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Contrasting Coverage of CIRM

Posted by Jesse Reynolds on May 7th, 2008

Today, the governing board of California's multi-billion dollar stem cell research program meets in Los Angeles. At the top of their agenda is the final approval of $227 million toward major facilities construction. The state's two largest newspapers each had a preview this morning, yet they were quite different from one another.

The splashy full-color spread on the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle spent almost 1200 words doing little more than repeating the talking points of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), the stem cell agency. In fact, it only used quotes from grant recipients and CIRM itself.

In contrast, in little over 400 words the Los Angeles Times covers much mroe ground. The article quoted two public interest critics: Consumer Watchdog's John Simpson, who praised the lab construction, and me. I noted, "The primary argument that was presented for Proposition 71 - particularly in the area of large facilities - is becoming less and less important. Bush's restrictions will most likely be undone before the first brick is laid." The Times also pointed out that the largest CIRM grant will go to Stanford University, which not only is a private institution but also has the third largest endowment among universities in the nation, and that this is being done in the context of  budget cuts to state universities.

But the Times didn't have the space in the stem cell article to describe how bad the fiscal situation really is. The bond rating of the state is low and falling, and California will face a cash-flow crisis this summer. The governor's budget proposes to close 48 state parks and slash education, including the budget of the state's university systems. Veteran political observer Peter Schrag says the the University of California is being put "on a long-term downward trajectory that will continue to erode quality, limit access and permanently damage what for decades was the nation's premier system of public higher education."

At least we'll have all those stem cell researchers and new buildings.

So you think you own your body?

Posted by Marcy Darnovsky on May 1st, 2008

Donna Dickenson is a British scholar, award-winning writer, and activist. Her just-published book, Body Shopping: The Economy Fuelled by Flesh and Blood, makes a compelling case not just against the burgeoning business in body parts, but also for our ability to rethink it.

Body Shopping weaves together sharp policy analysis with stories that will startle even those who follow such matters. Its topics include the global markets in baby-making, eggs, and human tissues; the legal and social challenges of regulating them; and the effects of their rampant commercialization on science and medicine. It's disturbing reading, but with a hopeful message, perhaps best summarized by a subtitle in the chapter on patenting human genes: "Resistance is not futile."

In a recent op-ed in The Sunday Times, Dickenson addresses the troubling changes now underway in the UK's Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority:

Even some American commentators are beginning to remark pityingly that our HFEA is no longer the model that their country should emulate. And many Europeans, rightly or wrongly, already regard the UK as having few moral scruples when it comes to the biotech industry.

By taking an uncritical approach to the market developments that this new bill should be regulating, some secularists are playing straight into the hands of a greater potential enemy to scientific progress than God. I'm referring to the increasingly powerful forces of commercialisation….

[T]he commercialisation of biotechnology needs proper examination. The problem is that parliament is too busy arguing about God to pay much attention.

Stem Cell and Cloning Confusion, Once Again

Posted by Jesse Reynolds on April 29th, 2008

A frustrating aspect of working in stem cell policy is the nearly incessant conflation of the various types of stem cell research: embryonic, adult, cloning-based, induced pluripotency, etc. This AP article on a proposed Ohio ban on all cloning - for both reproduction and stem cell research - contains many of the hallmarks:

  • A research advocate misrepresents the importance of cloning-based stem cell research, in a state where such doesn't even occur.
  • An opponent of embryonic stem cell research lumps the two types of cloning together, blurring a crucial distinction.
  • The article exaggerates the state of progress with cloning-based work, saying that stem cells have been derived from cloned human embryos when that's not the case.

In fact, I could almost copy and paste my response to coverage of a Louisiana bill from last week, and just replace a couple quotes and links.

Previously on Biopolitical Times:

Conflicts of Interest on Federal Stem Cell Committee

Posted by Jesse Reynolds on April 29th, 2008

Almost half the members of the federal government's panel that develops recommendations regarding blood stem cells  have conflicts of interest. This is according to research by the Integrity in Science project of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

At least 11 of the 25 voting-members of Health and Human Services’ Advisory Council of Blood Stem Cell Transplantation have financial ties to cord blood-banking and transplantation industry despite a committee charter stating that such conflicts should be limited. The council, which meets for the second time today and tomorrow, was formed earlier this year to provide “expert, unbiased analysis and recommendations” on blood stem cell transplantation policy, regulation, and research. The committee’s charter prohibits Council members with financial ties to donor centers, recruitment organizations, transplant centers, or cord blood banks “from participating in any decision that materially affects the center, recruitment organization, transplant center, or cord blood bank.” It also calls on HHS officials to “limit the number of members of the Advisory Council with any such affiliation.” A Center for Science in the Public Interest survey of committee membership found that nearly half of the committee’s voting members have financial ties to the stem cell and blood bank industry.

For links and more information, see the latest issue the Integrity in Science Watch e-newsletter.

Previously on Biopolitical Times:

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