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Tue Jan 22, 2013, 08:27 PM

Viral ‘cave baby’ rumor spurs Harvard geneticist to call for greater scientific literacy

I thought it was pretty funny he had more than 100 people offer to be surrogates. At least he used his moment in the spotlight to make some pretty good points about our society.

Harvard Medical School genetics professor George Church found himself at the middle of a viral Internet kerfuffle this weekend. Blogs and news websites picked up on an interview in the German publication, Der Spiegel, and distorted his speculative comments about the technological feasibility of cloning a Neanderthal to suggest the scientist was looking for volunteers: “Wanted: ‘Adventurous woman’ to give birth to Neanderthal man—Harvard professor seeks mother for cloned cave baby,” the Daily Mail newspaper in the United Kingdom announced.

The interview, if one bothers to read it, is prototypically Church: it unflinchingly looks toward the technology of the future, taking an optimistic and expansive view of what will one day be possible. The discussion unfolds like a thought experiment, with Church considering the ethical, social, and regulatory issues that could arise from a range of potential futuristic scenarios, from recreating Neanderthals to creating new life forms.


In a phone interview Tuesday, Church noted that he is not working on sequencing Neanderthal DNA. He is not synthesizing it. He is not working on cloning any whole organisms, Neanderthal or otherwise. He said the pickup of the news story and the subsequent headline creep online has been instructive and made him concerned about the level of basic science literacy, in comparison to other spheres of society.

“When you see how gullible people were on this particular incident, I wonder,” Church said. “If we really talked about [science] as much as we talk about other things,” would this same thing have happened?

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Reply Viral ‘cave baby’ rumor spurs Harvard geneticist to call for greater scientific literacy (Original post)
Lone_Star_Dem Jan 2013 OP
Posteritatis Jan 2013 #1

Response to Lone_Star_Dem (Original post)

Tue Jan 22, 2013, 08:41 PM

1. Figured that was another case of science journalism making stories up.

I also imagine none of the sites and papers that ran with that article will dare publish a retraction.

Hell, even the reactions to that article seem to be assuming he's saying what the article itself says he didn't.

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