150 Years Of The Atlantic September 2006

Technology & Innovation

This is the eighth in a series of archival excerpts in honor of the magazine's 150th anniversary. This installment is introduced by James Fallows, a national correspondent of The Atlantic.
Moving Toward the Clonal Man
May 1971
By James D. Watson

As the science of embryology advanced in rapid strides, the geneticist and Nobel laureate James D. Watson—best known for his research on the structure of DNA—considered the potentially troubling implications of such research.

The notion that man might sometime soon be reproduced asexually upsets many people. The main public effect of the remarkable clonal frog produced some ten years ago in Oxford by the zoologist John Gurdon has not been awe of the elegant scientific implication of this frog’s existence, but fear that a similar experiment might someday be done with human cells. Until recently, however, this foreboding has seemed more like a science fiction scenario than a real problem which the human race has to live with …

If the matter proceeds in its current nondirected fashion, a human being born of clonal reproduction most likely will appear on the earth within the next twenty to fifty years, and even sooner, if some nation should actively promote the venture …

This is a matter far too important to be left solely in the hands of the scientific and medical communities. The belief that surrogate mothers and clonal babies are inevitable because science always moves forward … represents a form of laissez-faire nonsense … Just as the success of a corporate body in making money need not set the human condition ahead, neither does every scientific advance automatically make our lives more “meaningful.” No doubt the person whose experimental skill will eventually bring forth a clonal baby will be given wide notoriety. But the child who grows up knowing that the world wants another Picasso may view his creator in a different light.

Volume 227, No. 5, pp. 50–53

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