Human Exceptionalism

Life and dignity with Wesley J. Smith.

Hwang Coerced Own Female Team Members to “Donate” Their Eggs


The more I read about the Hwang debacle, the more I see the cloning enterprise in a nutshell. Not the fraud part. But the dehumanization. One of the principle objections feminists make to human cloning is the great potential that women will be exploited for their eggs, which would be worse in "therapeutic cloning" than "reproductive cloning" because it would require hundreds of millions or billions of eggs to treat the hundreds of millions of patients in the world with degenerative conditions. Hwang's exploitation of his laboratory team is an apt post script to the fraud story (which, of course, is still unfolding).

Using the Dying as Stem Cell Guinea Pigs


Last week, I blogged on Ian Wilmut's proposal to conduct embryonic stem cell research on people dying of ALS and perhaps, other neurological diseases. (Wilmut cloned Dolly the sheep and is now the head of a university regenerative medical institute.) He hopes to gain the approval of UK authorities even though embryonic stem cells haven't yet proved efficacious in treating neurological illnesses in animal studies and could cause tumors.

It stuck in my craw. Why should stem cell research be exempted from the ethical standards that apply in other areas of medical inquiries? And, it seemed to me, here was just another way this research seems to lead to dehumanization. I expanded on my concerns for the Daily Standard, which can instantly be accessed here.

Spinal Cord Injury Patient Supports Adult Stem Cell Research


This intriguing article was written by Jean Swenson, a woman paralyzed by a spinal cord injury. She has noticed that the better and more immediate hope for her condition seems to be adult stem cells, as opposed to ES cell research or therapeutic cloning. This is good news. Disease advocacy groups are among the most potent elements of the pro therapeutic cloning/ESCR coalition. If Swenson's heterodox views begin to sink deeply into the awareness of these dedicated folk,the debate will be profoundly changed.

Swenson also opines about why she believes that so many scientists are pursuing the less productive path of ESCR/cloning. Her theory can be summarized by that old cliche, follow the money. Patents are more likely obtainable from embryonic research than adult/umbilical cord blood approaches, and vast amounts of money more likely to be made.

I have heard this theory espoused before, often by people like Swenson with serious illnesses or disabilities. But I am not convinced. There is just too much adult stem cell research going on to sustain such a cynical attitude. Indeed, more researchers are probably working in adult avenues than embryonic, as demonstrated by the first Proposition 71 grants being earmarked to train researchers. Of the public grants issued by New Jersey, grants to fund ESCR were a fraction of the grants issued for other approaches.

I do believe money can be an issue, but I don't believe that researchers would turn away en masse from more efficacious avenues of helping people just to chase a buck that may not ever materialize.

Still, we should ponder Swenson's concerns. She has a strong personal stake in this research. The power of money can distort the natural trajectory of the science. And that is something we should guard against.

Newsweek Wins The Hwang Spin Award of the Week


I predicted earlier that the mainstream media would report the facts of the Hwang cloning fraud scandal, but downplay or spin away its core significance. Yesterday, I quoted some Time magazine spin that tried to hold Hwang responsible for the fraud, but not really blame him. But the worst example of avoiding the heart of the story I have seen so far is Newsweek, which barely even reported the facts. Early in the story readers learn that "Last month Hwang resigned after revelations that his lab had faked much of the work." Makes it sound like an old story doesn't it? Hwang actually resigned only on December 23, barely more than a week ago.

Toward the end of the story, we find a few sparse details: "A probe by Seoul National University concluded last week that the 11 stem cells Hwang claimed to have produced from cloned human embryos were in fact obtained from fertilized embryos, not cloned ones," and that the 2004 paper remains under investigation. That's it. Nothing about the devastating impact on stem cell science. Nothing about the implications to the American political debate, which Newsweek emphasized when first reporting the controversial "giant leap forward." Nothing, on whether the scam indicates anything seriously wrong with peer review. No big picture analysis: Nada. Zilch. Niente.

Instead, Newsweek deflects readers away from the deeper questions by producing a puff piece that all but dismisses the scandal, while touting the excellence of South Korean science.

In the piece we learn that despite serious doubts that Hwang made human cloned embryos, "his team is still the best in the world at the delicate work of transplanting the nuclei of tiny cells—which is central to further progress in stem-cell research." We learn that "A team at Maria Infertility Hospital...produced stem cells from fertilized eggs in 2000. Their work may lead to the ability to grow specific human organs to replace damaged ones." (American researcher James Thomson derived embryonic stem cells from frozen embryos in 1997.) We learn that "Nearly 100 treatments for such diseases as Parkinson's using adult stem cells from bone marrow and umbilical cord blood are undergoing clinical testing." This is good to know, but why wasn't it considered news before?

