Well, I’m resigned to the fact that one lone voice of a superannuated biologist cannot overcome the millions of dollars dispensed annually by the John Templeton Foundation, all in the cause of blurring the boundary between science and religion. The Foundation simply pours too much feed into the Science Trough, and hungry researchers can’t help but sidle up for their ration of slop. And so event after event, science society after science society, holds out their hands for those free-flowing dollars, which Templeton dispenses without too much scrutiny.
The other day I was invited to a conference in Washington D.C. called “Evolutionary Theory: A Hierarchical Perspective”. Here’s the announcement on the Internet; click on this screenshot (and others) to go to the website:
As you’ll see in a second, the meeting is in conjunction with the launch of a new multi-authored book about hierarchies in evolution.
Looking at the program for the meeting, which takes place at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C., I noticed that right after a ten-minute introduction by one of the book’s editors, there is to be an “introductory address by a representative of John Templeton Foundation.” That set off alarm bells, so I wrote back to the organizer, telling him that I don’t attend Templeton-sponsored events and asking what the Foundation’s involvement was in this project. I was told then that the Foundation has supported the conference’s work in a helpful and liberal way “in each step, without any kind of interference.” I was also reproved for having “a radical prejudice against attending a free scientific debate”. (I didn’t, however, notice any critics of the hierarchical view, like David Queller or Stuart West, among the invitees.) But of course the Templeton agenda isn’t usually achieved through interference, but through selectively funding those projects that meet its aims.
It turns out there’s an entire Hierarchy Group site, which announces that the John Templeton Foundation is their “major sponsor.” Now I’m not sure what Templeton’s after here, but my suspicion is that a). they want to show that modern evolutionary theory is woefully incomplete without the notion of hierarchy, as in group selection, and b). that a reductionist approach to evolution is unproductive. (Templeton hates reductionism.) This is in line with Templeton’s historical pattern of funding, for example the large amount of money they give to David Sloan Wilson’s group to study multilevel selection as well as the evolution of religion.
This time the project, which was funded in 2013, got a small amount by Templeton standards: a mere $178,000. Here’s the website:
And that $178K has yielded a book: Evolutionary Theory, a Hierarchical Perspective which, to my immense sadness, is being published by the University of Chicago Press on September 28. If your own pocketbook is deep enough, you can pick it up for about $100. Looking at the contents, I’m not enthused.
My questions are, of course, why is the National Academy of Sciences hosting this event given the connection with a science-and-theology institute (the Templeton Prize was, as I recall, also awarded there a few years ago), and why is the University of Chicago Press issuing a book that wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the theological bent of John Templeton?
I’m sure both institutions could and will give good reasons for their decisions, but once again we see the insinuation of Templeton, and its agenda, into the nature of evolutionary biology. Unlike the National Science Foundation, which funds evolutionary biology after grants are peer reviewed by a panel of expert scientists, ensuring a rigorous vetting and support of all areas of the field, the Templeton Foundation dispenses cash without an overly rigorous review—and the projects must have an aim that comports with Templeton’s goals.
What this does, of course, is turn the course of science in a direction closer to what Templeton wants. I abhor that, even though many of my colleagues are lined up behind the trough, licking their lips.