Templeton generously funds right-wing groups in the UK

If you didn’t already know it, the Templeton foundations, including the John Templeton Foundation (henceforth JTF), give tons of money not only to fund science, but also the kind of science that is friendly to religion, like work on consciousness and free will. They also, of course, give money to “advancing” theology and to religious causes, and the JTF awards the annual $1 million Templeton Prize to an individual who “has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery, or practical works”. I’ve been a strong critic of both the Foundation and its Prize, and I was pleased to find that,  in the Wikipedia article on the Prize, I’m quoted along with critics like Richard Dawkins and the late Harry Kroto:

. . . American biologist Jerry Coyne described the Templeton Prize’s aim as being “to give credibility to religion by blurring its well-demarcated border with science … [and] goes to scientists who are either religious themselves or say nice things about religion”.

(See the source of that quote, a Guardian article, here.) I also wrote my own article in the Guardian after Martin Rees got the Templeton Prize. In that piece I noted that the JTF gave an “epiphany prize” to the odious and anti-Semitic move “The Passion of the Christ.”

But Sir John, whose bequest was aimed largely at funding projects showing how the discoveries of science actually bring us closer to understanding God, was not just a diehard Presbyterian but also a diehard capitalist. After all, he earned his billion-dollar fortune as the manager of a profitable family of mutual funds. To that end, the JTF also funds projects promoting capitalism and free enterprise. (There are three foundations funded by Sir John’s inheritance: the John Templeton Foundation,the Templeton World Charity Foundation, and the Templeton Religious Trust.)

It’s no surprise, then, that today’s Guardian describes how Templeton—most likely the John Templeton Foundation, identified as one of the donating organizations—has been caught out giving millions of dollars to right-wing British groups, funding causes like a hard Brexit, the privatization of schools and of UK medical care, and low taxes and light regulation of business. This should have implications for the pack of scientists who take money from the JTF.

Click on the screenshot below to read the news. The photo below the headline is of Sir John himself:

And some excerpts from the article:

Eleven wealthy American donors who have given a total of more than $3.7m (£2.86m) to rightwing UK groups in the past five years have been identified, raising questions about the influence of foreign funding on British politics.

The donations have been given to four British thinktanks that have been vocal in the debate about Brexit and the shape of the UK’s future trade with the EU, and an organisation that claims to be an independent grassroots campaign representing ordinary British taxpayers.

Many of the donors have also given significant sums of money to a series of like-minded American groups which, like the British organisations, promote a free market agenda of low tax, lightly regulated business and privatisation of public services.

. . .The five British groups and their supporters have raised at least $6.8m in the past five years from US benefactors. However, the identities of many donors remain unknown because their donations cannot be traced in public records.

. . . The Guardian has compiled a partial list of American donors to the British groups since 2014 by analysing thousands of pages of US tax filings that have been published, and other public declarations. The most recent available year for these filings is 2017.

. . . The largest visible donations, amounting to $3.3m, have been given to three British groups by foundations funded by the wealth of an ultra-conservative US billionaire financier, Sir John Templeton, who died in 2008.

One of the Templeton foundations last year gave a donation worth $1.5m to the Legatum Institute. Legatum said the foundation supported its research on the impact of economic openness on global growth and prosperity.

. . . Legatum was required last year by the Charity Commission to remove from its website a report advocating a hard Brexit, which was judged to be too partisan. Charities are required by law to be politically neutral. It stopped its work on Brexit last year.

Another Templeton foundation gave $1.4m to the Adam Smith Institute between 2015 and 2017. The donation was used to make a film about Magna Carta and to fund scholarships. The existence of the donation was made public on the websites of the institute and the John Templeton Foundation.

The Adam Smith Institute has been one of a group of influential rightwing thinktanks credited with kickstarting some of the most controversial privatisations of the Thatcher and Major governments. It received donations from four other US donors.

The John Templeton Foundation also gave $497,000 to the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), another prominent British thinktank, between 2014 and 2017.

The money has been given to researching alternatives to the NHS for an ageing population and to fund work on inspiring young people to become supporters of free markets, according to the foundation.

Now, as you know if you’re a regular here, many reputable American scientists and social scientists take money from the JTF; this Guardian piece gives only a partial list. Would those same scientists continue to take money knowing that their JTF funder also supports right-wing causes?