Besides, Hwang's fraud is really all a "blessing in disguise." From the article: "Now that Hwang's project will no longer be hogging the spotlight, funding will be more equitably allocated to worthy projects, analysts say. Scientists are already talking about setting more stringent ethical guidelines for themselves, standards they see as essential to repairing the damage to their credibility."

I have heard of the media playing hide the ball before: But this is ridiculous.

Time Magazine in the Cloning Spin Zone


Time magazine, byline Michael D. Lemonick, has published a pretty good description of the fall of the House of Hwang. But when it gets into the import of the scandal, the reporter inexplicably enters the cloning spin zone. Lemonick speculates that despite there being no evidence that Hwang actually did succeed in creating patient-specific cloned stem cell lines: He really did! But time pressures caused him to "cut corners" after the cells were killed by fungi. Yea, that's the ticket.

Here are a few choice quotes from this ridiculous drivel:

"By all accounts, the tales of Hwang's dedication and personal discipline are all true. Hwang was one of the first to arrive in the lab, at 5 a.m., and rarely left before midnight. He rejected the role of aloof, inaccessible scientist to become a father-like figure for his young charges. And he introduced some genuine innovations into the science of cloning--gently squeezing the nucleus out of a donor egg rather than sucking it out violently and inserting the entire adult cell, not just its nucleus, into the hollowed-out recipient egg. Hwang insisted he had no interest in profiting from his discoveries; indeed, he turned over his patent rights to the university and the government.

That being the case, it seems unlikely that Hwang set out to perpetrate fraud."

But he may not have introduced those "innovations." He may not have cloned at all. At the very least, it now appears certain--absent the vast conspiracy to ruin him that is Hwang's current line of defense--that there were never any cloned embryonic stem cells made at all for 2005 paper. And photographs of the supposed cloned embryonic stem cells published in the 2004 Science paper were plagiarized from an earlier journal article about stem cells obtained from natural embryos.

The Time spin continues. The cause of the stretching of the truth may have been fungi that destroyed the cloned ES cells, it reports. "Hwang claims it took six months to recover from the disaster. But it also might be that Hwang's team couldn't recover quickly enough and began taking shortcuts to fill the gap. Under pressure from the government and the university, and with a deadline looming for publication in one of the world's most prestigious journals, the temptation to stretch the truth [!!!] might have been irresistible...

"In Hwang's case, it may be that mistakes were made or frauds committed without his knowledge, but as head of the research team and lead author of the published results, he's stuck with the responsibility."

Puhleese. The man is an outright charlatan. But, according to Lemonick, he is in trouble merely because he was the head of the team and has to take the fall.

As I keep saying, many in the mainstream media play Ginger Rodgers on this beat to the cloning proponents' Fred Astaire. But it won't work. The truth is a hard commodity to suppress.

The Media Begin to See the Deeper Meaning of Hwang: From the Left


This analysis by Independent (UK) columnist Mary Dejevsky, is spot on. Her thesis: The time has come to reassess whether embryonic stem cell research is as hopeful as has been hyped, er stated. Too bad we are unlikely to see anything like it published in the New York Times. She also gets into the eugenics implications of it all. Bravo.

Iowa Governor Vilsack Hasn’t Been Keeping Up With the News


Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack apparently has a problem: He is a Democrat who wants to run for president. But, he signed a bill banning all human cloning in Iowa three years ago. Vilsack apparently thinks that supporting a cloning ban would, shall we say, hinder his chances of gaining the nomination. So now, he has reversed course and promises to sign a bill reversing the cloning ban if it reaches his desk.

But don't think it is politics that has caused his change of heart: Oh no! He says it was all of the advances in human therapeutic cloning over the last three years that caused him to rethink his position.

Come again? Apparently Vilsack hasn't been keeping up with the news over the holidays. If he had, he would know that the human cloning project has utterly imploded; the "advances" by South Korean researcher "Woo-Suk Hwang having been proved to be a total fraud. Since Hwang was the only researcher in the world claiming to have successfully cloned human embryos and derived embryonic stem cells from them--and since he lied about doing it--there would seem to be no cloning advances upon which Vilsack could base his claim that the Iowa law needs to change.

Timing is everything in politics, Governor. Your announcement is about a month too late to be seen as anything but craven politics.

