and pragmatic problems with this, but with regard to feasibility I guess it is relevant that this has been done previously with some limited succes:

    “On March 14, 1970,[5] a group of scientists from Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland, Ohio,[4] led by Robert J. White, a neurosurgeon and a professor of neurological surgery who was inspired by the work of Vladimir Demikhov, performed a highly controversial operation to transplant the head of one monkey onto another’s body. The procedure was a success to some extent, with the animal being able to smell, taste, hear, and see the world around it. The operation involved cauterizing arteries and veins carefully while the head was being severed to prevent hypovolemia. Because the nerves were left entirely intact, connecting the brain to a blood supply kept it chemically alive. The animal survived for some time after the operation, even at times attempting to bite some of the staff.[6] In 2001, Dr. White successfully repeated the operation on a monkey”.

    This part sort of makes me want to cry a little: “[…] even at times attempting to bite some of the staff”