Wednesday, April 22, 2009

CIRM Provides Justification for $200,000 for ISSCR Meeting

Much to its credit, the California stem cell agency Tuesday posted a dandy backgrounder on its recommendation that CIRM directors next week approve $200,000 to assist the International Society for Stem Cell Research with its convention in San Francisco in 2010.

The document is a far cry from the original request in December that sought $400,000 but did not provide any justification or explanation. This week's document is a good example of the type of information that CIRM can provide that assists in meaningful public participation in the agency's activities.

While one may or may not agree with the recommendation to co-sponsor the convention, CIRM does a fine job in pointing out the benefits to the agency, the state and science in general. The document lists eight benefits from the contribution, including no-cost attendance by CIRM staff and interaction of CIRM grantees and trainees with the world's top stem cell scientists. CIRM said,
"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.)

CIRM said,
"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.

Total cost of the San Francisco meeting is an estimated $1.5 million. CIRM is also helping out in arranging for the no-cost use of Moscone Center for the meeting and the rotunda at city hall for a reception. The value of those contributions by the City of San Francisco is placed at $125,000.

CIRM's proposed $200,000 contribution would go for travel expenses for organizers and speakers ($50,000) and conference services, publicity and publications ($150,000).

CIRM said the $200,000 should be taken from privately donated funds, which now total $3.4 million. That would be a good PR move, helping to ease any criticism of the expenditures. Nonetheless, the money is still public money. It became that when it was donated.

John M. Simpson, stem cell project director for Consumer Watchdog of Santa Monica, Ca., publicly criticized the earlier CIRM moves to assist with the meeting. We have not heard from him yet on the latest proposal.

CIRM staff provided the breakdown and detailed justification for its recommendation as the result of requests by CIRM directors in December.

The recommendation for funding is expected to be voted on at next Tuesday's and Wednesday's meeting of the board of directors in Los Angeles.

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