And Now a Medical School in Trouble for Apparent Fraud


To avoid criminal charges the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey has permitted itself to be taken over by a federal monitor. Apparently double billing, Medicare fraud, and other irregularities. The deal apparently is in lieu of criminal prosecution. But if there is massive financial fraud, shouldn't a medical school be treated just like Enron?

Hat tip: Art Caplan.

The Observer: Cloning Set Back Years by Hwang


Human cloning advocates and their media allies are steeped in regret over the "years" that Hwang has allegedly cost cloning science. This piece in the Observer is well written and a prime example of this line of thinking. (And the description of therapeutic cloning is pretty accurate!)

Lost in all of this mourning are the tremendous advances being made in the very areas to which therapeutic cloning would supposedly bring relief. From the column: "The ravaged brains of Alzheimer's victims would one day be provided with new nerve cells; diabetics would be given pancreatic cells to replace those killed off by their condition; and victims of cardiac disease would be treated with fresh heart muscle cells.The promise was immense."

The "promise" is and was purely theoretical and speculative. Alzheimer's, as has been repeatedly noted here, is NOT a good candidate for treatment with embryonic stem cells. As for diabetes, mice with late stage disease have been cured with adult spleen stem cells. Nothing close to that with cloned or natural embryonic stem cells. Yet, even though the FDA has approved human trials, the Harvard scientists who want to see if it will work in humans are having trouble obtaining financing. (The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation refuses to fund the study, but put over $1 million into Proposition 71.) Heart disease is also already being treated in early trials with adult stem cells. The list goes on and on.

No mention in the article of these avenues of great hope. Also, no mention of the bigger picture issues about what such a massive fraud means about peer review, the unskeptical media, and whether the "promise" of embryonic approaches are really as bright as has been stated.

I am convinced that media and cloning advocates will refuse to learn the deeper lessons of this scandal. It will be up to alternative media to keep that aspect of the story alive.

More Bad Cloning Reporting by the New York Times


Here we are in the midst of a crucial democratic debate about the future of biotechnology and human cloning. For people to have truly informed opinions, the information they receive from the media must be accurate. Yet, whether through ignorance or bias, reporters for the New York Times seem never to get it right.

Today's interesting story on the problems Science is having retracting an inaccurate retraction of Hwang's 2005 fraudulent paper, is a case in point. The relatively short story has two serious errors (and a minor one not worth the space to describe):

1. Continues the Times' practice of inaccurately describing the process of human therapeutic cloning, which reporter Gina Kolata writes uses cloned embryonic "stem cells to treat patients with their own regenerated tissue." No, adult stem cell therapies treat patients with their own tissues. Cloned embryonic stem cell therapy would not. The cells used would come from a distinct nascent human life created to be a genetic match for the patient. That isn't the same thing morally or scientifically.

2. And here's an incredible piece of spin: Hwang published two papers in Science: In 2004, he reported creating cloned human embryos from which he derived one embryonic stem cell line. But it took 242 eggs, which, unless improved, made therapeutic cloning ridiculously unproductive. His second paper in 2005, as I describe in my Weekly Standard piece, was lauded as the big breakthrough. Hwang not only claimed to have created more human embryos, but to have derived eleven patient-specific stem cell lines from them--using only about 8 eggs per patient. This was the paper that really set the science world on fire because it supposedly meant that therapeutic cloning was now a realistic prospect.

The 2005 paper was a total fraud. The 2004 papers is still up in the air. So now the Times calls the 2004 report "the more important paper." Only because it hasn't yet proven to be a fraud. (Stay tuned: I think it will.) This is spinning at its most pathetic, either by the reporter, or as I really suspect, her scientist source.

Happy New Year


To all of those who stop by Secondhand Smoke, whether you agree with my views or not, I wish you health, happiness, and prosperity in the new year. Thank you all for your support.

Thinking Animals Are Like Humans


This story involves a bitter controversy in Los Angeles over euthanizing the millions of stray cats and dogs that LA has to contend with, the tactics of some animal liberationists that may have successfully induced (coerced?) the mayor to fire an embattled head of the city's animal control system, and the steps his successor is taking to assuage the protestors. I am not going to get into all of that, but this made me shake my head:

"Still on vacation when he arrived in town two weeks ago, Boks [the new guy] got right down to business, meeting with the community, visiting shelters, and putting out the word that he needs volunteers to help paint the facilities bright, non-institutional colors, just as he did in New York." (My emphasis.)

This is fine, I suppose. Make the place cheerier for the people who work there. But if it is being done "for the animals," it is an example of the rampant anthromorphization that is endemic in the animal rights movement: The dogs and cats sheltered won't give a tinker's darn about what colors the walls are. They are color blind.

