Good scientific practice issues
These are arguably quite boring when the topic at hand is so bombastic, but they are crucial for further guiding our understanding of subsequent issues, so bear with me for a bit.
Good scientific practice refers to a set of core values that all scientists have to abide by if they are to be taken seriously. That includes being transparent with their work, properly documenting their research, following laws and regulations relating to their research, being open to criticism from their peers, and collaborating with their colleagues. In this context, it quickly becomes apparent what the good scientific practice issues regarding Canavero’s head transplantation are: all of them.
Sergio Canavero has not published his findings in any respectable scientific journal, instead choosing to present most of his ideas in a vague manner through a medium widely known for its scientific rigour: the TED talk. The few “papers” that he has put out were published in sketchy journals and are nothing more than a collection of loosely related, wishful thinking ideas grounded in misread, misinterpreted literature. They read less like the work of a reputable scientist and more like that of a tired undergrad haphazardly throwing words on a page minutes before the submission deadline, desperately hoping that enough “sciency” words and a list of references will elicit a crumble of mercy from their professor and they will finally pass the course. After all, who has time to check whether what you have cited actually supports your statements?
Instead of responding to the pertinent questions and criticism from his peers with proper data, Mr. Canavero has chosen a faster, although arguably more problematic route. He has framed himself as a misunderstood, unfairly shunned scientist. Both an unsung hero and martyr, if you will. Someone whose genius is simply ahead of its time. To support his allegations, he has tried to draw on historical precedent. But for every Ignaz Semmelweis (i.e. for every scientist who rightly went against the status quo), there are a dozen Andrew Wakefields (i.e. quacks that have been systematically debunked). Just look up pseudoscientific theories on Wikipedia and you’ll see what I mean.
He and his admirers fail to consider that the scientific process, in particular when it involves humans, has become more rigorous exactly to prevent people like Mr. Canavero from trying to roll out completely untested and dangerous procedures. Even if we were talking about something more palatable, for example, a kidney transplant, the same issues would remain: it would be unethical and unscientific to randomly start swapping people’s kidneys without extensive studies which demonstrate the safety and feasibility of the procedure.
But if James Bond movies have taught us anything, it’s that, when you have a mission, morals and laws are just nuisances to be artfully circumvented. And as already stated, Sergio Canavero is a man with a mission.