Wednesday, January 10, 2007

CIRM and Its Embarrassing Secrecy

The California stem cell agency rather foolishly conceals the identity of applicants for its multibillion dollar grant program, contending that unsuccessful scientists and their employers would be embarrassed if the public were to know that they failed to receive funds.

We say foolish because CIRM's rules are a nonsensical exercise as well as poor policy(see the "more disclosure" item below). The institutions themselves are free to release the information that they have applied, and they do. The most recent example is USC. Last fall, UC Irvine did so.

One can only speculate about why the schools release the information, although the process of applying for grants in other areas is often very much a public process. Some cynics have surmised that the release of the information by the schools could be an attempt to serve notice on CIRM and its Oversight Committee that these mighty institutions should not be overlooked when the checks are handed out. Both USC and UC Irvine have representatives on the Oversight Committee, which makes the final decision on who shares in the largess, although those committee members are barred from voting on their own school's grant applications. Of course, more benign reasons exist for universities to tell the public they are seeking grants. But CIRM's secrecy only fuels the fire of conspiracy theories.

USC's item said the school submitted 29 applications for the round of applications reviewed last fall and for the round being reviewed this week.
"'The competition for this funding will be tough, but USC scientists have put together some very exciting proposals,'" said Martin Pera, director of USC's Center for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine (CSCRM) and a professor of cell and neurobiology."
The item continued:
"Pera said that researchers from CSCRM and its Stem Cell Core Laboratory 'were pleased to lend our expertise in support of these grant efforts in this first round of CIRM grants.'

"The exercise 'brought together many groups throughout USC, Childrens Hospital Los Angeles and the California Institute of Technology for the first time,' he added. 'As a consequence, a number of new interdisciplinary collaborations have emerged with the potential to develop into world class research programs in stem cell biology and therapeutics.'"
Given the dearth of ESC research funding, any California institution making an effort in the area can be expected to seek grants. Likewise, institutions with stem cell aspirations. But their names and the names of the scientists as well as the general nature of the application should be part of the public record.

Why CIRM persists in concealing the identities of applicants is hard to understand. If it truly wanted to maintain secrecy, it could disqualify an institution whose application became public knowledge, for whatever reason. Then nobody would be embarrassed. Sphere: Related Content

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