Here are links to the stories and the few news releases put out by recipients. More publicity handouts are likely to surface over the next few days.
Terri Somers, San Diego Union Tribune
San Francisco Business Times
"The 15 early translational grants approved by the board will go to 13 not-for-profit and two for-profit organizations. These grants are intended to either lead to a drug candidate for an unmet medical need or address a bottleneck in the development of new therapies."CIRM President Alan Trounson was quoted as saying,
“With these early translational grants CIRM has taken the first step in funding translational research that will be critical for the development of future therapies.”CIRM has talked about the importance of making grants to business. In this round, Novocell of San Diego, received $5.4 million and BioTime of Alameda, Ca., received $4.7 million. You can see a complete list of the approved applicants here.
"Do we really matter that much? I think we don't. Let's not engage in hubris here."A number of other members of the board spoke both on behalf of the legislation and the need to protect businesses that put up the cash to develop new drugs.
"There will be no drugs unless we protect the people who take the risk."As for the argument over high costs denying access to drugs, CIRM Vice Chairman Art Torres, former chairman of the California state Democratic Party, said,
"You can't have accessibility unless you have something to access."John M. Simpson, stem cell project director for Consumer Watchdog of Santa Monica, Ca., characterized the push for CIRM to become a player in Congress as a "little bit of mission creep."
"The public is naturally very concerned about transparency, especially in these times when it comes to spending public dollars and potential conflicts of interest that might arise."She noted that Chiang will be offering online the financial information for himself and his staff.
"Our conclusion from this preliminary analysis is that the consent protocol for some lines does not include all items identified by NIH in its eligibility criteria, suggesting some scientifically significant lines may not qualify. All lines evaluated were derived from balstocysts created for reproductive purposes but no longer required for family planning."CIRM said,
"The draft policy sets ' high bar' for consent and disclosure. There are concerns that established cell lines may not meet the proposed standard. Substantial foundational research has been performed utilizing established lines. NIH should consider a 'grandfathering' clause or other mechanism that enables continued use of established lines. NIH should give consideration to whether a particular line was derived in accordance with consensus guidelines or the legal requirements at the time of consent or derivation."
"Further, experience suggests there may be uncertainty to whether specific cell lines conform to every requirement of the draft guidelines. This uncertainty may result in qualifying lines not being utilized. There was broad consensus that a registry of compliant lines would be the most efficient method for identifying lines and ensuring promising research materials are not unnecessarily disqualified."
"For grantee institutions the promulgation of NIH guidelines raises question related to the implementation of grants where a mix of funding is involved. For example, one institution identified the case where research involves a comparative analysis of multiple hESC lines. It is conceivable that such a study could involve lines not recognized or approved by every funding source. Harmonization of rules, to the extent allowed by law, would be desirable from this grantees perspective."
"As the largest funder of human embryonic stem cell research in the world, CIRM has an interest in ensuring that the NIH rules are consistent with CIRM’s medical and ethical standards, which were modeled upon guidelines adopted by the National Academies of Science, and with the best interests of science and patients."The NIH announced its proposed new rules only 10 days ago. CIRM completed its preliminary analysis last Friday. However, the actually posting of documents relies on a state department that does not work during the weekend.
"CIRM spokesman Don Gibbons said he could not confirm (David) Jensen's figures, because the agency has received nothing in writing from the state treasurer. However, Gibbons said CIRM 'has indications' that the report is accurate and hopes to make a definitive announcement at a board meeting next week in Los Angeles. Jensen quoted Robert Feyer, bond counsel to the treasurer's office, as confirming that $505 million was set aside for CIRM and would be available next Tuesday."
"....(W)e get annual reviews, progress reports and our science officers go through those. And it's not a perfunctory exercise. They go through these things quite carefully. If there's things they don't understand or if it doesn't look (like) there's been much progress, they call up the PI (principal investigator) and they say, 'What's going on? You know, we've seen these experiments being done. What's your progress?' And then we work from there.Ruth Holton-Hodson, deputy controller for health and consumer policy, raised the questions about risk. She chaired the meeting in the absence of Chiang, who had suffered a foot injury, and said she brought up the matter on his behalf.
