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Dear friends, these are not stories • Thursday January 2, 2003

San Francisco Chronicle, Jan. 1, 2003 (Column: Jon Carroll)

So we have the Raelians, a French group headed by a man who calls himself Rael and claims that a space alien visited him in 1973 and told him that all life on Earth was created by extraterrestrials performing genetic engineering.

In his former life, Rael was a French journalist called Claude Vorilhon. He took the name of Rael and started a group of true believers called the Raelians. One of the rules of the group is that all the women had to sleep with Rael. Isn’t it interesting how all these cults have that rule? Indeed, I have thought of starting a similar group. Maybe journalists think alike.

Anyway, Rael branched out and soon had an interest in a biotech company called Clonaid. Last week, as the world knows, Clonaid announced that it had successfully cloned a healthy 7-pound baby girl called “Eve.” Spokespersons for Clonaid were vague on where the cloning was done, how the cloning was done, who the DNA donor was (although she was definitely “an American woman”) and just about anything else.

This week, they said, Eve would arrive in the United States and be examined by a team of experts headed by — another journalist! God, isn’t the media in enough trouble already? To be fair, this journalist also has a doctorate in theoretical physics, although how that makes him an expert in genetic engineering is not clear at this time.

Now, hasn’t your bull manure meter cranked up to 11 by now? Cults, space aliens, unsupported assertions — plus, as a bonus, the entire biotech industry saying, “Huh?” I know, they said Edison was a nut case too, and look what happened. But, as Peter Cook said, they also said a lot of nut cases were nut cases, and by golly they were right.

So why is this a front-page story? Why are we following this breathlessly? I mean, yeah, if people from UCSF and Johns Hopkins and MIT do genome matching and say, yup, it’s a clone — and then get a long hard look at the methodology — then it’s a heck of a story.

But at the moment it’s a rumor spread by a guy who talks to space aliens. Do we report what the people on Market Street say in their amusing speeches to passers-by? Dianne Feinstein, everyone’s least favorite liberal, called the announcement “an earthquake.” Did your house shake?

Of course, a conspiracy theorist might say this story is being pumped up by people who oppose stem cell research, because in some credulous minds stem cell research and human cloning are more or less the same thing. But stem cell research is an extant technology that holds the promise of astonishing medical breakthroughs. Human cloning is a B-movie.

But stem cell research sometimes uses cells from embryos, and “embryo” is one of those rage words that set the motor mouths on talk radio humming. I am betting $100 that Eve is not a clone, and I will send the money to Dianne Feinstein’s campaign coffers if I’m wrong.
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