Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Newspapers Take a Whack or Two at CIRM

During a week when the California stem cell agency might think it should be receiving some kudos, it has taken a couple of stiff shots in the media.

On Thursday CIRM's Oversight Committee is expected to approve its strategic plan for spending $3 billion on embryonic stem cell research. It is a remarkable document, the result of many months of work and involving ideas and suggestions from hundreds of persons, including the top scientists in the field and patient groups. The plan is a key bench mark in the life of an extraordinary agency that is unlike any other state department in the United States. In addition, CIRM represents the single largest source of embryonic stem cell funding in the world.

But some of that is what irritates its critics. Perhaps the harshest view came from Investors Business Daily, a financial newspaper with about 211,000 national circulation. In an editorial headlined "Fool's Gold Rush," the newspaper said,
"Californians were promised wonder cures if they passed Proposition 71 to fund stem-cell research in 2004. Turns out they have bought a $3 billion jug of snake oil."
The editorial continued:
"Activist complaints about the private sector's focus on adult and umbilical-cord stem cells have driven the state to spend $3 billion on embryonic stem-cell research — something the market won't touch, even though you can find plenty of liberal venture capitalists out there willing to pay for political campaigns with celebrity endorsers.

"The only thing this amounts to is a boondoggle for voters — fool's gold the private sector had already panned for and rejected, having found the truth out first."
The emphasis on the results of adult stem cell research echoes the party line from the foes of ESC research. The newspaper also quotes the LA Times piece earlier this week. That article has been widely cited online around the country by ESC opponents. The business newspaper piece is also surfacing rapidly on anti-ESC web sites.

The Sacramento Bee, which has not said much recently about CIRM, published an editorial today that pressed for more public disclosure from the agency, a theme the paper was early to emphasize. The Bee, which has about 331,000 circulation in California's capital, said,
"...(I)t remains baffling why the institute can't be completely transparent and publicly reveal the financial interests of its grant reviewers. Scientists regularly disclose such conflicts when presenting papers at conferences. They should do so when making recommendations on grants that involve millions -- and potentially, billions -- of taxpayer dollars.

"The institute has made some good progress this year, including adoption of a strategic plan that sets realistic goals and lowers the inflated expectations of the Proposition 71 "countdown for cures" campaign. If institute leaders could take another step and come clean about internal conflicts, they could go a long way toward securing the trust they have risked squandering the last two years."
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