California Stem Cell Research Grants Shouldn’t Be Secret, Watchdog Says

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Nov 29, 2006   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

California Stem Cell Research Grants Shouldn’t Be Secret, Watchdog Says Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
November 29
, 2006

Sacramento, CA ( — A head of a taxpayers group says the California stem cell research funding panel still needs more openness. John Simpson, an official with the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, says the California agency should take a cue from a similar panel in Connecticut that recently awarded grants there.

California’s stem cell institute should make public key information in its grants approval process now shrouded in secrecy, Simpson said.

The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine is planning to hold closed-door meetings to review 232 proposals from scientists at 36 nonprofit institutions to determine who will be awarded the first round $24 million in grants.

"California’s stem cell institute will tell you that they epitomize a transparent and publicly accountable operation, but it’s simply not true," said Simpson. "In fact they won’t even tell you who applied for public money or with whom they are affiliated."

Simpson contrasted California’s policy, where only grant recipients are identified, to Connecticut’s process that discloses all applicants identities and affiliations and other key information.

The grants were discussed and awarded at a public meeting where applicants were identified by name, he said, adding that applications for grants are public records when they are made, except that proprietary information can be redacted.

"California’s stem cell overseers talk about transparency and public accountability," said Simpson. "Connecticut’s leaders don’t just talk the talk; they walk the walk. We should be ashamed of ourselves."

CIRM spokesman Dale Carlson responded to Simpson’s comments in an interview with the San Francisco Examiner.

Carlson said the procedures for approving grants are the same ones used at the National Institutes of Health and said confidentiality ensures that the agency is motivated only by scientific interest.

"Because the proposals that are funded, are funded on the basis of merit and not politics, the process encourages people to come in with innovating and sometimes radical ideas, without fear of having their professional reputation tarnished,” Carlson told the newspaper.

In February, the stem cell agency is expected to announce the grant recipients.

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