Defending A Giant

by on 5th of February, 2008 in Science Communication & Ethics

The problem with being the big kid in the playground is that there will always want to be someone who wants to bring you down. And in the playground of stem cells and cloning, few come bigger than Professor Sir Ian Wilmut.

In recent years, Prof. Wilmut has been hounded through the courts and in the press by some former classmates with a grudge.

Now they have pulled an audacious prank – raising a petition asking to have Prof Wilmut’s recently awarded knighthood quashed. The full petition can be read here (you will have to scroll down through a fair amount of rambling accusations before you reach it).

Quite frankly, this is an embarrassment to science. The campaign to bring this giant down is based on nothing but false logic and heresy.

For example, petition raisers’ main quibble is that Prof Wilmut did not “plan, design or carry out” the experiment that led to the creation of Dolly the sheep – the first mammal to be cloned from an adult cell.

The smoking gun, according to the Dr Prim Singh, the man at the head of the group, came during Prof Wilmut’s cross-examination at Dr Singh’s employment tribuneral in 2006. Asked directly by Dr Singh’s lawyer if the statement “I did not create Dolly” was accurate, he replied “yes”.

In saying this, Dr Singh proclaims, Prof Wilmut has “has admitted he isn’t the brains behind Dolly”.

Sorry Dr Singh, that just means he wasn’t the guy in the lab doing the practical work, and there was a lot more to cloning Dolly than this one experiment.

Unfortunately, the newspapers have been fed this kind of flawed logic by the petition raisers and they have swallowed it without question. And we are not talking about tabloids here. Among the guilty are reputable British publications like The Times Educational Supplement and The Independent.

In turn they have fed the idea to the public and smeared the reputation of one of the greatest scientists of our generation. Shame on them.

But what makes this really comical is that these people have missed the point completely.

Prof. Wilmut’s knighthood was awarded not for his involvement in cloning Dolly, but for his towering career in pioneering stem cell research and cloning. And Dolly is just one brick in that tower, albeit the most famous one.

His contribution of a staggering 139 journal publications over the last 38 years is testament to that. He publishes not only on the technical work from his research group, but also on the ethics, future direction and application of cloning and stem cells. This, along with his tireless efforts as an ambassador for the field in government and industrial circles is how he has earned his reputation.

And that is how he got to be the big kid in the playground.

What do you think of this story? Please leave a comment.

Photo: striatic

5 thoughts on “Defending A Giant”

  1. Hsien Lei says:

    Anyone who wants to learn more about Ian Wilmut the thought leader should read After Dolly. It takes more than lab work to get achieve any major scientific breakthrough and Ian Wilmut deserves kudos for his hard work.

  2. Hsien Lei says:

    Oops. A better link to the After Dolly book is http://tinyurl.com/2emrcu .

  3. Chad says:

    I know I recognize the name Prim Singh from something a while ago, but I can’t put my finger on it (and a quick Google only brought up this junk).

  4. j brown says:

    The only problem with your argument is that it is counterfactual.

    Why do you defend the powerful?

    What does a work of fiction written after the event prove?

  5. Nick Oswald says:

    Hi Jeremy

    What do you think is wrong with the argument?

Leave a Reply