NCIS Bungles Investigation, Conflates Cryogenics and Cryonics

A recent episode NCIS, a popular CBS police procedural, featured a villain who killed his victims with liquid nitrogen, interring them alive inside a homemade cryonics chamber. During the big reveal, the NCIS writers conflate cryonics with cryogenics, using one of the show’s trope scientific experts to present the latter as the low temperature preservation of bodies and to cast aspersions of quackery. In a letter to NCIS producers, CSA addressed its concerns with the show’s vilification of cryogenics, explaining both its distinction from cryonics and the serious and respected place that low temperature study has in the scientific and industrial communities.

Dear Sirs:

As a long-time NCIS fan, I was appalled by the errors in Season #14, Episode 20, “A bowl of cherries.”

I also happen to be the Executive Director of the Cryogenic Society of America, Inc, a serious scientific group of physicists and engineers who work in very low temperatures. Not a body freezer among us.

Here is what we have to say on our website about cryonics, which is the CORRECT term for freezing persons after they are dead in hopes of bringing them back to life:

  • Cryonics is NOT the Same as Cryogenics
  • Body Freezing is NOT Cryogenics
  • It’s cryonics, and cryonics is NOT the same as cryogenics.

  • We wish to clarify that cryogenics, which deals with extremely low temperatures, has no connection with cryonics, the belief that a person’s body or body parts can be frozen at death, stored in a cryogenic vessel, and later brought back to life.

    We do NOT endorse this belief, (note: it is a belief, not science) and indeed find it untenable.

    Popular culture is full of mistaken references to cryogenics in terms of body freezing. Individuals, script writers, novelists, TV writers, everyone: Please do not confuse these two words.

    If you need information on body freezing, search the web under cryonics.

    The recently popular business of cryotherapy, whether putting people in cryogenic dewars or in cryosaunas, seems to have led you in the wrong direction and the writer then conflated cryotherapy with cryonics. You certainly made the person freezing people seem crazy, but you got things really mixed up and in doing so you implied that cryogenics is for crazy people. Believe me, it is not.

    Our members are at the very top of their scientific fields. Our President is at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, our President-elect is at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. We have board members at several very reputable companies who manufacture equipment used in so many areas that affect your everyday life, as well as cutting edge research. Some of our members build and manage magnets that bend particle beams at places like the European Organization for Nuclear Research, CERN. We have members at national laboratories such as Fermilab, Argonne and Oak Ridge. I could go on.

    The point is, we are serious scientists and cryogenics is an amazing and valuable technology used in service to so many areas of science, including the emerging technology of quantum computing.

    PLEASE spread the word that there is a BIG difference between cryonics, which is a pseudoscience at best, and cryogenics. While there is some controversy about the safety of cryotherapy, I doubt seriously that it is being used for cryonics! A young woman worker at a facility died a while ago, but it was an accident. She suffocated because the cold nitrogen displaced the oxygen in the air. The FDA has taken a skeptical view of cryotherapy, despite its growing popularity. Of course, working with cryogens can be very dangerous, but those of us who have been in the field for a long time know that there are common safety measures that we must use. Currently cryotherapy is not a part of our society.

    I hope this clarifies things for you and the writers and staff at NCIS. I’ve enclosed a copy of our magazine, Cold Facts, so you can see just what cryogenics is all about, as well as some bookmarks that detail the many really valuable uses for cryogenics in our lives here on Earth and in space.

    Thanks for your time,

    Laurie Huget
    Executive Director