- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 27, 2001

On Media

Human cloning stories multiplied rapidly under a global microscope yesterday, yielding fierce chatter, multiple interpretations, junk science and speculation.
"Scientists use virgin birth technique," the BBC announced, offering an intricate guide to the experimental genetic research announced by a Massachusetts biotech group Sunday.
"Cloning where will it all end?" demanded the Guardian newspaper, which pondered the concept of "a brave new world of cloned designer babies" and "the lure of massive profits, sexy science and the promised land of a plentiful supply of individualized replacement body parts."
"The first claim of human-embryo cloning has the criticism multiplying like cloned sheep," observed the Fox News Channel, while debate raged at CNN, which hosted opposing lawmakers and laymen alike. Neither held back.
"Shouldn't a scientist in a Massachusetts laboratory have as much right to 'experiment' as a pair of drunk rednecks in an RV park?" asked one visitor to the news channel's online message board.
"Republicans will support this when corporations find a way to take advantage of it economically and begin making campaign contributions. Come to think of it, Democrats will support it then too," wrote another.
All the components for such confrontational fare have been in place for years; it is no surprise that the cloning story emerged as a full-blown forum for competing ideologies overnight. The three biotech researchers in question did not call a broadcast press conference to announce their sensational findings, however. They instead released the information Sunday in "E-Biomed," an online medical journal, and at their own Web site (www.advancedcell.com).
The trio then offered "exclusives" to the Scientific American and U.S. News & World Report, which showcased the metamorphosis of scientific material through the popular press.
The original paper, entitled "Results of human somatic cell nuclear transfer and parthenogenesis" became "The First Human Cloned Embryo" at Scientific American, and a regular potboiler over at U.S. News, which promised to document "what went on in the hearts and minds of the people behind this achievement."
The account also got political, noting that Judson Somerville, a subject in the cloning experiment, "did not make the decision lightly. As a conservative Republican, a longtime contributor to President Bush, Somerville knows how controversial cloning is for many of his political compatriots. But he is also a devout Episcopalian. After consulting with his church leaders, Somerville concluded that being one of the first humans to be cloned not to produce a baby, which he would never do, but to create healthy new cells for ailing patients would be one of the best things he could do for his fellow man."
Meanwhile, the cloning story was a casting call for overblown and often alarming color graphics featuring such captions as "gutted eggs," "scraped-out DNA," and "It's life but not as we know it."
Science writers went into overdrive, wielding such weighty phrases as "preimplantation embryos" and "therapeutic cloning." The little glass pipette repeatedly shown piercing a human egg in print and broadcast accounts replaced the old anthrax nasal swab as the lab equipment of choice in media coverage.
Pollsters were also busy. At an online poll at www.vote.com, 68 percent of the respondents agreed that the U.S. Senate should ban "the immoral procedure."
Contact Jennifer Harper at [email protected] or 202/636-3085.


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