Saturday, December 17, 2005

More Media Bias by Omission in Describing Human Cloning

Here's the latest blatant example of bias by omission in the mainstream media when describing somatic cell nuclear transfer cloning. Once again, the reporter is Nicolas Wade, who writes in today's story about the Hwang Woo-Suk scandal: "In an article published in Science in March 2004, he claimed to have performed the first nuclear transfer with human cells, the cloning procedure in which a nucleus from a person's adult cell is inserted into a human egg, from which embryonic stem cells are obtained." (My italics.)

False. Embryonic stem cells are not derived from eggs. The egg ceases to exist once the SCNT is completed, just as it does upon the completion of conception. At that point, a new, integrated individual human organism comes into existence that is called an embryo. The embryo is developed for a week and then destroyed for its stem cells.

It would only take an additional 7 words to be accurate, to wit: " which a nucleus from a person's adult cell is inserted into a human egg, transforming it into an embryo, which is later destroyed to obtain embryonic stem cells."

Why the incomplete description? Perhaps because polls show that if people believe mere cells are created, they support therapeutic cloning. However when told that embryos are created and destroyed in the process, they oppose therapeutic cloning.


At December 17, 2005 , Blogger DogMyCats said...

You're ascribing awfully sinister motives to the Times at the end there. Did you consider that they may simply have been striving for brevity?

At any rate, when I read the article, it was clear enough to me from the terminology "embryonic stem cells" that embryos are involved.

At December 17, 2005 , Blogger Wesley J. Smith said...

Somehow, these mistakes or omissions, always fall on the one side. If this were one article, I would say you might be right. But it is a repeated approach to descriving SCNT and therapeutic cloning, as I made clear in an article in the Daily Standard.

If they wanted brevity, the media could write that therapeutic cloning creates a human embryo for use and destruction in embryonic stem cell research.

Remember, just because you are paranoid, that doesn't mean they are not really after you.

At December 17, 2005 , Blogger galectin said...

I was surprised that you are upset by "media bias by omission" as you have often selectively quoted scientists in your various articles about embryonic/somatic cell cloning. A number of times I have followed up your references to scientific articles about stem cells and found that your statements are taken out of context and are quite misleading. So, it hardly is accurate for you to say "Somehow, these mistakes or omissions, always fall on the one side" in your reply to dogmycats.

This is, I suppose, a good practice for a lawyer arguing a case. However, it makes me quite skeptical of any comment you have to make about this issue, since a fair analysis of the facts does not seem to be your goal.

At December 17, 2005 , Blogger chamberlainclone said...

Okay, Galectin, you assert that WJS takes quotes out of context to craft misleading statements.

Where is your proof?

At December 17, 2005 , Blogger galectin said...


A number of months ago Mr. Smith had a few articles on National Review Online where he quoted scientists' opinions on stem cell research. When I looked at those articles in the original scientific journals I found that the authors were saying something quite different and the quotes were taken out of context (the term is quote mining). Since you will want more than this statement (fair enough), I will try to track those articles down in the NRO archives, look again at the referenced articles, and respond on this forum with references.

The major point to understand is that the arguments on cloning are really surrogate arguments for the ongoing culture wars. But, it is wrong to selectively quote or misrepresent someone to try to make your point.

I don't have a problem with the argument that embryonic cloning should not be done because "human life is destroyed". However, if you consider the argument that embryonic stem cell research should not be done because it destroys embryos to be valid, I would like you to direct me to the articles where opposition to in vitro fertilization clinics has been made. Such clinics, in existence for the past 30 years or so, routinely create and destroy fertiized human embryos. To have an internally consistent position, opponents of embryonic stem cell research should be opposing in vitro fertilization equally, and should have been doing so for much longer.

But it is simply incorrect to say that adult stem cells from the bone marrow or that cord blood stem cells are all that will be needed in the future. The great majority of stem cell researchers (and scientists in general) will say that not enough is known about the biology of all of these types of cells to be able at this time to say what will work in different diseases. That is why research on all types of stem cells is needed. In five to ten years the biology will be much better understood and the relevant applications to human disease (where possible--I agree with Mr. Smith that it looks improbable that Alzheimer's patients can be helped, at least based on present undestanding if this disease) will be available. Until then, there is no scientific (again, a moral argument is a separate category) argument to be made against embryonic stem cell research.

At December 17, 2005 , Blogger Wesley J. Smith said...

I never intentionally quote mine, to use your term, nor do I ever intentionally misquote or take out of context.

And I have always maintained that these were moral and ethical arguments, as opposed to science arguments. I do maintain that the emerging peer reviewed science seems to demonstrate that most or all of the clinical benefits (so far emptily) promised by ESCR/Cloning supporters will be obtained from non embryonic sources of regenerative medicine, and far sooner. However, this is not to say that all of the basic research benefits would be the same.

But the pro cloners have fashioned this argument based on hyped promises of CURES! CURES! CURES! and it is on that basis that they will hopefully be defeated.

At December 17, 2005 , Blogger Wesley J. Smith said...

This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

At December 17, 2005 , Blogger Wesley J. Smith said...

One more point. In my years arguing these issues, I have only had one complaint about my use of quotes from those quoted: It was a few months ago in an article I wrote about "amputee wannabes," and a pair of Australian bioethicists who supported amputation in some cases as an appropriate treatment for the condition. I didn't agree with their objections but I posted their letter to me in full on this blog and included the cite to their article so readers could decide for themselves whether my take on their position was correct.

At December 17, 2005 , Blogger galectin said...

