I realize that there’s a disparity of opinion among my readers about the John Templeton Foundation. Some, like me, feel that its mission is to blur the boundaries between science and religion, debasing the former and buying off the many scientists whom it supports with its deep pockets. Others, recognizing that Templeton does support woo, nevertheless see no problem with scientists taking Templeton money for real science—or even accepting the Templeton Prize for Scientists Who Say Nice Things About Religion.
Regardless of your take, you should by all means read a new 23-page report on the Templeton Foundation by Sunny Bains (link goes right to the pdf download). Bains is a journalist and scientist at Imperial College London, and her report was supported by Sam Harris’s Project Reason (I’m on the board of advisors). I’ll just give her introductory precis, but if you want to comment on the issues, do read the whole paper. Curiously, it was published in the journal Evolutionary Psychology, which of course causes me some cognitive dissonance!
From the first two pages of her report:
For many who do not have a problem with the science/religion agenda of the Foundation, the issue is then one of integrity. Is the Foundation what it says it is? Are its stated goals and its actual goals the same (as judged by who and what it funds)? Does it operate in a transparent and non-corrupt way?
In this commentary, I consider five issues that suggest that the John Templeton Foundation is not what it represents itself to be:
1. The Foundation began as an overtly pro-religious organization. It has since changed its stated aims and goals, and their presentation, in a way that seems calculated to make them appear more “open-minded.” Nevertheless, the Foundation’s agenda—based on its actual activities—
seems to have remained the same.
2. The Foundation’s organizational structure and the awarding of its prizes appears to be rife with cronyism.
3. Respondents to the Foundation’s “Big Questions” (at least those questions with clear links to science) are disproportionately Foundation advisors and grantees, and yet it is implied that they represent a balance in responses.
4. The Foundation finances prestigious external organizations to run its activities, often without making the participants and/or audience aware of who provided the funding.
5. The Foundation and its current chairman, John (Jack) Marks Templeton, Jr., have a history of funding what could be seen as anti-science activities and groups (particularly concerning climate-change and stem-cell research).
Bains, S. 2011. Commentary: Questioning the integrity of the John Templeton Foundation. Evolutionary Psychology 9:92-115.