MEDIA WATCH: Raelian sect gains more copy than its curious cloning claims

The scene for the invitation-only press conference was a South Florida Holiday Inn. Dr. Brigette Boisselier, CEO of little-known biotech company Clonaid, announced the birth of a healthy cloned human being. No evidence was offered to support the claims - no names, no locations, no details, and no genetic evidence.

The scene for the invitation-only press conference was a South Florida Holiday Inn. Dr. Brigette Boisselier, CEO of little-known biotech company Clonaid, announced the birth of a healthy cloned human being. No evidence was offered to support the claims - no names, no locations, no details, and no genetic evidence.

Oh, and by the way, Boisselier is a bishop in the Raelian religion, which believes that aliens from outer space created human life here on Earth 25,000 years ago through genetic cloning. And Raelians believe that by transferring knowledge and memory from one body to another, cloning is the key to eternal life. That small footnote about Clonaid's affiliation with the Raelian sect did not escape the media's notice. Cloning in itself is highly controversial, and the unsubstantiated claims of the birth of the first actual human clone could be expected to create a fevered debate. But the news that the cloning announcement was made by people with these beliefs was made a central part of the story for many of the reporters covering it. An analysis of the media coverage shows that the Raelian affiliation appeared side-by-side with coverage of the announcement more often than acknowledgements that no proof had been offered, and much more often than reaction from the scientific community or even the moral and ethical implications of cloning. In the sample of coverage analyzed by Media Watch, the Orlando Sentinel (December 28) was one of the many papers to directly note "that the Raelians' involvement in the experiment has generated enormous controversy." The San Francisco Chronicle (December 28) wrote, "Respected biologists in the field of animal cloning widely ridiculed the announcement." Reporting that no evidence was provided nearly always appeared alongside skepticism by the scientific community regarding the veracity of the claims - sometimes based on Clonaid's lack of medical credentials, and sometimes just due to the fact that cloning is a risky and unsafe process that often results in deformities and disorders in animals, provided that the clone is successfully carried to term. Some argued that science deals in evidence and proof, not in press conferences and publicity. A biologist at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine told The Baltimore Sun (December 28), "Clearly, this is not the way we do things in science." But a few reputable scientists cautioned that just because the Clonaid people have strange beliefs and questionable intent doesn't mean they couldn't have pulled it off. Some said that what has been preventing mainstream scientists from cloning is the ethical and moral considerations - not the ability to do so. Advance Cell Technology CEO Dr. Robert Lanza told the Boston Herald (December 28), "The science already exists. It may be a lot easier than any of us thought." Whether the Clonaid announcement turns out to be true or a hoax, the event drew attention to the fact that the US does not currently have a law on the books against cloning. Many articles covered President Bush and others using the opportunity to call for Congress to pass a ban on cloning. Clonaid indicated that it would supply proof within nine days of its announcement, which would be just as this issue is hitting the stands. However, suspicions will likely continue - as the secrecy is prompting questions about chain of custody.
  • Evaluation and analysis by CARMA International. Media Watch can be found at www.carma.com.

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