"If it turns out that there's no progress, we can cut the grant. I suspect that's going to happen. Some people are going to lose some grants."
"I can confirm for your readers that the large state bond issue which was priced today (total of $6.855 billion) includes $505 million for the stem cell program. This money will be available next Tuesday, when the transaction closes."CIRM Chairman Robert Klein is likely to discuss the impact of the funding at next week's board of directors meeting in Los Angeles. Feyer said that a "good portion" of the bond cash is expected to go for facilities grants. It is not clear whether CIRM will give up its plan to market state bonds privately.
"All of these benefits will be continuous reminders to the attendees, including the leading stem cell scientists in the world, that California drives the field and is an attractive, vibrant location for academic researchers and biotech companies. As new funding opportunities become available for stem cell research elsewhere, California cannot rest on its laurels, if it is to attract and retain the best scientists and companies. We think that conference co-sponsorship is a valuable means to enhance those efforts."CIRM said that about 500 California scientists are expected to attend the 2010 meeting. (About 2,800 persons attended the ISSCR convention in 2008.)
"If the meeting were to be held outside California, the increased travel costs alone for 500 attendees could easily exceed $250,000, much of which would have to be paid with CIRM grant funds."We wonder about that assertion, largely because we were not aware that CIRM grants provided for travel and participation in the annual conventions of the ISSCR. This year's meeting is in Barcelona. One would think that financing international jaunts is not necessarily an appropriate use of taxpayer funds unless it can be very explicitly tied to the purpose of the grant.
"This mostly moves the line in the sand from 2001 to 2009."Fisher said,
"We still desperately need CIRM and private funding,"On the East Coast, reporter Ceci Connolly of the Washington Post wrote,
"'I am really, really startled,' said Susan L. Solomon, chief executive of the private New York Stem Cell Foundation. 'This seems to be a political calculus when what we want in this country is a scientific research calculus.'"Generally, however, the proposed NIH rules received mild or better praise in most of the stories that we have seen. Jesse Reynolds of the Center for Genetics and Society in Oakland, Ca., wrote on his organization's blog, Biopolitical Times, that the NIH "got it right."
"During the campaign last year, Mr. Obama said he supported 'therapeutic cloning of stem cells,' a policy his administration rejected Friday. A White House spokesman, Reid Cherlin, said the president 'directed N.I.H. to formulate the best method for moving forward with stem cell research, both ethically and scientifically,' in an independent process."CIRM's decision to place the regulations before its directors raises some interesting questions.
"Biotech drugs, while often life-saving, are the fastest growing and most expensive components of the nation’s prescription drug bill."BIO favors Eshoo's bill, according to Van Arnum, declaring that it balances "the need to increase access, lower costs, ensure drug safety and promote continued biomedical breakthroughs."
"He said she was 'playing to the crowd' for a 2012 run, but hasn't offered any alternatives to the major advances that might be made in biomedical research."Readers left 124 comments on the Chronicle piece, but not one mentioned Torres' comments, as far as we can tell. However, one commentator said that Pelosi said science only four times – not five.
