Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Text of FTCR Statement on Open Review of Lab Grants

Here is the statement by the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights presented at the Oct. 23, 2007, meeting of the Grants Working Group of the California stem cell agency.
First, I’d like to apologize for not being able to be present today and thank David Jensen of The California Stem Cell Report for reading this on my behalf. Second, I’d like to thank all of you for serving on the Grants Working Group. We truly appreciate your efforts.

By way of introduction, I’m John M. Simpson director of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights Stem Cell Oversight and Accountability Project. Funded by the Nathan Cummings Foundation since December 2005, the project seeks to ensure that the taxpayers funding California’s landmark $6 billion stem cell research program have affordable access to any of the discoveries they have funded. As part of the project we have challenged the validity of the stem cell patents held by WARF.

In a few minutes you will enter closed session to review the scientific merit of applications for New Faculty Awards. While I don’t agree, I understand the argument that the applicants’ names and the deliberations should be confidential to protect individual researchers from possible embarrassment.

I don’t intend to reargue that issue now. Rather, I’d like to ask you to look ahead a bit. Soon you will be weighing the scientific merit of requests from various California universities and research institutions for their share of $225 million in grants to build laboratories. As it now stands those institutions are not being identified and the reviews will be done in secret.

Ironically, the applications will be publicly reviewed later in the process by the Facilities Working Group when it weighs the proposals on their technical merits of design, construction and such.

To this outside observer that means it's OK to embarrass an institution because it can't design and build a decent building, but it's not all right to embarrass its scientists.

Sadly the public will inevitably view this as a remarkable self-serving, in-bred club that is doing scientific reviews. That's the real embarrassment. If scientists’ egos are so fragile they can't stand public scrutiny, they ought not to have a shot at public money. Nor should the institutions that employ such tender souls.

I ask you to please strike a blow for transparency that publicly funded stem cell research requires. Take the opportunity to show the public how the scientific review process works. Please take a vote amongst yourselves that urges the facilities applicants be identified and the scientific review be public.

Thank you.
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