by Scientific American (Editors)
Warner Books, 2002
Review by L. Syd M Johnson, M.A. on Feb 5th 2003
Given the recent hubbub over
Clonaid's likely bogus claims to have successfully cloned two human infants, Understanding Cloning, a volume in Scientific American's "Science Made
Accessible" series, could have benefited from a more substantial
discussion of the perils and pitfalls of human cloning. The popular media
generally does a rather poor job of explaining cloning, leaving the general
public ill-prepared to assess, in an informed way, the kinds of wild claims
often made about it. While Understanding
Cloning is not primarily about human cloning, it does address some of the
pros and cons of cloning mammals in Ian Wilmut's chapter "Cloning for
Medicine." Wilmut expresses his hope that human cloning will never come to
pass, and offers a reasonably objective summary of the current shortcomings of
the cloning method he developed, such as high mortality and birth defect rates
among clones. Ronald M. Green's chapter "I, Clone" gives a clear
summary of some of the social and ethical questions raised by cloning,
particularly those surrounding the philosophically tricky question of clone
While human cloning receives
an extraordinary amount of attention in the popular press, and in the
imaginations of the general public, Understanding
Cloning rightly emphasizes that reputable cloning researchers are more
interested in cloning mammals for slightly less provocative purposes, such as
the creation of transgenic animals for pharmaceutical production and organ and
tissue transplants, the breeding of livestock and endangered species, and
therapeutic cloning to produce human embryonic stem cells. President George W.
Bush's speech, in which he outlined the White House position on limiting human
embryonic stem cell research, is presented in the book without commentary.
Given the poorly reasoned and inconsistent nature of the government's policy,
some explanation of its pro-life agenda, and its negative implications for
research, would have provided much-needed balance.
The breadth of Understanding Cloning is quite
substantial for such a small volume, with chapters covering such diverse topics
as the early roots of cloning in horticulture (where it produced the ubiquitous
Russet Burbank potato), and research on artificial life, still in its infancy,
on the creation of self-replicating machines.
Overall, the science of
cloning is clearly and precisely explained in the book, and Understanding Cloning succeeds, where so
many have failed when it comes to cloning, in balancing optimism and hype with
2003 Syd Johnson
Syd Johnson is a Ph.D.
candidate in Philosophy at SUNY Albany, where her primary focus is on genetic
harms to future persons and the ethical implications of genetic technologies
such as pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, genetic enhancement and gene therapy.