"Instead of facts, the NIH placed its own version of ethics in place of the president’s clear proclamation. As head of the National Academy of Sciences' panel that unanimously endorsed research using SCNT, and as a drafter of the guidelines for the International Society for Stem Cell Research, I know that this suggested ban on federal funding of SCNT-derived human embryonic stem cell lines is against our policies and against President Obama’s March 9 comments. The NIH has not served its president well."The news release continued,
"'I am happy that these are draft guidelines,” said Weissman, who noted that the NIH did not solicit input from either the National Academy of Sciences or the International Society for Stem Cell Research during the consensus process. 'I’d like to remind the NIH of the principles enunciated by the president on March 9. Research in this area is moving very fast, and it’s not possible to say whether advances will come from work on adult-derived iPS cells or from embryonic stem cells created by nuclear transfer. Policy needs to be developed as the field develops, rather than precluding something based on ideology.'"Across San Francisco Bay in Oakland, the Center for Genetics and Society praised the regulations,
"Cloning-based stem cell research lays the technical foundation for human reproductive cloning - which the U.S., unlike dozens of other countries, has not yet prohibited - and requires enormous numbers of human eggs, whose extraction poses health risks to women. Despite years of work, no researcher has created a clonal human embryo viable enough to yield stem cells," said Jesse Reynolds, policy analyst at the Center. "In contrast, alternative methods of cellular reprogramming have largely achieved the goals of cloning-based work. The NIH was wise in leaving such risky work outside the domain of federal funding."The group did not address CIRM's position on the proposed rules, but it has been an advocate of strong national standards.
"The conditions required by the NIH are largely consistent with requirements CIRM has developed for derivation performed by our grantees, according to Geoff Lomax, senior officer for medical and ethical standards. 'For our grantees working with lines derived under CIRM standards, these regulations open the door to broader sources of funding, expanding important research in California,' Lomax said.
"Lomax said that under both sets of guidelines, researchers hoping to use a particular stem cell line must prove that the couple who donated the embryo knew that they would not personally benefit from the work, that they would not benefit from possible commercial applications of the cells, and that they could not place restrictions on the type of research performed with the cell line, among other conditions. He added that CIRM may need to make a minor revision to its regulations requiring that couples be specifically informed of all options for disposing of their excess embryos before donating to research.
"Lomax added that there are important avenues of research funded by CIRM that are prohibited under the draft regulations. These include the creation of new stem cell lines, and any work with lines created through nuclear transfer (sometimes called therapeutic cloning) or parthenogenesis, in which the egg is stimulated to begin division without fertilization.
"'CIRM remains a critical source of funding in California for work that is not eligible for funding by the NIH but that has important scientific value,' Lomax said. For example, embryonic stem cell lines created through parthenogenesis are genetically identical to the donor and could be an important source of stem cells for therapies."
The BayBio industry group sponsored one meeting in South San Francisco that attracted 700 participants, according to David Morill's account on InsideBayArea.com, a Web site for six daily newspapers in that area.
While acknowledging the difficult economic times, Morrill quoted Matt Gardner, president of BayBio, as saying,
"We've had a couple of companies shut down, but overall there is definitely a guarded optimism here. There is a lot of focus this year on partnering and venture marketing."
No one from the mainstream media wrote about the other affair so the University of California presented its version online in an article by an unnamed author.
UC reported that 320 researchers, biotech execs and money folks attended the April 15 meeting hosted by the UC Office of Technology Transfer and the British and Canadian consulates. One speaker, Gregory Bonfiglio of Proteus Venture Partners, said the commercial market in regenerative medicine will grow to $118 billion next year compared to $3.6 billion last year.
UC took pride in pointing out that it has snagged $420 million out of the $694 million that CIRM has handed out in research and construction grants. The university did not mention that 11 of the 29 members of the CIRM board of directors, which sets both the rules for grants and awards them, have links to the University of California.
UC also fired a shot in the debate about CIRM's push into clinical trials vs. basic research. And given that the article came from the Office of the President, it carries some considerable weight. Here is what it said,
"The biggest contribution UC is making to this new stem cell economy is in advancing basic research and training, said Steven Beckwith, vice president of research and graduate studies in the UC office of the President, who delivered one of the keynote speeches at the forum.
"'There are now avenues where stem cells can be used for therapeutic remedies, but they're limited,' Beckwith said. The real potential won't be realized until we understand the fundamental mechanisms behind these cells. That's the strength of university research.'"
Reporter Terri Somers wrote:
"For months, the state could not sell bonds to support voter-approved projects such as the stem cell institute because it did not have an approved budget. And some lenders questioned whether the fiscally challenged state could make good on its promise to provide the consortium's funding. The escrow account should address those fears, said Louis Coffman, the consortium's vice president.
