Tuesday, August 12, 2008

A Tardy CIRM Posting on New Grant Reconsideration Policies

Only hours before its directors meet today, the California stem cell agency has posted its proposed policy for handling requests for reconsideration of negative recommendations from reviewers on grant applications.

The proposal is an attempt to deal with a problem that has dogged CIRM since last January when an unhappy applicant asked the board to approve its grant despite a negative decision by reviewers.

The board was clearly uncomfortable with the attempt, both in terms of fairness to other applicants and because of the disruption of its normal procedures. The issue surfaced once again in June, leading to more extended public discussion of the appeal or reconsideration process. CIRM allows "appeals" only in the case of conflicts of interest on the part of reviewers. However, reviewers do not have to publicly disclose their economic or professional interests.

The proposed procedure requires the applicant to file a request for reconsideration five days prior to a directors meeting. CIRM's president will then evaluate it and make a finding on whether it has merit. The proposal is unclear on whether it means calendar days or business days.

The reconsideration requests, which CIRM calls "extraordinary petitions," will be posted on the CIRM website. Presumably the president's findings will be as well, although that is not specified.

The policy does not appear to eliminate an applicant's ability to appear publicly before the board to seek reconsideration. However, with a negative decision from reviewers and a "no merit" finding from the president, a disgruntled applicant is not likely to find a receptive audience.

It is unfortunate, to say the least, that this important proposal, which affects hundreds of scientists in California, has been posted at the very last minute. It deals with an issue that affects CIRM's credibility and the credibility of its reviewers. It is virtually impossible for those affected by this plan to comment intelligently to the board in a timely fashion.

Presumably, they could send an email with their comments at this late hour – if they are aware of the details of the proposal. It is our sense, however, that few scientists spend much time scouring the depths of the CIRM website, which does not even put a notice of its directors meetings on its home page.

For a look at previous items on this issue, search on the label "reconsideration" or "grant appeals."

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