AP article puts the lie to "not cloning" propaganda

The article I just read from the Associated Press demonstrates how deceptive the debate got here in Missouri concerning Amendment 2.

I remember taking my family to the Science Center in St. Louis some time back during the heated Amendment 2 embryonic stem cell research debate and being surprised to see a big piece of propaganda there. I would think that the Science Center would have avoided taking sides, but it did not so avoid, and there was a kiosk explaining why embryonic stem cell research is just hunky dory (without saying it explicitly, of course–wink, wink, nudge, nudge…). Unless my memory fails me, it stated clearly and directly that embryonic stem cell research did not involve cloning.

My first thought was that such a statement was equivocation of Clintonian proportions, and my second thought–please forgive me for its bluntness–was that the Science Center was being prostituted for a political cause. Scientists often want to say (and not without some justification at times), “Trust us, we’re scientists,” but when some of their tribe do things like this, it hurts the credibility of all of them.

Whether or not embryonic stem cell research and the process of somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) involved cloning was part and parcel of the debate, and for the Science Center’s kiosk to try and do away with the debate with a “Trust us, we’re scientists: it’s not cloning” statement simultaneously angered and saddened me. Don’t admit that there are differences of opinion about that in the scientific and medical community. Don’t admit that there really are ethical considerations that need to be discussed. Don’t ask whether we considered SCNT to be cloning up until this debate. Don’t even ask if all scientists agree with the statement on this kiosk. In fact, don’t ask any questions at all! Just step aside and accept what we’re saying as facts.

The St. Louis Science Center actually could have done the public a service (which is sort of what you would expect a public “Science Center” to do) by educating its visitors about the debate. Why do some consider SCNT cloning? Why do some disagree? What should the scientific community do when our ability to manipulate the world comes into conflict with deep rooted ethical questions? How are such questions handled? How can we decide?

Instead: It’s not cloning. Trust us, we’re scientists. Be good and go vote “Yes.”

Well, today the AP published a report titled (as given by Charter.net) “Stem Cell Breakthrough Uses No Embryos.”

Am I excited that pathways to all the fantasized “miracle cures” embryonic stem cells are being discovered that may soon take away all the excuses that are being used to pursue unethical (and, more importantly, ungodly) research? Yes. Am I angered that the scientific and medical communities can’t get their acts together enough to realize that they should abandon research of incredibly questionable morality and focus their efforts on means that share the same promise without such burdens? Yes.

On these points, I note that Ian Wilmut, the scientist who “created” Dolly the Cloned Sheep has officially given up on the cloning approach (nuclear transfer) as the key to making stem cell research work and has embraced the non-cloning, non-embryo methods (direct reprogramming) reported in this AP article. As he told the The Telegraph in the UK:

The odds are that by the time we make nuclear transfer work in humans, direct reprogramming will work too.

I am anticipating that before too long we will be able to use the Yamanaka approach to achieve the same, without making human embryos. I have no doubt that in the long term, direct reprogramming will be more productive, though we can’t be sure exactly when, next year or five years into the future.

That the “father of cloning” has made such a decision should cause some people to reconsider their morbid love affair with embryo-based research. As Sir Martin Evans, the new British Nobel Prize winner and stem cell research pioneer says of the non-embryo, non-cloning approach: “This will be the long-term solution.”

But back to the AP article…

What I find absolutely remarkable is that in this AP article, the process that Missouri has approved as a part of a so-called “cloning ban” — which the Science Center so “authoritatively” claimed was not cloning — is called cloning at least 15 times in the article. 15 times! It almost makes one wonder if the AP article writer, Malcolm Ritter, is secretly working for Amendment 2 opponents who are trying to specify the common definition of cloning in Missouri law so that SCNT falls under the ban (as it should). I’m certainly not one who believes in the neutrality of the press, and that is certainly a possibility. But either the AP science editor missed this undercover propaganda piece for opponents of cloning and embryo-based research, or the fact remains that embryonic stem cell research involves what common sense calls cloning.

