Tuesday, November 21, 2006

CIRM's Own Best Interest Requires More Disclosure

The president of the California stem cell agency, Zach Hall, has penned a two-year anniversary piece on CIRM and its progress but notes that a "source of consternation" remains for some.

Count the California Stem Cell Report as one of those consternated.

The issue is the refusal of CIRM to disclose the names of those seeking hundreds of millions of dollars in public money.

Hall says the agency insists on secrecy, even when some of the applicants disclose their applications themselves, because that is the way scientific grant applications have always been handled at the federal level. He contends in an op-ed piece in The Sacramento Bee that secrecy will "promote the best possible science."

Does secrecy really mean better science? We can't say we have reviewed all the scientific literature on the question, but we doubt that there is much, if any. It is an untested proposition.

We do have ample evidence to support the belief that handing out hundreds of millions of public dollars behind closed doors leads to abuse of the public trust. Nearly every week one scandal or another – from California to Washington, D.C. -- emerges about boondoggles involving public booty.

We are not besmirching CIRM or its officials, although the agency has built-in and legal conflicts of interest at its highest levels that deserve constant scrutiny. But human nature being what it is, the opportunity to carve out a nice multimillion dollar chunk of cash is much too tempting. The only way to minimize the temptation is to make the process as open as possible. Even then, abuses are nearly certain to occur.

CIRM would be well served to protect itself from allegations of self-dealing and misdeeds by maximizing the openness of its grant reviews, including disclosing the names of applicants and the financial interests of those reviewing the grants. Sphere: Related Content

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