"UCSD Chancellor Marye Anne Fox also welcomed the news.
“We are happy to learn that we are now one step closer to building an important new stem cell research facility for the Sanford Consortium for Regenerative Medicine, which will enable researchers from the University of California San Diego, the Salk Institute, the Burnham Institute and The Scripps Research Institute to more effectively collaborate to find cures for some of the world's most devastating diseases,' Fox said."
Somers also wrote,
"'Now we can go to the market and say there is no risk associated with the California money,' Coffman said.
"To raise the rest of its financing, the consortium has selected Barclay's Capital as its investment banker to underwrite a bond offering, Coffman said.
"The underwriter typically agrees to buy a certain amount of bonds, and then sell them to investors on behalf of the consortium.
"The consortium has also applied for funding from the federal stimulus package, which would be administered through a grant from the National Institutes of Health, Coffman said. Any stimulus money received would reduce the amount of funding the consortium would have to raise through the bond financing, he said."
Somers reported that ground has not been broken on the project, which raises questions about whether the consortium can meet the CIRM completion deadline. The labs were to have been finished within two years, according to a CIRM news release May 7, 2008.
Most of it appears oriented towards nitty-gritty research, but occasionally he picks up other types of information. Today he linked to the San Francisco Weekly piece on CIRM with an acknowledgement that he found it via the California Stem Cell Report.
Till carried a paragraph from the Weekly's story but otherwise offered no comment.
Till's blog is a good example of how news and information originally targeted for a geographically small audience can rocket around the world, courtesy of the Internet. With the waning power of the print media and its TV and radio cousins, the Web is increasingly likely to be a key information source on relatively specialized topics such as stem cell research – more so than general news.
The conduct of stem cell research would not have been high profile news even during the golden days of newspapers. Less so now and in the years to come.
The latest set-to involves the National Human Neural Stem Cell Resource of Children's Hospital of Orange County Research Institute and Stem Cells Inc. of Palo Alto, Ca.
John M. Simpson, stem cell project director of Consumer Watchdog of Santa Monica, Ca., Wednesday provided a summary of the dispute. He reported that Philip Schwartz, head of the Resource, said his organization's efforts to promote research with human neural stem cells has been effectively blocked by patents held by Stem Cells Inc.
The entire story can be read on Simpson's organization's blog along with a response from Stem Cells, which said it did not control actions by the Resource.
In 2006, he said in an interview on the Harvard Business School web site:
"Science and business work differently. They have different cultures, values, and norms. For instance, science holds methods sacred; business cherishes results. Science should be about openness; business is about secrecy. Science demands validity; business requires utility. So, the tensions are deep.
"What has happened is that we have tried to mash these two worlds together in biotech and may not be doing either very well. Science could be suffering and business certainly is suffering. If you try to take something that is science, and then jam it into normal business institutions, it just doesn't work that well for either science or business."
Stem Cells Inc. was founded by scientists Irv Weissman of Stanford, Fred Gage of the Salk Institute and David Anderson of Caltech.
"You would have thought that with academic heavyweights like these involved with the company it would have been a no-brainer to figure out a way for Schwartz to distribute cells he has derived from CHOC patients to qualified researchers.
"The root of the problem is the Bayh-Dole act governing federally funded research. It has turned our universities into commercial entities where scientists rush to patent their discoveries rather than rush to publish and explain them."
We are querying Weissman, Gage and Anderson about their thoughts on the general issues raised by Schwartz along with the specifics.
Simpson's piece was the result of a notice by Schwartz to about 2,700 persons, mostly academics, about the patent issue. Simpson sent out a note to about 75 journalists nationwide about his item.
The list included Eli Broad, Richard Blum and the man behind CIRM's Sacramento lobbying firm. The rankings did not include elected officials, such as the governor, who is a good friend of the California stem cell agency.
