Human Exceptionalism

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.

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