Human Exceptionalism

Audit Ordered for California Center for Regenerative Medicine

More trouble in Proposition 71-Land: The California State Controller–in what I must say is a gutsy move given the politics of the matter–has ordered an audit of the CIRM citing charges of conflict of interest. From the story:

California’s top financial officer Tuesday ordered a top-to-bottom audit of the state’s $3 billion stem cell institute, in the wake of reports that its chairman and one of its directors were involved in a violation of the agency’s conflict-of-interest policy.

State Controller John Chiang also called on the state Fair Political Practices Commission to investigate the alleged violation by John Reed, a director of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine and president of the internationally known Burnham Institute of La Jolla, California. Reed privately lobbied institute staff in an attempt to secure a $638,000 grant for Burnham, according to agency documents. Complicating the case further, Robert Klein, an attorney and president of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, has publicly admitted he advised Reed to solicit internally for Burnham…

Only three years old, the California stem cell agency has had a rocky start, with previous accusations of conflict of interest and lawsuits that held up its grant process for two years. Nevertheless, it has become the largest source in the world for human embryonic stem cell research funding. Scientists and government officials throughout the world follow its activities.

John M. Simpson, stem cell project director of the nonprofit Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, a group that has closely watched the institute since its inception, has called for the resignation of both Klein and Reed, a call echoed by The Sacramento Bee, the leading newspaper in the California state capital.

Simpson said the only way to clear the air and restore confidence in the agency’s grant awards process is for both men to leave. Simpson cited the built-in conflicts of interest on the institute’s board. Seventeen of its 29 members have links to institutions that stand to benefit from the $227 million lab-construction program.

The potential for conflicts have always been there–ignored by the media prior to the election. But if the CIRM has strayed, it will materially undermine the biotechnology project in general. Indeed, with “science” increasingly taking on the trappings of a special interest, the harm for the reputation of science could be profound.

Well, the truth will out. It will be interesting to see what, if anything, Chiang turns up.


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