Wednesday, November 29, 2006

TV Covers CIRM Grants Session

The California stem cell agency received some rare attention from television news this week as the result of its grant review session in San Francisco.

Reporter David Louie of KGO TV reported on complaints about the closed door meetings being held to decide which scientists receive $24 million in research grants. John M. Simpson of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumers Rights was quoted (see "moral seduction" item below).

Louie also quoted Dale Carlson, spokesman for CIRM, as saying there are competing claims concerning what is in the public's best interest:
"'The public's right to know, the public's right to find the best possible science that will turn stem cells into therapies and cures fastest. And when we try to balance those claims, we think the public is more interested in finding good science than in knowing who lost.'"
Louie continued:
"Carlson points out the institute is following long-standing procedures by the National Institutes of Health and other funding agencies by keeping the review process secret."
The California Stem Cell Report has carried CIRM's view on this issue at some length and will continue to do so in the future. However, as we have noted in the past, the assertion that the current federal funding procedures have produced the best science is an untested proposition. No contrary major government model exists for comparison purposes, unless we are mistaken. But we have ample evidence that secret sessions and lack of disclosure can create problems when tens of millions of dollars are being given away.

To be perfectly clear, we assume that all the CIRM folks and the reviewers are honorable and upright. The question here is one of policy and protecting embryonic stem cell research and the agency itself from nasty scandals that would damage the field. Not to mention the human casualties – scapegoats and sacrificial lambs, by and large -- that result when government programs go awry.

Reporter Bonnie Eslinger of the San Francisco Examiner also wrote a story on the grant process. You can find it here.

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