Beliefnet
The parents of little Eve are no-shows, the media is off the cloning scent, and the Clonaid cloning saga has boiled down to who'll play Raëlian sexpot scientist Brigitte Boisselier when they get around to making the Lifetime Channel movie. Hollywood, after all, loves a good drama about religion clashing with science. In 1960, the eminently reasonable Spencer Tracy starred in "Inherit the Wind" as a lawyer arguing for evolution against creationism in the 1925 Scopes "monkey trial." (Tracy lost the case, but Darwin won the war.)

But a film about the Raëlians, their religious will to clone, and their cloning-services company, Clonaid, would be way weirder. The Scopes Trial can't compete with supposed alien contact, orgiastic initiation rituals and accusations of a massive hoax. But hidden in these juicy details would be the same skirmish between science and religion.

At the center of this particular tussle stands Dr. Michael Guillen, who by now probably has his doubts about the the old ad-game adage that "any publicity is good publicity as long as they spell your name right." Thanks to his bold offer to put Clonaid's claim to the test, Guillen, a theoretical physicist and former ABC News science reporter, could well be the most famous science journalist after Bill Nye the Science Guy. Or perhaps infamous would be a more apt appraisal given a month of humiliating headlines like these:

  • "Harsh scrutiny for TV reporter called on to verify the claim" (The Miami Herald)
  • "Clone investigator criticized in past; Journalist has won quackery award" (The Times-Picayune)
  • "Journalist heading test panel ridiculed" (Toronto Star)
  • Similar articles in The New York Times, USA Today and scores of other publications followed, a common thread being complaints about Guillen's journalistic judgement. Scientists complained that when he reported for Good Morning America and 20/20, Guillen's stories presented too many subjects with vaporous of scientific underpinnings: UFOs, astrology, ESP and psychokinesis. His reporting smacked of more Stephen King, they claimed, than Stephen Hawking. And when

    Guillen stepped to the podium at a Clonaid news conference, his critics said, "There he goes again." They accused him of getting conned by the alien-worshipping Raëlians or, worse, acting as their willing dupe. They even speculated that he had become a Raëlian himself, despite the fact that this preacher's kid often refers to himself as a "devout Christian." (None of which really has anything to do with the verification process since Guillen was acting only as a go-between, not as a truth-detector.)

    As the anti-Guillen crowd sees it, the reporter is a definite I-want-to-believe "Mulder" type--to borrow from "X-Files" iconography--in a role that needs him to be Scully, a hard-nosed skeptic. Yet a look at Guillen's reporting record--while undoubtedly showing a real interest in fringe topics, and, likely, the ratings they draw--also reveals a healthy dose of skepticism about those otherworldly subjects.

    Take UFOs, for instance. Guillen's beliefs on flying saucers and galactic motherships is particularly relevant, since the Raëlians claim life on Earth was created by aliens 25,000 years ago. In his work for ABC, Guillen hardly appeared blindly credulous about possible visits from Alpha Centauri. In a 1998 piece on UFOs, he concluded, "I believe there are a lot of unidentified things out there that we don't know anything about. As far as flying saucers are concerned, I've always been disappointed when I looked at the evidence." The truth may be out there, but Guillen doesn't claim to have seen it.

    Guillen's 1997 series of reports for GMA called "Fringe or Frontier" took a look at various paranormal subjects. Studying the validity of precognitive "intuition," Guillen spent much of his report talking about the brain's ability to recognize subtle patterns, which allows us to take in all kinds of info subconsciously and turn it into usable knowledge. Rather than a sixth-sense, Guillen concluded, intuition may just be good, old-fashioned experience. Viewers were hardly encouraged to seek out a palm reader or mentalist.

    Besides, such topics are hardly atypical on television. A quick check of the currents listing reveals, for instance, that the Discovery Channel's Sci-Trek program is doing an episode this Sunday called "Medical Marvels and Witchcraft." And any seasoned viewer knows that such shows often arrive at down-to-earth conclusions that belies their far-out titles.

    To understand the media's animus toward Guillen, it's worth noting that the bulk of the criticism has come from just two scientfic skeptics. One, Dr. Robert L. Park, is a professor of physics at the University of Maryland, and author of ''Voodoo Science: The Road From Foolishness to Fraud," which is critical of Guillen. During the Clonaid flap, Park told The Times, ''He likes spooky stories. The last [show] I saw him on had something to do with whether we have a spirit that is separate from the body. Man, he was eating this stuff up."

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