The answer: probably yes. Funding for science is hard to find these days; Templeton’s conditions for giving money aren’t too stringent; and Templeton regularly gives lots of money—often with grants exceeding a million dollars. Once your nose is in the trough gulping down JTF’s swill, it’s too easy to keep it there.

h/t: Anne

20 Comments

  1. Randall L Schenck
    Posted November 29, 2019 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

    It seems in the UK they have the same big donors on the right funding the same sing song as here in the States. This donation club is the really deep state that some like to talk about. Most of the donations and origins of the money is unknown. It is so hidden today we often see tons of foreign money in the mix and that goes for both the UK and U.S.

    Often we wonder how is it that the evangelicals fall all over themselves supporting a sleaze ball like Trump? Easy when their morals are all for sale anyway.

  2. Dave
    Posted November 29, 2019 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    I have no time for the Templeton Foundation or its pro-religious agenda, but this is just Guardian hysteria. From the world-view of the average Guardian columnist, anything to the right of Chairman Mao is “right-wing”. There is nothing remotely sinister about any of the quoted causes. There are plenty of people on the political left who support Brexit, including, in the opinion of many, a certain Jeremy Corbyn – although he hasn’t got the courage or the honesty to come out and admit it. And as for exploring alternatives to the NHS, or promoting the idea that free markets are actually good for society – oh, the horror! Not exactly the Fourth Reich, is it?

    • craigp
      Posted November 29, 2019 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

      I think you’ve summed it up perfectly. The Grauniard is hardly central in its political views and has been moving steadily leftwards for a long time now. There aren’t too many organisations they wouldn’t portray as right-wing (or far-right) if it suited the article they were printing.

      I’m not overly familiar with those organisations but I’d consider them more libertarian than right- or left-wing.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted November 29, 2019 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

      promoting the idea that free markets are actually good for society – oh, the horror! Not exactly the Fourth Reich, is it?

      Not yet, but the hard right will show their inner Nazi as soon as they see an profitable opportunity. People are like that, on average.

      • Dave
        Posted November 29, 2019 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

        Apart from a handful of insignificant cranks there is no “hard right”, nor any Nazis (inner or outer), in the UK. The only extremists we need to worry about are those currently leading the Labour Party, and those bearded individuals inclined to stab random passers-by while shouting “Allah hu Akbar”.

    • Jonathan Wallace
      Posted November 30, 2019 at 2:24 am | Permalink

      The Guardian piece identifies the organisations as right wing which they are. It doesn’t suggest that they are ‘far right’ still less that they should be characterised as ‘the fourth reich’. Nevertheless they are organisations that have had considerable influence in British politics in relation to the advancement of free market views, privatisation of nationionalised utilities and pressing for Brexit. None of those things are ‘sinister’ or remotely ‘fourth reich’ but the Guardian is right to characterise them as pushing British society in a rightwards direction. If that’s the way the electorate wishes to go, fair enough but the Guardian’s article is about the fact that various US billionaires are supporting these organisations and I for one certainly find this attempt by the donors to influence British society with their money of interest and of concern.

  3. sted24
    Posted November 29, 2019 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

    In other Guardian news Guido Fawkes, in full British tabloid mode, reports:

    GUARDIAN’S CEO IS A SEX PEST
    “David Pemsel is the CEO of The Guardian and a 51 year-old married man. Above are some of his texts to a twentysomething female colleague. He was about to transfer to become the CEO of the Premier League. Unfortunately now these texts have come to light that won’t be happening.”

    Interestingly the texting story, first reported in the SUN, has now been vanished (although GF and others have images of the actual tweets).

    The Guardian’s response so far has been, er, terse.

    • Jenny Haniver
      Posted November 29, 2019 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

      Huh? Is this a case of crypto-whataboutism?

