Friday, August 10, 2007

CIRM Says No to Public Access on Faculty Grants

The California stem cell agency today refused to disclose the names of the institutions whose faculty members are seeking $85 million in public funds.

Dale Carlson, chief communications officer for CIRM, said that the institutions' names would not be disclosed until after the grants are awarded in December. He said the justification for the secrecy was the same as for the secrecy on applications for previous research grants.

Basically CIRM wants to ensure candor in the evaluation of individual research proposals and avoid embarrassing them or damaging their reputations. But CIRM did not make it clear how institutions such as UCLA or Stanford could be embarrassed or harmed by the disclosure that they nominated scientists for the prestigious awards or how the evaluation process could be damaged by such identification.

John M. Simpson, stem cell project director for the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumers Rights, said that not only should the institutions be named but that the individual scientists also should be publicly identified.

In some ways, CIRM is more open than other more cloistered institutions, such as the NIH, we are told. But in other ways, it remains tightly under wraps.

Comparisons are difficult to make with other government agencies or universities. CIRM, although it is a state agency and operates with state funds, is not subject to the normal gubernatorial or legislative oversight. Operational minutia concerning the agency is codified in state law and cannot be changed without another vote of the people or a super, super-majority vote in the legislature. Such independence does not exist at the University of California or the NIH.

At the same time, the board is rife with conflicts – all entirely legal because they were approved by voters in Prop. 71, which created the agency. Fifteen members of its board of directors, for example, have ties to institutions that could stand to benefit by tens of millions dollars in its latest $227 million lab grant program.

What that means is that CIRM should be more, rather than less open in order to maintain public confidence in its worthy endeavors. Sphere: Related Content

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