Real message from the LA Times: no change at CIRM will ever be good enough for us

The LA Times has an opinion piece out today by Michael Hiltzik criticizing CIRM.

It’s deja vu all over again.

The LA Times has shown itself to be very biased against CIRM over the years. Hiltzik specifically has been very hostile to the stem cell agency. I see their coverage of CIRM as unbalanced, never focusing on anything positive.

CIRM recently got the ball rolling on significant changes to its structure, particularly as relates to its grant approval process, in response to a review of CIRM by the Institute of Medicine (IOM).

In my opinion these newly invoked changes at CIRM largely eliminate any perceived conflicts of interest by having institutional members of the CIRM board not vote on any grant proposals. This change is a big deal. It’s a positive.

I’m a CIRM grantee so, yeah, perhaps I am not entirely impartial, but I’m also a stem cell scientist and patient advocate. I’m hardly what anyone would call a “rubber stamper” of CIRM actions or statements. In fact, at the latest CIRM meeting in Berkeley recently where the IOM was discussed, I got up in front of the Board and made public comments, some of which I am positive were not in line with how most of the Board members were thinking at that time.

I spoke my mind just as I’m writing my mind now. I try to call it like I see it and give a balanced view.

CIRM has done so much good and continues to transform the global stem cell field for the better.

Is it perfect?

No, but it is outstanding overall.

Call me naive, but a gutsy move by the LA Times would have been to applaud these changes at CIRM, even if they had said in their opinion even more change would be good. A headline of an LA Times piece such as “”Positive changes at CIRM; we hope more are on the way” would have knocked my socks off.

But no. In his latest article Hiltzik focuses almost entirely on the negative as he has always done in his past articles. I suspect he and the LA Times will never be satisfied with any change at CIRM. Ever.

To me that makes what the LA Times has to say about CIRM less important and less influential than ever.

Balanced coverage = credibility.

“Solomonic” CIRM Proposal: Institutional Board Members Would not Vote on Grants

I just received a copy of CIRM’s proposed response to the IOM recommendations.

Regarding what I believe to be the most important element, revamping the CIRM Board (aka ICOC), I was interested to see that CIRM (via President Jonathan Thomas) recommended that all institutional members of the Board no longer vote on whether to fund grants.

To quote the CIRM response (full PDF here):

Have 13 institutional members voluntarily abstain from voting on all grants brought before the Board for approval

This is a very dramatic proposed change.

By institutional members, I believe CIRM means the Board members from the UCs and other California research organizations.

This proposed change in the ICOC by CIRM raises many questions beyond whether one thinks it is philosophical a good idea.

For example, if only 13 or 16 voting board members remained, would that constrain the voting process and reduce the number of independent voices going into decision making?

Board Member Jonathan Shestack just called the CIRM proposal “Solomonic” referring to King Solomon who proposed cutting a baby in half to settle a dispute. Would it make sense to cut the CIRM Board in half making about half the members non-voting on grants?

What do you think?