Tuesday, July 05, 2011

CIRM Salaries Spark Outrage from LA Times Readers

"Rathole," "Alice in Wonderland," "shut the whole thing down," "they just lost my vote" – some of the reaction to the Los Angeles Times story this morning about the California stem cell agency.

By 3:10 p.m., 142 Times readers had commented – mostly angrily – about CIRM and its salaries, particularly the $400,000 pay for Chairman Jonathan Thomas for a four-day work week. The article  by Jack Dolan was among the top five most emailed stories on the LA Times web site. The article was promoted on the front page of the print edition of the Times. By mid-afternoon today, the story was "recommended" 142 times on Facebook and "tweeted" 58 times, drawing even more unpleasant attention to CIRM.

Obviously, the negative comments are coming from the people who feel the most strongly about the subject and do not necessarily represent a complete view of the sentiments of all readers. And the number of comments is not huge. But they do illustrate the serious PR problem facing CIRM as it ponders whether it should go to the ballot in the next few years and ask voters for another $3 billion to $5 billion.

One can only imagine what the opposition will do when it wraps some of these comments into a TV ad against such a bond measure.

Not all of the comments amounted to simple anti-government venom, however.

One reader wrote,
"Okay let's pretend an agency chairman's main job is fund raising and not running the agency, not evaluating the research, and not recruiting the best researchers.  Shouldn't we give him a small salary plus commission?  Wouldn't that focus him more on successful fundraising?"
Another wrote,
"The Bush-era stem-cell-research restrictions are gone. If the scientists are good enough, they will be able to compete successfully for grants from the National Institutes of Health (your federal tax dollars hard at work). If they are really good, and really lucky, they will be able to get funding from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. There is no longer a reason for this separate California stem cell agency to exist. It's a boondoggle. But like so many government programs, it has taken on a life of its own, and it will consume vast amounts of wealth fighting for its own survival. It's time to shut them down. "
The story received front page attention in the print edition of the Times, a rare occurrence for a story about the stem cell agency. The paper carried the following tease on page one to the article. We should note that the tease may be all that many readers actually read.
"High salaries at state’s stem cell agency
"It will pay its new part-time chairman $400,000, pushing the combined annual income of its two top officials to nearly $1 million."
More media unpleasantness may be in the works for CIRM. If the Times works like most newspapers, an editorial critical of the agency is likely to appear in the next few days. Sphere: Related Content

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous11:36 AM

    Media coverage like this has to be counted as something of a cheap shot--If one were to look at the salaries paid to medical school deans and similar positions, my guess is that $400k wouldn't be out of line at all--Neither would it be out of line for the medical school researchers CIRM is funding at UCSF or Berkeley. Medical school faculty are typically the highest paid people at any research university, and some of the clinical types make considerable income on top of their base salaries from seeing patients in faculty practice plans. Some of the researchers CIRM is funding almost certainly make considerably more than Thomas will. Francis Collins, who's held up in these stories as a paragon of financial virtue, allegedly took a massive pay cut to come to NIH from Michigan, and will probably get two or three times his NIH salary when he leaves. These salaries are certainly ample, but they seem to be what top level scientists and scientific administrators get. Maybe those of us who make less should have gone into medicine.