Monday, December 17, 2007

Shame, Shame, Shame

If you accept CIRM's arguments for withholding grant applicant information, the San Diego Stem Cell Consortium has taken an enormous risk that it could shame itself in public.

The consortium says it is seeking $50 million from CIRM for new lab construction, according to a report by Terri Somers of the San Diego Union-Tribune. The new building would give 110 scientists a place to work. It would be built on UC San Diego property with construction beginning in 2009. The San Diego Supercomputer Center and Craig Venter, the biologist who was a primary driver of the Human Genome Project, also plan to contribute to the project.

All of that is considered confidential information by California's stem cell agency, which plans to give away $263 million in public money next year for new lab construction. CIRM considers the information so sensitive that the release of it would severely embarrass the consortium if its request for funds is turned down.

Balderdash, is what we say.


  1. Your facts are wrong.

    With respect to your post about the San Diego Consortium for Regenerative Medicine discussing information in their new facilities grant applicaiton, you have your facts wrong. We’d like to make 4 points.

    First, we do not have the formal submission that will contain complete financial and development information on the potential major facilities applications at this point. That information was not required in Part One (the scientific portion of the application) but will be a requirement of the institutions Part Two application.

    Second, we want to clarify that the CIRM policy is not to disclose this information on behalf of applicants prior to the receipt of the Part Two applications, when all of the Part Two financial information and development plans will be made public. This information will be available to the public, preceding the facilities working group meeting to consider their submissions. This is the first time that CIRM will have this detailed information and we have already committed, publicly, to disclose it after we have actually received it.

    Third, isolated facts that may be available to us in Part One of the applications could easily be misleading and / or prejudicial to other institutions’ applications, if they are not understood as part of the comprehensive financial and development plans in Part Two.

    Finally, the applicant institutions are always at liberty to discuss any information in their own proposal.

    California Institute for Regenerative Medicine

  2. Anonymous4:37 PM

    Regarding CIRM's comment above, CIRM misses the point in the "Shame, Shame" item. And that is that this is public money that is being handed out in a secret process by reviewers whose economic and professional interests are concealed from the public. This is public business, and it should be done in public. Particularly when the agency in question has virtually no normal oversight and is controlled by a board that is dominated by those who stand to benefit from CIRM's largess.

    The case of the San Diego consortium illustrates the point that the institutions that CIRM seeks to protect from embarrassment simply don't need the protection. Indeed, it may not be in their best interests to keep their bids for millions secret. The San Diego case is not isolated. Other institutions have disclosed the information in the past, raising questions about how that affects the review process.

    On the specifics of what CIRM has to say, we have already reported that the names will become public later. But this is the critical stage. Now is the time for the public and interested parties to weigh if they want to – prior to action by directors in January. But it is difficult to comment thoughtfully without more details than have been made available by CIRM. The institute says it has more information in the current applications but is concerned that it will be "misunderstood." That is the classic argument used often by insiders seeking to exclude the public from the public's business. It reflects the same "trust us" mentality that we have repeatedly seen at the agency. Now it is facing a new state audit, a state investigation into the ethics of one of its directors and 10 scientists who have been unfairly penalized to the tune of $31 million -- all because the agency"s "trust us" standard simply failed to work.

    We also might remind readers that CIRM's principal reason for concealing the identities of applicants now seems to be nothing more than an argument of convenience – a sham that is readily abandoned when CIRM finds it useful(see the "sham" item above).