Montreal -- The Quebec-based cult that says it produced human clones saw its credibility shrivel yesterday when the science journalist who was supposed to oversee independent DNA tests called off the review process and suggested the whole story may be a publicity stunt.
Michael Guillen, a former science correspondent for ABC News, was supposed to line up DNA experts to corroborate the claims of Clonaid, a company started by the Raelians, a sect that believes in extraterrestrials.
"The team of scientists has had no access to the alleged family and therefore cannot verify firsthand the claim that a human baby has been cloned," a statement from Mr. Guillen said. "It's still entirely possible Clonaid's announcement is part of an elaborate hoax intended to bring publicity to the Raelian movement."
Mr. Guillen's announcement came as his own independence from the Raelians was put in doubt because, months earlier, he had approached several U.S. broadcasters offering exclusive coverage of the cloning.
Since her announcement Dec. 27 that her firm had produced humanity's first cloned infant, Clonaid chief executive Brigitte Boisselier has been making further claims while backing off her previous pledge to provide quick, independent DNA tests.
She is now saying that a second clone has been born, that three more are on the way and that she hopes to have clones born on every continent.
However, she was vague about DNA testing, citing fear that the cloned infants could be taken from their parents and a desire to protect their anonymity. (A Florida lawyer is asking the courts to appoint a legal custodian for the first baby, nicknamed Eve.)
"Until those tests are performed in a controlled and unbiased fashion, all we'll be left with is what we have now: opinion and speculation being passed off as fact," Mr. Guillen's statement said.
His statement was issued through a Manhattan media-relations firm that said he would not immediately grant interviews.
According to Clonaid's Web site, Ms. Boisselier is also a bishop of the Raelians, a sect headquartered outside Montreal and founded by former French auto-sports writer Claude Vorilhon, who now calls himself Rael.
Rael, who used to occupy local reporters only on slow news days, was on a global media blitz last week as he and Ms. Boisselier gave interviews to major broadcasters, explaining how cloning would benefit infertile couples.
In a pause after one TV interview, the cameras caught Rael whispering to Ms. Boisselier: "That was good. Too bad the last phrase didn't get in. We have to make folks cry. We have to make women, mothers, reach for their handkerchiefs."
A review of Clonaid's press releases shows that the firm has a history of making outlandish claims.
On Sept. 14, 2001, a press release quoted Rael as saying that "Phase 3" in the group's research program involved developing an accelerated growth process so that clones could grow into adulthood rapidly.
Clonaid did not reply yesterday to an interview request from The Globe and Mail. Company spokeswoman Nadine Gary told Agence France-Presse she wasn't aware of Mr. Guillen's decision.