By that Logic, Why Not Spend $1 Million to Honor Mother Teresa?

California is spending $350 million in stem cell research, so Virginia might as well get into the act. That’s the logic of state Sen. Russell Potts, R-Winchester, for appopriating $1 million in state funds for stem cell research. (See Senate Bill No. 1194).

Well, that’s not the only reason he gave. How’s this for a hard-nosed justification for spending tax dollars?

“Whereas, following a tragic injury, Christopher Reeve demonstrated great courage and strength and served as a heroic example to other paralyzed individuals to the world.”

By all means, let us appropriate state dollars to honor Christopher Reeve, an actor with no discernible affiliation to Virginia whatsoever (other than the fact that his horse riding accident occurred here). Astoundingly, the senate Educate and Health Committee approved the measure.

Funding medical research is normally a function of the federal government. When the Commonwealth has funded university R&D in the past, the purpose has been to build upon existing academic “centers of excellence” that might attract more out-of-state research dollars and lead to the spin-off of promising new business enterprises. Here are the questions I would like to pose to the free-spending senator. Are there any existing centers of excellence conducting stem cell research in Virginia? What is the likelihood that Virginia’s $1 million contribution can be leveraged into additional federal R&D grants? What is the likelihood that any scientific discoveries resulting from such research will be commercialized here in Virginia?

Perhaps there are sound economic development-related reasons for backing this initiative. But none of them appeared in the preamble to Mr. Potts’ bill. This strikes me as just another feel-good measure that will squander more tax dollars, as Mr. Potts is so inclined to do. If there are sound reasons to support this research, someone please let me know. I am happy to stand corrected.

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  1. Barnie Day Avatar
    Barnie Day

    Jim, I agree with you on this one–even as someone who has Parkinson’s Disease. Stem cell research shows tremendous promise in Parkinson’s, but this one is just a little mushy if you ask me. If we could support efforts such as the biomedical center in Roanoke, or some of the joint-venture things–there is a terrific publi-private thing in Northern Virginia on Parkinson’s that Delegate Devolites told me about–I just can’t remember the name of it–but if we could direct a few resources in those directions, I think we’d be better off.

  2. I’m not very knowledgeable on the subject – but whenever someone brings up Mother Theresa I point them to this Christopher Hitchens article on here from a couple of years back:

    Mommie Dearest

  3. Jim Bacon Avatar

    Barnie: It’s nice to know that we agree on something! Stem cells do have extraordinary potential. So do lots of other, very worthy kinds R&D. But that doesn’t mean that the Commonwealth of Virginia should be funding them.

    As it happens, there is some very promising research on Parkinson’s disease here in Richmond. One of only six Veterans Administration Parkinsons “centers of excellence” is located here. A close friend of mine, a neurosurgeon, is researching “deep brain stimulation” that apparently helps advanced cases. (I hope you’re years from the point where you might have need of HER services.) But I don’t think any of that research is tied to stem cells.

  4. Barnie Day Avatar
    Barnie Day

    There are tons of tax-payer-supported R&D going on at our universities–everything from advanced materials to genetic engineering to biomedicals. Some of these things will hit commercially and make the patent holders a kazillion dollars. I don’t know how ‘ownership’ works in that regard, but I would hope that taxpayers who fund any commercial success would benefit from it monetarily. I’d be interested to know how ‘ownership’ works in a case like this, if you could turn it up.

  5. Becky Dale Avatar
    Becky Dale

    Section 23-4.3 deals with patents for things staff at public universities develop. The universities are supposed to have their own policies for patents and copyrights.

    Here’s what Virginia Tech has for its policy. VT intends to make money from products developed at VT.

  6. Barnie Day Avatar
    Barnie Day

    Thanks, Becky. Who would own intellectual property such as writings–papers, books, songs–done on university time by taxpayer-paid professors at state supported schools? Is there case law on this one?

  7. Becky Dale Avatar
    Becky Dale

    Quoting from the VT policy:
    “For purposes of this policy creations are divided into two groups:
    The traditional results of academic scholarship, i.e. textbooks, literary works, artistic creations and artifacts.
    The novel results of research such as products, processes, machines, software, biological technology, etc.
    Intellectual properties in the first (traditional) group are considered to make their full contribution to the university’s benefit by their creation and by continued use by the university in teaching, further development, and enhancement of the university’s academic stature; the presumption of ownership is to the author(s). Thus, unless there is explicit evidence that the work was specifically commissioned by the university, the IP rights remain with the author(s) and the university rights are limited to free (no cost) use in teaching, research, extension, etc. in perpetuity.”

    Now at UVA, here’s what’s said:
    “Under the University of Virginia patent policy and copyright policy, University employees are obligated to assign ownership to any inventions that are developed (1) within the scope of their employment or (2) using significant University resources (including grant money).”

    The link to the Copyright Policy there doesn’t work, so I don’t have more details.

  8. Becky Dale Avatar
    Becky Dale

    Here’s William and Mary’s policy. Look on p. 5. Seems much like VA Tech’s.

    Here’s George Mason’s policy. They are making a distinction between works authored in the scope of employment and on a staff member’s own initiative.

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