Thursday, March 07, 2013

Public Banned from 'Best Stem Cell Meeting in the World'

“The best stem cell meeting in the world” is underway today in San Francisco – conducted at taxpayer expense – but the public is barred from attending.

More than 500 persons are at the meeting at an undisclosed location, including some representatives of biotech firms. And the meeting is even being written about on the internet by a blogger. But the $3 billion California stem cell agency says the public is not allowed in because some of the information is “proprietary.”

CIRM President Alan Trounson addressed the meeting earlier this week and declared it was “the best stem cell meeting in the world,” according to UC Davis researcher Paul Knoepfler, who is reporting from the session on his blog.

The attendees consist almost entirely of the recipients of taxpayer-funded grants given by the stem cell agency  although a number of businesses have been brought in.. CIRM, which is paying for the gathering,  says of the annual sessions,
 “The purpose of meeting is to bring together investigators funded by CIRM, to highlight their research, and encourage scientific exchange and collaboration.”
Kevin McCormack, spokesman for the agency, today said the public was barred from the meeting, which ends tomorrow, because “so many presentations/talks (are) using proprietary information.”

That rationale is nothing new in the world of science. But there is no chance of maintaining secrecy about anything that is truly proprietary when hundreds of people have access to it in this sort of forum. No penalties exist for disclosure, plus the whole point of the session is to share information.

Yesterday we wrote briefly about the importance of transparency and openness in government, and make no mistake about it, the stem cell agency is a government operation. We doubt that anything egregious is underway at the session, but closing it to the public is a reminder about where the agency's priorities lie.  
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