      Well, one digression leads to another and I realize that I’d not known of the term “sex pest” (is that British?) until, while looking for miscellaneous information on animals Antarctica, I read about the “sex pest” seal that was raping king penguins http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/7379554.stm

  4. Jenny Haniver
    Posted November 29, 2019 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    Dave’s facile dismissals notwithstanding (and in these parlous times I’ve grown suspicious of such facile dismissals because an ulterior ideological motive often lurks just below the surface of the statement), reading this post prompted me to search for American right-wing organizations that Templeton has funded (by this I mean organizations whose scope extends beyond those specifically associated with religion and science), and learned some interesting things, one being that Templeton is associated with “The Gathering,” a frightening, all-devouring right-wing religious consortium https://www.thedailybeast.com/the-dollar1-billion-a-year-right-wing-conspiracy-you-havent-heard-of.

    This paper on the Templeton Foundation is a compendium and detailed exploration of the foundation and increases my distaste and my fears https://www.researchgate.net/publication/230796898_Questioning_the_Integrity_of_the_John_Templeton_Foundation

  5. Posted November 29, 2019 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    The Adam Smith Institute and the Institute of Economic Affairs are indeed right wing, but they are sensible, mainstream right wing. (And “right” in UK terms is likely fairly centrist in US terms.)

    A certain amount of right-wing think-tank advocacy is likely a good thing in a society, as a foil and counter to left-wing advocacy, with voters then choosing an appropriate balance.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted December 3, 2019 at 12:44 am | Permalink

      But do UK citizens want their public advocacy to be pushed by foreign interests like Templeton?

      In the past it used to be the CIA and the KGB that meddled in other countries’ private affairs. Now it’s Templeton and multinationals.

      cr

  6. Posted November 29, 2019 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    “Would those same scientists continue to take money knowing that their JTF funder also supports right-wing causes?”

    Would scientists take money knowing their funder also supports left-wing causes?

    • Posted November 29, 2019 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

      You don’t get my point, do you? Most scientists are left-wing and, if they rejected a funding source, it would be one funding organizations that are ideologically incompatible.

      • Doug
        Posted November 29, 2019 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

        My smallish experience in this area has so far shown me that most scientists are decidedly apolitical. They’re interested in the science, not the agenda.

  7. max blancke
    Posted November 29, 2019 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

    I don’t dispute the existence of right-wing or even dangerous hard-right groups.
    But the terms are thrown around so casually and as an insult, that such accusations are almost meaningless.
    And there will always be a right-wing. Even if everyone unanimously adopted Marxist/Leninist principals, some group would form an ideology even more left, and the Marxists would become the right wing.

    I have personally been called a Nazi for expressing pro-Zionist views.

  8. Jonathan Wallace
    Posted November 30, 2019 at 1:59 am | Permalink

    On a recent post about Bill Gates a number of commenters expressed the view that asking the ultra wealthy to pay more tax to help pay for public ‘goods’ was a bad idea because ‘smart’ philanthropists could spend money on good causes more effectively than the government. I think Templeton shows the flaw in that argument – some philanthopists may spend on stuff we approve of but others use their money to advance causes that are less salubrious such as the entrenchment of religion. In science big spenders can exert considerable influence on what research gets done which may not always be what would be most valuable from the perspective of the wider scientific community or society at large.
    I would not advocate that people should be stopped from voluntary giving (we all do it to some extent, after all, in proportion to our financial means) but I don’t think this giving should be a consideration in the structure of a fair system of taxation. Public funding of science (and other activities) is a beneficial thing and unlike philanthropic spending is subject to democratic influence.

  9. Nicolaas Stempels
    Posted November 30, 2019 at 6:33 am | Permalink

    What I fail to understand is why ‘Templeton’ would support Brexit. Brexit mainly benefits Mr Putin’s schemes. WHy would ‘Templeton’ or right wing/centrist groups support that? Am I missing something?

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted December 3, 2019 at 12:40 am | Permalink

      Brexit… pushing the UK closer to its other ‘ally’ the US? Weakening Europe – again to the benefit of the US? (And I regard the US as inherently right-wing, certainly to the right of almost everybody else).

      cr

  10. Justin Gaudry
    Posted November 30, 2019 at 8:38 pm | Permalink

    Whilst on the subject of right-wing politics, let’s not forget how the Hobbesian, Darwinian world-view of scientific materialism underpins neoliberalism.

  11. Posted December 1, 2019 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

    So any supporter of the free market is right-wing? Surely a scientific approach would require understanding the economic principles these organizations espouse?


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