Friday, June 24, 2011

NY Times and San Diego UT on New CIRM Chair; LA Times and SF Chron Ignore Election

The New York Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune have published the most comprehensive stories on the election of Jonathan Thomas as chairman of the California stem cell agency, including brief updates on CIRM's progress.

The Times article was posted yesterday on its web site. Andrew Pollack wrote that Thomas was "taking over at a time when the state's fiscal crisis could jeopardize financing for the effort." Pollack wrote that Thomas' financial experience
"... including dealing with government bond issues, seemed to appeal to the (agency's) board. The stem cell effort is financed through bond sales so it has actually been quite well insulated from the budget deficits that have forced huge cuts to many other state programs, including the University of California system.

"Still, the state’s fiscal crisis is now impeding the ability of the state to sell new bonds. That could eventually leave the stem cell agency short of funds, though probably not until next year."
Pollack also mentioned differences between Thomas and Frank Litvack, the other candidate for CIRM chair and a Los Angeles cardiologist, concerning the dual executive arrangement at CIRM. Litvack said the chair's job should be parttime and concerned mainly with oversight. Pollack continued,
"But Mr. Thomas said there was enough work for the chairman to do full time, without conflict with the role of the president."
Pollack's story summarized the current state of CIRM's efforts with three paragraphs:
"Scientifically, it is still too early to determine how successful the program will be. Certainly, it has not yet produced the cures for various diseases that were promised to voters, but realistically it is too early to expect that.

"But from a governance point of view the agency has been criticized by consumer groups, a state commission and newspaper editorials for lack of accountability, an unwieldy structure and conflicts of interest. Many members of the board represent universities and hospitals that receive funding from the agency, though members are not allowed to vote on items that concern their employer.

"The agency is now shifting its emphasis from basic research toward testing potential new therapies in clinical trials, which means it will be giving more of its money to biotechnology companies in the future."
Darce's piece covered more of the debate about the chairmanship. Additionally, Darce wrote:
"The new chairman said he also will try to clean up the institute’s image by launching a public relations campaign focusing on the scientists who have received state funding and the work they have produced.

"'If the true nature of what CIRM does became common knowledge, then the people of California would see this as the amazing success story that it is,' Thomas said. 'They would be very proud to know that California has become the largest center for stem cell research in the world.'"
The Los Angeles Times, the state's largest circulation newspaper, and the San Francisco Chronicle (CIRM's headquarters is in San Francisco) so far have not published any stories on Thomas' election.

Science magazine has carried a brief item by Greg Miller on the election.

Here is CIRM's press release on the election. It does not mention Thomas' $400,000 salary or the actual vote, which is not unexpected for a press release, but which is basic information for a news story.

The Sacramento Bee's story yesterday has triggered 44 comments as of this morning, mostly hostile because of Thomas' salary. But the number of comments is modest compared to other, more high profile stories.

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