The Harvard Crimson, Jan. 8, 2003
By MICHAEL A. MOHAMMED, Crimson Staff Writer
A company claiming to have created the first successful human clone has tapped an ex-Core TF to prove its work to an incredulous world.
Late last month, Clonaid claimed to have successfully cloned a baby, Eve, from a 30-year-old woman whose identity remains secret.
After a media frenzy greeted the announcement, the scientific community dismissed the cloning as a publicity stunt to draw attention to a religious cult associated with Clonaid.
The cult, called the Raelians, whose spiritual leader founded Clonaid and whose members run the company, believes that the human race was cloned from a race of four-foot-tall aliens.
To prove their case, they have brought in Dr. Michael A. Guillen, a freelance science journalist and former physics teaching fellow in the Core Curriculum.
He has already chosen a team of scientists who will genetically test both mother and child to see whether Eve is a genuine clone.
After initial optimism about Clonaid’s work when first picked, Guillen on Monday expressed doubts after the company failed to provide access to the clone.
Clonaid claims they are keeping the individuals’ identities and whereabouts secret to protect their privacy and shield them from anti-cloning activists.
“The team of scientists has had no access to the alleged family…it’s still entirely possible Clonaid’s announcement is part of an elaborate hoax intended to bring publicity to the Raelian movement,” Guillen said in a press release.
But Guillen’s own credibility has also been questioned.
“I think he’s the perfect person for the Raelians to choose because he’ll believe anything. He has a PhD in math and physics. What the hell does that have to do with biology?” said James Randi, who heads a foundation to disprove pseudoscience.
Randi said that Guillen lacks the necessary experience in double-blind trials to adequately test the clone.
The New York Times reported Sunday that Guillen also may have been biased by a financial motive. He had unsuccessfully attempted to sell rights to a documentary about the test first to Fox and then to all of the major networks and cable news outlets for more than $100,000, The Times said.
Guillen taught in the Core for eight years between 1985 and 1994, according to Core Curriculum administrator Susan W. Lewis.
“He was very skilled at putting things very simply, and glossing over the complicated details that were usually present,” said Mallinckrodt Professor of Physics Roy J. Glauber.
Guillen juggled his teaching duties at the College with a job as the official science reporter for the ABC television program “Good Morning, America.”
“One week they would send him off to report on a ferry being built in Sweden, then the next week it would be something in Australia relating to wildlife,” Glauber said. “He had an agreement that they would always have him back to Cambridge in time to teach his section on Friday.”
Thomas Kaenzig, vice president of Clonaid and a spiritual guide of the Raelian movement, said that the company had been successful and that its discovery will help infertile or homosexual couples throughout the world.
“Every pioneering work is blasted and ridiculed,” he said. “Look back at the first people who said that the earth was a ball…. We’re not here to help the skeptics, we’re here to help people with special issues—infertile couples, homosexual couples, people with sexually-transmitted diseases.”
According to Louis M. Guenin, a lecturer on ethics and science at Harvard Medical School, cloning has little value as an alternate means of human reproduction.
“I find very few scenarios where a couple would prefer cloning over artificial fertilization followed by prenatal genetic diagnosis, which allows a couple to screen candidate embryos,” Guenin said.
Although the scientific merit of the Raelians’ work is still very dubious, the attention surrounding their claims may have an impact on the current debates over stem cell research.
There are currently two bills in Congress that would ban human cloning. One would ban all forms of cloning and stem cell research. Another would ban only cloning intended to make a human, while still allowing stem cells to be taken from embryos for tissue research.
The fears of cloning raised by the Raelians may make it more difficult for stem cell research supporters.
“It can only embolden the folks who oppose stem cell research,” said Kevin Casey, Harvard’s senior director of state and federal relations.