Ranked No. 6 was Steve Merksamer of the firm of Nielsen, Merksamer, Parrinello, Mueller & Naylor, which is the Sacramento lobbyist for CIRM. Merksamer was one of its founding partners. The firm has been on retainer with CIRM since the agency's earliest days and currently has a $49,200-a-year contract with the agency for its services, which CIRM coyly describes as "public education." Capitol Weekly said Merksamer is "is one of the state’s most influential political-legal players. His 16-lawyer firm is involved in a myriad of political issues and dispenses legal advice and political strategy to a national and international big-business clientele."
Ranked No. 14 was Blum, chairman and president, Blum Capital, a major equity investment management firm. Blum is a University of California regent as is Sherry Lansing, a member of the board of directors of CIRM. Blum is also the husband of Democratic U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein. Blum Capital Partners purchased $1 million in bond anticipation notes to help fund CIRM in 2006.
The list of 50 is the first installment in a Top 100 count, with more "influence peddlers, power brokers and political players" to come next week.
"Stem-cell stalemate: The push for cures may produce only disappointment - or worse."Written by Peter Jamison for the San Francisco Weekly, the lengthy and thorough-going article explored the promise of California's $3 billion stem cell research effort and how it measures up. Jamison focused on CIRM's move towards pushing therapies into the clinic and away from basic stem cell research.
"Many in the medical community, while paying lip service to the optimism of 2004, acknowledge the very real possibility that people suffering from the incurable conditions typically associated with stem cells — not just Parkinson's or diabetes but Huntington's disease, multiple sclerosis, and HIV/AIDS, among others — will not see a therapy or cure from the state's $3 billion investment."Jamison continued,
"In short, the question is whether CIRM should become an agency that pays tens of millions of dollars to alleviate arthritis while research languishes on Huntington's disease or multiple sclerosis. This approach could go a long way toward addressing the more serious safety concerns voiced by some scientists. It is also a remarkable detour, by any standard, from the ambitious medical goals that drove Prop. 71. It is difficult to overlook the irony of a situation in which state officials, seeking to deliver on the promises of a ballot initiative intended to overcome the Bush administration's supposed limits on the advance of science, turn for their salvation to research Bush never restricted in the first place. Will California voters accept such a momentous policy shift?"Jamison interviewed a wide range of scientists including those at CIRM. He quoted Arnold Kriegstein, director of the Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regeneration Medicine and Stem Cell Research at UC San Francisco, on the risks of CIRM's turn towards the clinic.
"The likelihood of something going wrong is pretty high. Something like tumors are probably going to happen. This is an area where the risks are great. The public has to be prepared."Marie Csete, chief scientific officer at CIRM, took another view. Jamison wrote that "she was quick to counter suggestions that the agency's new funding priorities would put patients in danger."
"'It's just a ridiculous idea that we're not putting safety first....This field is moving very quickly toward clinical application. There's no question in my mind, and it would be silly for us to say that we have to solve every single problem before we proceed to transplantation' of cells into humans."Hans Keirstad of UC Irvine was quoted as saying,
"'You will always garner respect by saying, 'Slow down. More science is necessary....Somewhere out there there's got to be compassion for those patients who are dying. I would go so far as to say that inaction is killing people. The views of ultraconservative scientists are killing people.'"Waste was another topic. Jamison quoted Bruce Conklin, a senior researcher in the Gladstone Institute's cardiovascular disease division, as saying,
"'We all want the same thing — we want to see regenerative medicine work....Although there's $2 billion [of CIRM money] left to give out, that's actually a very small amount of money. Now, if that's all spent on clinical trials that don't tell us anything because they don't work, that's a missed opportunity.'"Warner Greene, director of the Gladstone Institute of Virology and Immunology, said,
"There's no way to hop over this basic biology."Jamison additionally interviewed Jeff Sheehy, one of the 29 persons on the CIRM board of directors, who talked about an "identity issue" at CIRM. Jamison wrote,
"'If we are going to say that we're going to work with adult stem cells, we can be in the translational phase and the clinic now,' says Sheehy, who is communications director for UCSF's AIDS Research Institute and represents the interests of HIV patients to the board. 'While they're going to be of benefit to a great many people in California, these adult-stem-cell approaches are probably not going to have a big impact on these severe degenerative diseases that really motivated a great number of people to support Prop. 71, like Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, spinal-cord injuries.'"Many of the issues addressed by Jamison are part of the current review of the CIRM strategic plan. The agency last month conducted two public hearings on plan and its proposed changes. You can find the transcripts here under the topic "interested persons meetings." The latest version of the plan may well surface at the CIRM directors meeting April 28-29 in Los Angeles.