My Weekly Standard Column on Hwang Fraud Now Available


The Weekly Standard has posted my piece in this week's issue on the Hwang debacle on its Daily Standard site, so it is now available to non subscribers. Here is the link.

Since this was published, the independent investigation has concluded there were never any cloned embryonic stem cells. Still up in the air: Was Snuppy the cloned dog a product of somatic cell nuclear transfer cloning or merely embryo splitting? Did Hwang construct human cloned embryos in either 2004 or 2005? Virtually all of his other research claims were clearly lies. With such a history, I am betting he didn't really clone embryos. Not sure about Snuppy.

If he got money for his research based on fraudulent assertions, he should go to jail. Morally, he deserves our scorn for promising a 12 year old child in a wheelchair that his research would allow him to walk. A man who would do that knowing he is a fraud would seem to have no conscience.

Seoul Times on Hwang Fraud


There were no embronic stem cells made through cloning, as claimed by Hwang in his fraudulent 2005 paper in Science. None. This probably means he also fraudulently claimed to have created an embryonic stem cell line from cloned embryos in 2004. Still unknown, but increasingly unlikely, whether he created true human cloned embryos at all.

A lot of people besides Hwang have a lot of 'splainin' to do. Here is the latest article.

Question: Will the media finally begin to show some healthy skepticism toward the claims of Big Biotech and its allies about cloning and embryonic stem cell research? Will they wonder whether it is really true that embryonic sources offer the "best" opportunities for regenerative medicine? Will they begin to challenge the Science Establishment's claims in as vigorous a fashion as they do those of other powerful institutions?

Answer: No.

Hwang Did Not Create Any Cloned Embryonic Stem Cells in 2005


This is short, so I will just reprint the story rather than link it. Hwang made it all up.

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korean scientists had no data to prove claims made in a landmark 2005 paper that they had produced tailored embryonic stem cells, an investigation panel said on Thursday, indicating major scientific fraud.

The same Seoul National University investigation panel had said last week that the paper -- produced by the team led by previously celebrated and now disgraced scientist Hwang Woo-suk -- contained data that was intentionally fabricated.

"Stem cells with DNA matching with patient tissues regarding the 2005 paper were not found. And it is the panel's judgment that Professor Hwang 's team does not have the scientific data to prove that they (patient-specific stem cells) were made," said Roe Jung-hye, chief of the university's research office.

The panel found that two cells Hwang's team claimed were stem cells were actually human egg cells supplied by a hospital in Seoul, Roe told reporters.

Hwang has said he has the technology to produce patient-specific stem cells.

Ian Wilmut Wants to Experiment With Stem Cells on the Dying


Ian Wilmut, the creator of Dolly and now a would-be cloner of human embryos wants to experiment on dying people. Rather than go through the usual process of animal studies to test efficacy and safety, he wants to switch quickly to conducting embryonic stem cell experiments upon dying people on the basis that the experiments would be "high risk but high gain" procedures.

This has a certain surface attraction. After all, if people are dying, what's the harm? Well the harm could be substantial. First, unlike some experimental cancer treatments carried out on those dying of late stage disease to see if they can gain extra time, embryonic stem cells have not proven themselves to be "high gain" in animal studies yet. Therefore, it cannot be said whether or to what extent they would offer any real hope at all to the patient.

Second, it is quite possible if things go wrong, that they could increase the patient's suffering, perhaps causing brain cancer as one example mentioned in the story.

Third, we could fall headlong into the trap of looking upon our dying as so many guinea pigs, furthering the dehumanization that seems to go hand-in-hand with therapeutic cloning and ESCR research. Moreover, such a scheme would seem to violate agreed upon protocols for human medical experimentation.

Fourth, if the dying will not be with us for long enough to really test the procedures, who would be next on Wilmut's list? Those in persistent vegetative states? How about quadriplegics who would rather risk a brain tumor than live paralyzed? Once we begin down that road, we enter very dangerous territory.

Dying people are not dead: They are living. And they should be treated as fully equal and included members of the community. Using them in place of lab rats and potentially causing them great harm does quite the opposite, unless there is at least some realistic potential for therapeutic gain.

Korea Times: Hwang’s Remaining Two Stem Cell Lines May Not Exist


If this is true, it should cinch the total fraud perpetrated by Woo-Suk Hwang. Hwang's excuse for failing to prove that he actually cloned human embryos is apparently going to be that the bona fide cloned embryonic stem cell lines were switched with lines taken from embryos created through fertilization. But he has lied about everything else, so even if true--barring clear proof--who will believe him?

