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Politics and science shouldn't mix

by Ryan Jaroncyk, published

Since receiving $3 billion in voter authorized bonds in 2004, the state's publicly-funded stem cell research institute has been beset by one controversy after another.  Wranglings with the legislature, potential conflicts of interest in the grant application process, and key questions regarding taxpayer investment have plagued the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine.

But, that's not all.

Just last month, Art Torres, who serves as executive director, received a tripling of his salary, after having served a mere nine months.  Not bad considering California is suffering from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.  Mr. Torres also happens to be the former head of the state Democratic Party.

As a result, the Citizens Financial Accountability Oversight Committee, has passed a resolution encouraging the research institute to adopt greater transparency in its business practices and grant application processes.  The resolution also urged board members and staff to post their statements of economic interest and travel expenses online.

While it remains to be seen if the institute will adopt these official recommendations, with billions of dollars of taxpayer money on the line and scientific credibility at stake, it would behoove the research community to distance itself from the politicization of bona fide scientific research.

Lately, the scientific community appears to be highly sensitive to those in charge of drafting and enacting critical public policy legislation.  "Climategate", the recent UN glacier report controversy, and now questions surrounding the state's premier stem cell* research center reveal a troubling trend. 

Good science demands accountability, objectivity, transparency, and perhaps most importantly, independence.  Political favors, special interest entanglements, and covert collusion with policy makers only serve to undermine quality science and honest legislative policy.

The time has come to disentangle science and politics.

* For CAIVN's latest coverage on stem cells, read here and here.

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