"Whatever the voters who supported Prop. 71 think of the use of their money to support adult stem-cell cures for relatively pedestrian ailments, they would almost surely be angered if the ballot initiative's billions of dollars have bought, after a decade, only a sheaf of much-lauded studies in the journal Cell.We asked Don Gibbons, chief communications officer for CIRM, if the agency had a comment on the article for this item. He replied,
"Even angrier, no doubt, would be the people who suffer from the diseases stem cells might one day cure. Their voices, more than any others, persuaded a majority of the state electorate to support Prop. 71."
"I just hope you encourage your readers to read the entire article and not just the negative snippets you choose to use."We certainly hope that you all take a look at Jamison's piece, which airs, in a very public way, some important scientific and policy questions that have not yet been widely examined in California.
The measure, SB 471, cites the California stem cell agency and its research efforts as the impetus for for the proposal.
The bill by Sen. Gloria Romero, D-East Los Angeles, and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, says that the state Board of Education as well as the community colleges, the state college system and the University of California "should collaborate to help CIRM advance its education initiatives." The Board of Education controls matters in grades kindergarten through 12. Romero (pictured) heads the Senate Education Committee.
Her bill was discussed at a meeting of the CIRM directors' Legislative Subcommittee on March 31.
No transcript of the meeting is yet available, but a spokesman for CIRM, Don Gibbons, said recently that no position was taken on the bill, along with another measure aimed at ensuring affordable access to any therapies developed with CIRM-funded research.
"They just felt the bills were not sufficiently fleshed out to have a formal position taken."The affordable access bill, SB 343 by Sen. Elaine Alquist, D-San Jose, is a somewhat altered version of a measure opposed by CIRM last year and vetoed by the governor. The bill is now before the Senate Health Committee but no hearing date has been scheduled. Alquist is chair of the Health Committee.
"Who knows if the full board will take it up at the end of the month. "
Writing on The Niche, Monya Baker reported last week that CIRM is "moving ahead with plans" to sell bonds privately. She sourced her information to Don Gibbons, chief communications officer for CIRM.
Meanwhile Time magazine today carried a piece that is not going to make it any easier for CIRM or the state of California to market bonds.
The headline said, "Rising Risks in Muni Bonds Worry Investors." (Muni bonds refer to both state and local government bonds.)
The article said,
"A growing number of analysts and financial planners are raising doubts about the bonds of local and state governments."But Baker reported that Gibbons said CIRM is not "obsessing over the bond sales." She quoted Gibbons as saying,
“The feeling here is that the money will come through for us when we need it. That someone will find a way.”
CIRM's Internet doppelgangers represent a creative attempt to use the latest tools to reach a wide audience, including those who might not necessarily tune into the old-fashioned print media.
But the Facebook account raises a significant public policy issue: Should taxpayer funds be used for a Web page that explicitly warns that a state agency (CIRM) will censor comments that it does not like?
Here is what the stem cell agency says on Facebook:
"CIRM's Facebook page is a place to learn more about stem cell research in California and around the world. We encourage comments on the science in our posts and our blog entries and will post regular responses from CIRM's in-house scientists or from our grantees. We will remove posts that are confrontational in nature."(Our boldface)We asked Don Gibbons, the agency's chief communications officer and the man responsible for the cyberspace outreach, four questions about CIRM's policy on "confrontational" posts.
