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The Silent Bias

How the media quietly gives cloning advocates a pass.

11:00 PM, Dec 4, 2005 • By WESLEY J. SMITH
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Once again, the embryo is left out entirely. Indeed, note that the reporter doesn't even mention embryonic stem cells. Rather, they are called "early stem cells," an advocacy term coined recently by cloning advocates--and as here, just as quickly adopted by a compliant media.

* An article by Rob Roberts in the November 28 edition of the Kansas City Business Journal about the proposed initiative also offered an inaccurate description of therapeutic cloning:

SCNT begins when researchers remove the nucleus from a human egg cell and replace it with the nucleus of a somatic cell . . . from the patient. The cell then is stimulated to begin dividing, and within five days it grows into a ball of cells, called a blastocyst, containing early stem cells that can be coaxed to differentiate into any type of human cell.

But as we have seen, a blastocyst is an embryo, although you would not know it by Roberts' reporting, which depicts it as a mere "ball of cells." And again notice the use of the advocacy term, "early stem cells," instead of the discarded term, "embryonic" stem cells.

* Meanwhile, a United Press International article about the proposed Missouri initiative omits any mention of the embryo and, indeed, of SCNT and cloning altogether, calling it "therapeutic stem cell research":

Medical researchers, patient advocates and business development groups support the measure they say would protect the legality of therapeutic stem-cell research. At issue is the definition of human. Religious groups argue that a cloned cell is a human being, a definition with which most scientists disagree.

It isn't just scientists: Nobody with any scientific knowledge believes that a cloned cell is a human being. Many, however, believe quite accurately, that embryos brought into existence through SCNT are human embryos, that is, they are human organisms, or at the very least, nascent human life.

THESE INSTANCES of bias by omission are so ubiquitous that one is tempted to despair that a fair debate is all but impossible. But every once in a great while, even as the media pushes the canard that cloning doesn't create an embryo, a scientist with integrity refuses to go along.

Last June, MSNBC science correspondent Alan Boyle interviewed James Thomson, the first scientist to isolate and culture human embryonic stem cells. When the subject turned to therapeutic cloning, Boyle trotted out the usual pro-cloning meme that SCNT doesn't create an embryo:

Boyle: The people who use nuclear transfer generally say that the technique is optimized for producing the stem cells rather than making babies. They would not want to equate this with the process that produces embryos that are fit for implantation, and they'd argue that they're using the reproductive process differently.

But Thomson laudably refused to compromise accurate science for political expediency:

Thomson: See, you're trying to redefine it away, and it doesn't work. If you create an embryo by nuclear transfer, and you give it to somebody who didn't know where it came from, there would be no test you could do on that embryo to say where it came from. It is what it is.

It's true that they have a much lower probability of giving rise to a child . . . But by any reasonable definition, at least at some frequency, you're creating an embryo. If you try to define it away, you're being disingenuous.

Thomson had it just right. Too bad the mainstream media is so deeply in the thrall of Big Biotech that they are not the ones reporting this important truth.

Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow for the Discovery Institute and a special consultant to the Center for Bioethics and Culture. His current book is Consumer's Guide to a Brave New World. (Smith has informally advised, on a pro bono basis, opponents of the proposed Missouri initiative mentioned in this column.)