Monday, February 25, 2008

A Look Behind the Cyberspace Curtain

It's been a merry old romp.

Three years plus and more than 1,500 items posted. That's the count for the California Stem Cell Report, which began its cyberspace explorations of the stem cell world in January of 2005.

A little more than 12 months ago, we gave you a bit of an annual report on this enterprise, which is the creation solely of yours truly, David Jensen. Along with that came our economic disclosure. Today we will give you an update in both areas.

Nothing has changed on our economic interests, which can be found here. But briefly neither my wife nor I nor any members of our immediate family hold any interest in biotech or stem cell companies or other enterprises that could stand to gain or profit or benefit from the activities of California's stem cell agency.

This blog is financed personally on an extremely low budget. Some people ask why I do it. The answer is that the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine and its related activities are interesting, important and unique.

The Golden State's $3 billion enterprise is on the cutting edge of science, business, politics, religion, medicine – not to mention life, death and even sex(certainly one or another stem cell therapy is likely to tackle that last area). How often does one have a chance to dig into all those areas?

The overall readership of this blog is modest by Internet standards. No megamillion counts of page views here. We are currently running about 8,000-9,000 page views a month. Our readers, however, are deeply interested in the subject and seem to represent important sectors in the world of stem cells. They include folks from the UK, Canada, Australia, Korea, India, Germany, Sweden and Singapore. Readers from virtually all the major California research institutions dip into the California Stem Cell Report from time to time. But less than half of the total are from California. Other regions represented include New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Wisconsin, Illinois and Texas, Readers also come from enterprises such as the National Institutes of Health and the National Academy of Sciences along with patent attorneys, lawmakers and their aides and investment companies.

This past 12 months, we have branched out somewhat, publishing freelance articles with Wired News online and a couple with The Sacramento Bee.

We also broke the story on the attempt by one of the CIRM directors to lobby the agency on behalf of a grant to his institution. That story led to an ongoing investigation by the state Fair Political Practices Commission and a new audit of CIRM. The story also apparently played something of a role in the formulation of the latest legislation targeting CIRM.

We take no particular pleasure in CIRM's missteps. We support human embryonic stem cell research and CIRM's programs generally. Our main effort is simply to present information about CIRM, which has slipped well below the radar of the mainstream media. We do have a point of view, however. Our starting point is that CIRM is a public agency first. Everything else is a poor second. Without public trust and credibility, without conduct that matches the standard for Caesar's wife, CIRM's efforts could easily become a poster child for what can go wrong. Instead of being an exemplar, CIRM could become a nightmare of conflicts and concealment because it is uniquely free from normal state oversight and is riddled with built-in conflicts of interest that are not going to disappear. As we have reported, the conflicts are so deep that more than once the vast majority of CIRM directors have been disqualified at meetings from taking part in public discussions, not to mention being barred from voting. The result is that sometimes decisions can be made by as few as four out of the 29 members on the board.

We are interested in hearing from readers, both on individual items and on the general direction of the blog. If you have suggestions for changes, improvements or whatever, please send them along to me ( or you can post them via the comment function (created by Google), which does not allow myself or others to know your identity.

As for others involved regularly in CIRM affairs and regularly trying to influence the organization, we urge them to disclose their financial interests as well(via the comment function or other means). That includes newspaper reporters, but that is not anymore likely to happen than CIRM opening the scientific grant review sessions to the public.

1 comment:

  1. I am responding to the California Stem Cell Report's call for financial disclosure from those who try to influence stem cell agency policy.

    For each of the last two years the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights Stem Cell Oversight and Accountability Project has been funded with a $100,000 grant from the Nathan A. Cummings Foundation. We have a grant request pending for 2008.

    The project seeks to ensure that the results of the publicly funded research are affordable and accessible to the taxpayers providing $6 billion.

    My current salary at FTCR is $62,000.

    I own no pharmaceutical or biotech stocks, except possibly in mutual funds in my retirement accounts.

    My wife is employed as community relations director at Sunrise Assisted Living of Hermosa Beach. She owns the following pharmaceutical and biotech stocks in her IRA, all acquired before I joined FTCR. She views them as long-term investments:

    Amgen -- 100 shares
    Elan -- 200 shares
    Bristol-Myers -- 200 shares
    Baxter -- 100 shares

    In addition she may own such stock through mutual funds in her retirement accounts.

    My adult daughters own no pharmaceutical or biotech stock, except possibly through mutual funds in their retirement accounts. One works for Freddie Mac and the other is an apprentice at the Arden Theatre Company and a member of several improvisational comedy groups.

    I know of no close relatives with interests in biotech or pharmaceuticals.

    John M. Simpson
    Stem Cell Oversight and Accountability Project
    The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights


Search This Blog