This story, while being reported, in my view is still being underplayed. It should rock science to the core and materially impact the debate on cloning. Hwang had more than $60 million to create clones and cloned embryonic stem cell lines. If he didn't do it--or better stated, couldn't do it--a question has to be asked even by supporters of therapeutic cloning: Is investing billions into this research really worth the price, or worth diverting these massive funds away from more promising and/or immediately beneficial avenues of medical investigations?

Kevorkian’s Lawyer is Clueless


Jack Kevorkian's lawyer is upset--and issued a press release to let the rest of us know--that the Michigan Parole Board refused to recommend clemency or pardon, based on Kevorkian's supposed ill health. But why should it? Kevorkian is an utterly unrepentant murderer who would spend his time as a free man justifying his crime and his assisted suicide campaign. He is right where he belongs.

NYT STILL Won’t Describe Therapeutic Cloning Accurately


I apologize to regular readers who may be growing weary of my continually posting examples of awful reporting in the therapeutic cloning debate. But this "bias by omission" as I call it, is truly outrageous. On Sunday, in an analysis of the Hwang debacle, Nocholas Wade AGAIN inaccurately describes therapeutic cloning, to wit:

"The panel is also reviewing Dr. Hwang's 2004 claim in which he was apparently the first to clone human cells. If that also proves false, the goal of therapeutic cloning--repairing patients' cells with their own tissues--may be considerably further off that it seemed a few months ago." (My italics.)

The italicized section would be an accurate description of adult stem cell research in which a patient's own stem cells, say from blood, are extracted and reintroduced into the patient. We have already seen encouraging indications in early human trials that for many diseases, adult stem cells will be able to provide effective treatments.

But this isn't therapeutic cloning, which, if it works--we still don't know if human clones have even been created post Hwang--involves using the patient's DNA to create cloned embryos, that are developed and destroyed to derive embryonic stem cells.

Why is the New York Times still "the paper of record?"

My Take on Hwang Scandal in Weekly Standard


I have weighed in on the Hwang fraud in the current edition of the Weekly Standard. Since it may not yet be available to non subscribers, I'll quote a few key excerpts here.

After extensively describing Hwang's unraveling, I suggest some of the important issues that need to be explored in the scandal's aftermath:

"This debacle raises several interesting questions: What does it tell us about the thoroughness of the peer review process? Why were younger South Korean scientists able to discover Hwang's missteps when the presumably more seasoned peer reviewers for Science failed? Will the American media take a cue from their courageous counterparts in South Korea, who pursued this story until it cracked, and finally bring skepticism to their coverage of biotechnology? More to the point, will the adult/umbilical cord blood stem cell successes that have emerged one after the other in recent years finally receive the attention they deserve in the mainstream press, which has been so intoxicated with embryonic research as virtually to ignore nonembryonic breakthroughs?"

I suggest that the media is more likely to circle the wagons than do their jobs on the biotech beat, noting that the pro cloning side is already furiously spinning the scandal:

"The same voices that not long ago railed against President Bush's stem cell funding policies for supposedly allowing America to fall behind the cutting-edge research in South Korea, now indignantly blame Bush for creating a hyper-competitive atmosphere that led to Hwang's failures. 'Ethics can get forgotten as other nations and private companies race to fill the void left by the president's reluctance to fund stem cell research,' wrote bioethicists Arthur Caplan and Glenn McGee in the Albany Times Union. 'Only a properly funded U.S. stem cell research program will guarantee oversight and the protection of all involved.'"

But, I note, outright science fraud has not been the only problem with the pro-cloning side, discussing as examples the misrepresentation in the pro Proposition 71 political campaign, the hype about therapeutic cloning as a potential treatment for Alzheimer's in the wake of President Reagan's death, and the false assertions about SCNT for biomedical research not really being "human cloning."

I conclude with an overview of the current terrain: "So where are we in the cloning debate? At this point, we don't know whether human cloning has been successfully accomplished or not. We don't know whether embryonic stem cells have been derived from cloned embryos. We don't know to what depths the dishonesty of the seemingly most successful researcher in the field actually descended.

"We do know that cloning proponents in this country are avid in their desire for billions in federal and state money to pay for morally problematic and highly speculative research that the private sector generally shuns. And we do know that some advocates of this public policy agenda are more than willing to play fast and loose with the facts in order to get their way. In short, the human cloning agenda is falling into public disrepute-and for that, proponents of the agenda have no one to blame but themselves."

I am sure that the full article will be available on-line soon. I hope y'all will check it out.


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