Wesley J. Smith has more or less beaten me to nearly all of the analysis you could want on the recent cloning dystopian “breakthrough” and on the outrageous degree of scientific obfuscation going on in the media about it. See here, here, here, here, and here. But just in case you don't read Human Exceptionalism religiously (and if you are interested in life issues, you should do so), let me give you a quick version. But really, go and read Wesley's articles. They're extremely informative and include more information than I am going to get to here.
If you read some headline that said “Human Cloning is One Step Nearer,” or something like that, it's a lie. Human cloning has now occurred. An article has just been published by scientists working in Oregon describing successful human embryo cloning followed by killing.
If you read an article that said, or that you understood to be saying, “For the first time, scientists have converted human skin cells into embryonic stem cells without killing embryos,” that's a lie. In fact, it's a lie twice. The first lie is that the scientists in the recent cloning event reprogrammed skin cells into embryonic stem cells without killing embryos. Actually, they did create embryos, by cloning. Then they killed them. Then they harvested and studied their embryonic stem cells just as they would with IVF embryos they were killing for ESCR.
The second lie is that this is the “first time” anyone has done anything that could or should be called “making skin cells into embryonic stem cells.” As a matter of fact, that's a pretty darned good description of making iPSCs, which are embryonic-like stem cells that can be made without either creating or killing embryos. It's been done already for quite a while now, but the leftists don't like iPSCs as much as ESCs just because no embryo-killing is required for them and just because cloning is more sexy and is opposed by The Right, so they'd rather mis-describe clone-and-kill and make it sound like clone-and-kill is the first-time ethical breakthrough that was actually accomplished already in the reprogramming of skin cells to iPSCs without any cloning. Are you following?
The above news-story sentence in quotation marks is not taken directly from the Fox news story. It is a combination of the implications of several sentences. The actual sentences go like this. Please notice how incredibly misleading the second one is.
In a major medical breakthrough, researchers at the Oregon National Primate Research Center (ONPRC) have for the first time ever successfully converted human skin cells into embryonic stem cells – via a technique called nuclear transfer. [snip] Fortunately, the SCNT method bypasses these ethical dilemmas, as the donated eggs are never actually fertilized. [snip] This [keeping the cell in metaphase longer] keeps the process from stalling and encourages the cell to ultimately develop into a stem cell.
Pro-lifers reading quickly might be excused if they think this was some sort of ethical as well as scientific breakthrough. The story is an instance of shameful and deceptive obscurantism.
Then there was this article which made the blatantly false statement, "Researchers stopped well short of creating a human clone." Wow. Where is Pinocchio's nose growth when you need it?
I have just a few tidbits here and there to add to Smith's valuable work. First, to be fair to the MSM, I have now found a couple of articles that, unlike this one, this one, and this one describe more or less accurately what was done and that acknowledge without obfuscation that human embryos were created by cloning. The more accurate articles I've run across so far are at NPR and RT.
These articles make it a little easier to sort out how much of the obfuscation is a result of deceptive language by the main cloning scientist, Dr. Mitalipov, and how much of it is a result of deception and incompetence (probably a mix) in the media. Mitalipov has caused confusion by saying, as if it is a scientific statement on which he is competent to pronounce, that the embryos he created and killed are "not the equivalent of a human being" (that is the summary this article gives) because they weren't the result of fertilization but of SCNT. Hmmm, so Dolly wasn't a real sheep? Or wasn't equivalent to a real sheep? Or something? Obviously, this is a metaphysical evaluation masquerading as science. Or maybe Dr. Mitalipov just felt like making a metaphysical statement, and the media took it for a statement arising from scientific expertise.
Secondly, Mitalipov has given the erroneous impression that his team has not been successful in creating monkey fetuses by cloning (this reporter even erroneously reported that they did not even attempt to implant monkey embryos, which is flatly false), when as a matter of fact they have been successful in creating such a fetus, deriving an implanted monkey fetus with a heartbeat in their cloning efforts. It's true that most of the monkey embryos died or developed only into empty sacs with no fetus, but as Wesley Smith points out, the scientists cloning Dolly also had many false starts bringing a sheep fetus to birth, but they got past them. What this emphatically does not mean is that the cloned embryos were somehow not real embryos.
And that is where the media has been more misleading even than Dr. Mitalipov, implying that no embryos were created and that somehow skin cells were directly reprogrammed into stem cells, obscuring the fact that embryos were in fact cloned. As a matter of fact, the whole breakthrough here lay precisely in successful cloning producing normal-looking embryos, which they had not been able to achieve before.
I have now read the scientific paper in question, and you can, too. It's available online for free download, here. Grab a copy.
Now, what the paper itself makes abundantly clear is this: The entire major point of this research was to succeed in creating human clones by finding a technique that would make sure the process didn't “stall” too early. Secondly, the research was designed to produce human embryos of “good quality,” similar to those that result from IVF, containing a well-developed inner-cell mass that could be harvested for purposes of embryonic stem-cell research. In both of those tasks, the research succeeded. Go ahead, read the paper. It's quite clear.
This mainstream news article actually states that the embryos are "missing the components needed for implantation and development as a fetus." That might give the impression that this was an exercise in what's known as “altered nuclear transfer,” or ANT-OAR, the purpose of which is, on ethical grounds, to use a cloning-like technique to create something that is (allegedly) not an embryo. (Many people have their worries about whether that would actually work and not create a real embryo, but set that aside for the moment.) That is emphatically not what Dr. Mitalipov and his team were trying to do. Absolutely nothing they did insured or even attempted to insure that these were not “true embryos” or that they were "missing components necessary for development" or that they were intrinsically incapable of developing into a fetus and onward. On the contrary. The whole purpose of the exercise was to obtain embryos of as “high a quality” as possible.
No doubt many embryos and fetuses would die in any attempt to fine-tune techniques to the point of obtaining a live human birth. As Wesley J. Smith points out, this happened in the case of Dolly as well. But that does not mean that these were pseudo-embryos or anything of the kind. Human cloning has occurred.
One other misleading thing said by Dr. Mitalipov is his implication that ESCs from cloned embryos are definitely good candidates for “custom-made” human stem-cell treatments. The cancer concerns about that are real (see my discussion here and see the brief mention of cancer risks here), and he is irresponsibly contributing to hype (for obvious reasons of wanting to continue to get funding) by leaving out any mention of the cancer risk in talking to the press and by going so far as to suggest that people should right now create and "bank" embryonic stem cells cannibalized from their own clones for possible later therapeutic uses for themselves. Aside from being ethically monstrous, this suggestion implies that safe and successful ESC treatments using ESCs derived from cloned embryos are just around the corner, when nothing could be farther from the truth.
In short, the scientists and even more the media are up to their usual games of scientific obscurantism in this area. Don't be fooled. Especially if you are pro-life, don't think that this was some kind of breakthrough for ethical research.
Now remind me again, which side of the political spectrum is anti-science?