Well, science-based arguments against studying ES cells just don't hold up. There are plenty of people working on adult and cord blood-derived stem cells. These areas of study are not being neglected by an interest in ES cells. Indeed, a great majority of researchers studying adult stem cells support ES cell research, too, even if they feel that there is greater promise in their own studies.

On a scientific basis, the argument for studying ES cells is that they might be able to both provide a cure for some of these disease, or to at least to provide a better understanding of stem cell biology so adult stem cell therapies could be made better. Remember, the great majority of sucesses with adult stem cell-based therapies have dealt with malignancies (leukemias and lymphomas, for example, but also including bone marrow transplantation for diseases like beta-thalassemia major and also sickle cell anemia). The applicability to other organ systems is not certain, and is just being investigated. This is why I believe that research on ES cells will contribute to the treatment of human disease in the future.

At December 19, 2005 , Blogger galectin said...


Here is the update that I promised you. Look up the articles I give URL's for so you can decide for yourself. I had a longer response written, but after all, this is Mr. Smith’s blog. Read his articles and those I refer to, and you can draw your own conclusions.

In an article entitled "A Bad Investment" (my dates were off, since this is from June of 2004) in National Review Online (at ) Mr. Smith quotes Dr. Robert Lanza (and Nadia Rosenthal, a coauthor who is not cited) writing in Scientific American (at ) as saying "the rejection issue is so huge that biotechnologists would require "millions of discarded embryos from IVF clinics" to create stem-cell lines with sufficient genetic variations to mitigate the problem through tissue matching. Read the Lanza and Rosenthal article and see what they are saying.

Later in this same article Mr. Smith refers to an article by Peter Mombaerts in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences ( ) as saying that it would take 100 embryos to make one cell line by Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer. It is Dr. Mombaerts' argument how these numbers are prohibitive. Read the whole article, especially the last two paragraphs and see if you think that Dr. Mombaerts’ ideas were adequately represented.

Finally, Mr. Smith's makes a logistical and financial argument based on 100 million Americans being recipients of ES cells. But in the same article he argues that this number is vastly inflated, since it includes a number of diseases that he asserts are not treatable by stem cells. So, why pick this number when it is convenient to argue that a mode of treatment is unworkable, and also argue that this number is a great overestimation based on an attempt to motivate public opinion in favor of stem cells? He writes an entire article (also in June, 2004) about this in the Weekly Standard ( ).

Mr. Smith (and everyone) needs to be internally consistent as to what diseases he feels can be treated by stem cell therapies, while acknowledging that one could be mistaken. As I said in an earlier post, I agree with Mr. Smith that Alzheimer’s disease appears that it may not be amenable to stem cell treatment therapies of any kind (I would dearly love to be proved wrong since my mother is in a nursing home with this disease), but we can't say without further research involving adult, cord blood, and embryonic stem cells. That's the point of research--to find out things that we don't currently understand. If research proves adult stem cells to be the best for all disease treatments, that’s fine with me.

Mr. Smith makes the same arguments in other articles. See “Cell Wars” also from June, 2004 ( ), the Weekly Standard article cited above, and others cited in the reference in the next paragraph.

Mr. Smith posted a comment that only one author has complained about being misquoted. But, as I was preparing this post, I came across the following page from a quite good web site ( ) making the points I made above, but in more detail, and much earlier. So, while Mr. Smith says quoted authors have not complained, except for one time unrelated to the current topic, he has certainly had previous complaints about this, and other related articles.

You may not be bothered by this, and feel that such selective quoting in supporting one's positions is acceptable. But I am talking about scientific papers here, and one needs to be more rigorous and fair in one's usage. BTW, I would especially recommend that you read the Lanza and Rosenthal paper. It gives a good and fair summary of the potential uses and problems of stem cells for therapy.

That’s all for me. I apologize, Mr. Smith, if you feel that I have abused your blog. For what it’s worth, on another topic, I agree with you completely on the abuses and dangers of PETA.

At December 19, 2005 , Blogger Wesley J. Smith said...

The 100 million is a rough figure that comes from the National Academy of Sciences and would not be materially reduced by taking out Alzheimer's cases. The point of the egg dearth isn't materially altered by removing this condition from the computation.

Mombaerts out of context? Oh come on! I was completely accurate about what he wrote. And, while I didn't discuss his entire article in that piece, I did in Consumer's Guide to a Brave New World, pages 79-80, where I report that he expected, based on mouse experiments, for it to take one hundred eggs to derive on patient specific cloned embryonic stem cell line. He claimed that for the eggs alone, the cost would be between $100,000 and $200,000, which he believed would "impede the widespread application of of this technology in its present form." The only outs to the egg dearth that he foresaw would be morphing eggs from embryonic stem cells, which is very iffy at best, or using animal eggs, which would create a chimera, (page 80). My article was not about his article but cited his article. One only has so much space, you know.

Lanza was opining in his article that therapeutic cloning, as opposed to embryonic stem cell research with discarded embryos, is the best source of regenerative medicine. He believes that the need to make so many different ESC lines to allow tissue typing and avoid tissue rejection, makes cloning the better approach, which is what I wrote.

I did not mislead in either of those two examples at all, nor did I quote mine. I did not change the meaning of what these writers were stating by quoting out of context. I did engage in accurate reporting.

As to some blog criticizing me, I can't be expected to go chasing after my critics all across the ether. If people I quote have a problem, they can contact me directly. So far, only the one pair of authors ever has, and I believe they are wrong.

One last point. The publications in which I publish FACT CHECK! And THEY have not received any complaints, either. So frankly, you are way off base in your criticism. But, I appreciate the time you took to engage me on this issue.

But, I urge people to read the original articles and see for yourselves.

No apologies are necessary. You did not abuse my blog. And I wish you the best of the holiday season and the new year.


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