"How does CIRM define confrontational?Gibbons replied,
"Is it appropriate for public state agency to restrict commentary on taxpayer-funded scientific and policy matters?
"Is such a ban in keeping with the best standards for discussion of scientific matters?
"Do you know of any other state agency with such a policy?"
"Our policy is essentially the same as yours. The goal of the site is to foster free and open discussion of the science. We will be very conservative in deciding to remove posts, reserving that action for anything that unfairly questions the integrity of our funded researchers or of stem cell science in general. Compare it to you taking down the recent posting about President Obama on your site."Aside from the fact that the California Stem Cell Report is not funded by taxpayers or any business or organization, CIRM misses the point.
Beyond that, science -- not to mention government -- requires a robust dialog. One researcher's questions may be considered confrontational or unfair by another whose work is being scrutinized. Does that mean that the concerns should not be voiced in a public way? (See this link for an interesting related lawsuit.)
Yes, the Internet is a wild place. People say many rash things in cyberspace, and there is a problem with commentary that can be obscene and racist as was the case in the Obama comment that we deleted from the California Stem Cell Report. But obscenity and racism are a far cry from comments that are confrontational or unfair.
How will CIRM handle a comment from a person who deeply believes that hESC research involves the destruction of human life, says something to that effect on the Facebook page and suggests that hESC scientists are baby-killers? How will it deal with a comment that says the CIRM board of directors is riddled with conflicts of interest and the agency should be abolished.? Would the agency allow remarks from the scathing column about CIRM that recently appeared in the Los Angeles Times? Would the agency allow comments from stem cell scientists that suggest it is going badly awry in an endeavor to cozy up to the biotech industry?
All of those comments could be considered unfair or confrontational.
The problem here is not with the Facebook page. It is with the fact that CIRM is allowing comments to be posted on the page and supposedly encouraging them, but only if they are "correct" in the eyes of some at CIRM.
Web sites have been wrestling with the problem of untrammeled commentary since the 1990s. A variety of controls have emerged on private sites. But private Web sites are a wholly different animal than a Web site funded by taxpayers.
CIRM should encourage the broadest of commentary on its Facebook page and as well on its main home page. From time to time, it may well have to delete a comment that is obscene, racist or libelous.
But it should narrowly define what it would remove. Comments that are confrontational or unfair should not be censored. And comments that question "the integrity of ... stem cell science in general" certainly should be allowed. CIRM can and should rebut comments. That is the value of open dialog, which is paramount to a successful democracy.
We welcome comments on this and all other topics, confrontational or otherwise. You can make them by clicking on the word "comments" below. Anonymous comments are permitted.
(Editor's note: Gibbons' response also made reference to an item that we deleted last month along with a related comment from him. We posted notes explaining the deletions. You can find them here. For more on the CIRM's cyberspace efforts, see the item below.)
Our web searches did not turn up any other California state agencies with Facebook pages, but given the nature of Internet searches some may, in fact, actually exist. Some state college campuses (Stanislaus, Chico and others) have Facebook pages as does UC Berkeley. Most of the ones we looked at show light activity.
CIRM's effort is not the only Facebook page called the "California Institute for Regenerative Medicine." Another, created by Judy Roberson, can be found here, but it appears largely moribund. Another CIRM-related site was started by attendees at a CIRM meeting in 2008 in San Francisco.
Low usage is normal for early-stage web sites. Driving traffic to a web site is a continuing challenge unless you have a brand name such as the New York Times or President Obama.
CIRM's Facebook page compares favorably in terms of usage to the U.S. government's Facebook page, which has only 489 fans but obviously a much larger user base.
CIRM's cyberspace efforts seem relatively low cost. But, web pages must be freshened regularly with new content and nurtured with marketing drives to push traffic. Otherwise they whither. In a year or so, CIRM should examine the reader numbers from the sites to determine whether its tiny staff can justify continuing these fledgling endeavors.