Wednesday, September 20, 2006

CIRM Defends Secrecy on Grant Letters of Intent

The California stem cell agency has responded to our query concerning the basis for keeping secret the names of scientists and institutions filing letters of intent in connection with $100 million in publicly funded grants. (See the "Sunshine" item below.)

Following the statement below from Dale Carlson, chief communiations officer for CIRM, we have a brief comment.

We also invite scientists who filed letters of intent to tell us whether they are willing to make their names and institutions part of the public record. Comments can be made anonymously by clicking on the word "comments" at the end of this item. If that device is used, I cannot see any information concerning the poster nor can other readers. You can also choose to comment under your own name.

Here is the statement from Carlson:

"This is another instance where we must balance competing claims on the public interest.

"California law allows an agency to withhold certain information when the public interest in doing so outweighs the interest in disclosure. In this case, the public benefits more when the application pool for grants is as large and robust as possible, and the review process for those applications is as free of potential bias and conflicts of interest as possible.

"In light of the nature of the scientific profession, where reputation is the currency of the realm, ensuring confidentiality of applicants encourages the broadest range of research that may be funded, because applicants will not risk embarrassment or humiliation by being identified with a particular score or outcome if they are not funded. Novel or trend-setting research proposals are more likely to be submitted, and the public is thereby more likely to see the research and the field advance. That's consistent with the Institute's mission – and the public's desire - to fund research that leads to cures, treatments, and therapies.

"Secondly, there are components of applications which may in fact contain information that is protected from disclosure by virtue of Health and Safety Code section 125290.30, subdivision (e)(2)(B), which exempts records that contain confidential intellectual property or work product of an applicant. There are also provisions in Prop 71 that address this issue and these materials. A letter of intent and subsequent application, as well as any ideas expressed therein, are the intellectual property of the applicant. Until we fund them, we have no right to share these documents with other people. We require our reviewers and others to sign confidentiality and non-disclosure statements in order to keep such information confidential. It would be totally contradictory to this policy (and maintaining the privacy of our applicants) to share this information (before its time - that is before funding) with anyone else. Our policy is consistent with the practices of other state and federal grant-making agencies, as well as the approach taken to the CIRM training grant applications.

"Finally, confidentially ensures that the ICOC review process is conducted 'blind,' such that ICOC members are unaware of the identities of applicants, thus ensuring that conflicts of interest are avoided. Publicizing the names of the applicants would subvert this process and undermine the policies underlying it."
Our comment: We are seeking only the names of the scientists and their insitutions – not the other information filed with the letters.

Again, what do you think about the secrecy issue, especially those of you who have filed letters of intent? Click on the word "comment" below to express your opinion.

1 comment:

  1. Two comments: first, I disagree that the CIRM should be required to post scientists names if their projects are rejected. Many scientists are not eager to have rejection made public. Also, if there is no business done between an individual and an entity-- why should that non-transaction be posted?

    Secondly, thanks for your continual attention to the open access issue. Progress in stem cell research depends on sharing information, not locking it up behind the walls of expensive subscriber-only outfits. Open access deserves the support of every stem cell research supporter.