Mainstream Media Give Biased Reporting on Human Cloning, Stem Cell Research

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Apr 29, 2009   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Mainstream Media Give Biased Reporting on Human Cloning, Stem Cell Research

by Wesley J. Smith
April 29, 2009 Note: Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute and a special consultant to the Center for Bioethics and Culture. His most recent book is the Consumer’s Guide to a Brave New World.

I can’t remember an issue in which there was so much intellectual dishonesty or malpractice in media reporting than the embryonic stem cell/cloning debates–and that’s saying a lot!

For example, when the Stowers Crowd began using the junk biological term "early stem cells," the Kansas City Star jumped right on that bandwagon.

When Big Biotech began using the term "therapeutic cloning" to distinguish using embryos created through somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) from the same technology undertaken to bring a cloned baby to birth–called "reproductive cloning"–the media jumped right on board, creating the false impression that these were different types of cloning.

Because these terms misled rather than edified, the President’s Council on Bioethics urged scientists and media to use more accurate terminology–"cloning to produce children" and "cloning for biomedical research," so that a rational ethical debate based on critical thinking could be engaged.

But that was precisely what Big Biotech and the media did not want, so those terms were never used–as far as I know–in media reports about the cloning debate.

When the "therapeutic" part of the advocacy phrase therapeutic cloning didn’t bring public support, but the "cloning" part brought public disfavor, Big Biotech decided to just call it somatic cell nuclear transfer–which is at least accurate–with the intent of confusing the public as to the point of that process, e.g., making a human embryo asexually, aka cloning.

And once again, the media went right along. Adding insult to that injury, the media also often reported the nonsense that SCNT makes "stem cells," rather than embryos.

Even that was too accurate, so pretty soon human cloning research and embryonic stem cell research were both merely called "stem cell research," which had the benefit of confusing it with adult stem cell research from which most notable human benefits were being derived.

It got to be a game with me: If the media announced a "stem cell research" advance, I knew it was adult stem cells. If it was an ESCR advance, they generally called it "embryonic stem cell research."

And now, a new term for cloning; "stem cell research using aborted human eggs." South Korea is going to again allow human cloning research–SCNT–after banning it in the wake of the big Hwang Woo-suk scandal.

From the story, and this is a medical media site:

The national committee on bioethics said it agreed to approve a new research project provided its scientists met certain conditions. A team from Seoul’s Cha General Hospital had sought approval for its stem cell project using aborted human eggs to develop cures for grave human diseases.

This version made other stories, such as Focus News. And in a truncated version in The Age:

South Korea has conditionally lifted a three-year ban on stem cell research using human eggs.

From which the New York Times reported:

South Korea has lifted a ban on stem cell research using human eggs, but the national committee on bioethics is doing so conditionally, and only for scientists who agree to certain restrictions.

But, credit where it is due, the AP got it partially right (the wrong part is the first sentence, the accurate part, the second):

South Korea will lift a three-year ban on human stem cell research, a presidential advisory committee announced Wednesday. The government outlawed research in 2006 following a scandal involving disgraced cloning expert Hwang Woo-suk, who claimed to have created stem cells from cloned human embryos. Hwang scandalized the international scientific community when it emerged that scientific papers outlining his claim relied on faked data.

Somebody speak to that AP reporter!

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