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Scientific gullibility sparks wild Neanderthal cloning rumor

Harvard Medical School genetics professor George Church found himself at the middle of a viral Internet kerfuffle last week. 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 recreating Neanderthals or building new life forms.

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