There’s even a more technical term for it: “therapeutic cloning.” That Missouri and the St. Louis Science Center can’t get it right only demonstrates that politics and truth don’t mix well. If politics can make one question the meaning of “is,” than what chance does the word “cloning” have of being immune from being spun.

Perhaps the folks at the St. Louis Science Center should call up the AP and have them correct those 15 mistakes in their article. Why are they mistakes? Well, the AP should trust them. After all, they’re scientists.

6 thoughts on “AP article puts the lie to "not cloning" propaganda

  1. Pingback: By the way: We’re home! « Thoughts En Route

  2. Oh — so argument from authority is not limited to religion and politics. (Yes, Virginia, there really is no Santa Claus.)

    To quote Iago the parrot (speaking early on in Disney’s *Aladdin*), “Why am I not surprised? I’m about to have a *heart attack* from not being surprised!”

    שלום
    יוחנן רכב

  3. Hey Mr. Smith! I see you’re pretty fired up about this topic. 🙂

    We actually just covered these techniques in my biochemistry class today. I also conducted molecular biology cloning experiments (E. coli and yeast only, no stem cells or embryos involved) when I did my internship at Baylor College of Medicine.

    From the seminars and lectures I’ve been to, I’ve been under the impression that SCNT avoids the ethical issues involved with embryonic stem cells. Obviously you don’t see that as the case. Feel free to enlighten me!

  4. Howdy!

    Indeed, fired up, I am. 🙂 I would be less fired up about the topic (though not less about the principles behind it) if the debate concerning the subject were honest and open, but it never is. Even the most recent Newsweek admits that with the exciting advance in creating pleuropotent non-embryonic stem cells from adults, the pro-embryonic research side is now downplaying the claim of “cures just around the corner,” essentially admitting that it was just political talk crafted to attack those on the other side of the issue and that, really, cures were at least a decade away.

    Per your request, I will attempt to enlighten as best I can, but given my sleep-deprived state I hope you are keeping your expectations low… 🙂

    SCNT (at least in the context of stem cell research) creates an embryo. I have seen numerous definitions of SCNT — including from embryonic stem cell research supporters in the scientific community — which state explicitly and unambiguously that an embryo is the end product of SCNT. The only difference is that the embryo’s nuclear material is not from a sperm and egg (germ cells), but from a somatic cell. I have heard debate as to whether or not the embryo that results from SCNT is a clone, but the fact that SCNT produces an embryo I have never heard questioned by anyone on either side of the debate. That SCNT produces an embryo is, by all parties, a given; the status of that embryo is not.

    For humans, the purpose of SCNT in embryonic stem cell research is to create a human embryo from which stem cells could be extracted. The only essential difference between an SCNT-produced embryo and a sexually-produced embryo is that the SCNT-produced embryo contains genetic material identical to one adult, whereas the sexually-produced embryo contains genetic material from two adults. While not as likely to survive (aged DNA, etc.), an implanted SCNT-created embryo can grow into an adult if it is implanted in the womb, just as a sexually-created embryo can. In fact, the world’s first cloned adult mammal, Dolly the sheep, began life as an SCNT-created embryo which was implanted to allow its development to continue.

    For those who believe that human life exists immediately after conception, whether the resultant embryo is implanted in the womb or not, then SCNT produces cloned human life. While the probabilities of their survival upon implantation may differ, the status of their existence as human embryos does not. If the product of sexual fertilization is the creation of an embryonic human, so is the product of SCNT.

    This is why the ethical issues are not avoided by SCNT. The arguments by pro-embryonic stem cell research folks generally go: “It’s not a baby if the embryo’s not implanted in the womb” or “It’s not cloning if the embryo’s not implanted in the womb.” This should sound identical to the pro-IUD, pro-Morning After pill arguments that go: “It’s not abortion if the embryo’s not implanted in the womb.” The arguments are the same because the principles (and the stakes) are exactly the same.

    I hope this hasn’t been so muddied by my babbling that enlightenment has been forfeited. I’m even babblier than normal when I’m tired. 🙂

    Thanks for writing!

  5. Pingback: Embryonic stem cell research decision: Absolutely vomitous « Thoughts En Route

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