Human Exceptionalism

On Retracting My Charge That Robert Lanza “Betrayed Science”

Some time ago, I charged Robert Lanza of Advanced Cell Technology with having “betrayed science.” Recently, at his initiative, we have been in communication and have cleared some of the bad air that lay between ourselves. While we do not agree on ethical matters, I think it is fair to say that we understand each other far better than we did formerly. I appreciate his efforts to reach out and bury some hatchets and consider them permanently interred in the ground.

One ax apparently still lingers: Lanza and those close to him were apparently quite hurt by my charge of scientific betrayal. That was not my intent, and I made the admittedly harsh assertion after listening to an interview on the Nature podcast in which Lanza said:

What we have done, for the first time is to actually create human embryonic stem cells, without destroying the embryo itself.

Those who recall the controversy know that based on the published paper upon which the interview was based, Lanza had done no such thing, and indeed, that all the embryos in the experiment reported about in Nature were destroyed in the experiment. The resulting brouhaha culminated in a tongue lashing against ACT and Lanza by Senator Arlen Specter for not having accomplished all that the PR hype had claimed.

Yet Lanza believes I did him an egregious wrong. He believes he told the truth in the interview that so angered me because by that time he had actually accomplished what he stated–even though that subsequent success was not reported until later. And he didn’t make that distinction in the interview from which I quoted, and so I concluded, quite reasonably, that he was talking about the reported experiment alone, while in Lanza’s mind, he was also referencing the subsequent, but as yet unreported successes as well. Those advances were reported officially some months later and I wrote about them here as soon as they came to light.

I believe in fairness and have too many scars on my own body from unfounded attacks on my integrityw, motives, and beliefs to want to inflict similar wounds on others. I did not mean to hurt Lanza’s feelings or of those close to him. In light of the explanation that his statements to Nature were meant in his mind to include successful experiments he conducted after those described in the original Nature paper, it is only right that we agree that the “betrayed science” episode was a bonafide misunderstanding, not an attempt to deceive or unfairly castigate.

That being the case, I retract my claim that Lanza “betrayed science.” What he did was fail to communicate fully and clearly. But that is an inadvertence, not a moral failing.

We continue to disagree ethically about the cloning issue, but I have come to assume his good faith, as I believe, based on our discussions, he assumes mine. Thus, I view the matter as concluded and forgotten. Life’s too short for feuds. The case is closed.