Friday, January 23, 2009

CIRM Publishes Reviews on $66 Million Grant Round; Names of Applicants Remain Secret

Ranked and scored reviews of applications for $66 million in stem cell/biotech training grants can now be found on the web site of the California stem cell agency, which is expected to give away the money next Thursday or Friday.

None of the names of the institutions proposing the programs have been disclosed by CIRM in keeping with its longstanding and mistaken policy of not disclosing the identities of those who are seeking public funds. The names of the winners ultimately will be made public, after they been officially approved. CIRM never releases the names of the losers.

The recommendations, which are in reality de facto decisions, of the Grant Working Group that are virtually certain to be ratified by the full CIRM board can be found in the categories of "recommended for funding" and "not recommended for funding." CIRM directors almost never have overturned those decisions by grant reviewers in the process of approving 253 grants since 2005.

Something of a case can be made for not revealing the names of individual scientists who compete for the grants on the grounds that it could be embarrassing. But not to disclose the names of the enterprises – many of which are publicly funded institutions – serves no public interest. It prevents the public from making thoughtful comments on the grants and has led to an embarrassing situation for CIRM itself involving a $2.6 million grant to CHA RMI of Los Angeles. (Following the flap, CHA ultimately withdrew its application.)

In contrast, stem cell insiders are not likely to have too much difficulty in determining the identities of most of the applicants based on the material in the grant reviews.

That said, CIRM is to be commended for posting the links to the reviews on Thursday in reasonably timely fashion ahead of the CIRM board meeting.

Here is where you can find the reviews for the $18 million program to train lab personnel and the $48 million effort to train young scientists.

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