News from Templeton and FQXi

The Templeton Foundation has just released their “2010 Capabilities Report“, a sort of bi-annual report. It shows that in 2009 they had assets of $1.5 billion, and spent $31.8 million on “Science and the Big Questions”. For 2010 two of their funding priorities were Quantum Physics and the Nature of Reality and Foundational Questions in the Mathematical Sciences, but they have yet to report what grants they made in those categories.

The foundation is now being run by Jack Templeton, a surgeon who is devoting his efforts to spending his father’s money according to his instructions. For a couple of recent articles explaining what is going on at Templeton these days from two very different perspectives, see God, Science and Philanthropy at the Nation, and Honoring his Father at World magazine. The Nation article reports that the Foundation should soon have $2.5 billion or more to spend as the father’s estate is settled, and discusses how Jack Templeton’s right-wing politics and the Foundation’s goal of bringing science and religion together make many scientists uneasy. At the World on the other hand, they seem concerned that the Foundation is supporting the theory of evolution, for reasons that Jack Templeton spells out:

Every five years, three independent analysts are to conduct a review to see if Jack Templeton (or his successor) is making grants consistent with Sir John’s intent. If they find that Jack is giving 9 percent or more of the grants to causes inconsistent with paternal intent, he has one year to get back into line. If not, Jack and his top two officers will be fired.

Nor can Foundation trustees make changes by themselves or choose new board members. Templeton family members, plus winners of the annual Templeton Prize, plus heads of several organizations Sir John respected (such as the Acton Institute) are honorary members: There are about 75 in all, and 95 percent of them must be in agreement for any substantive change in foundation goals and purposes to be made. Even to change the location of the board’s annual meeting requires a 75 percent vote of the honorary members.

The Foundation maintains Sir John’s “core funding areas.” The lead one, “Science & the Big Questions,” includes questions about evolution. Other Templeton core areas are Character Development (“We can determine how to be the masters of our habits”), Exceptional Cognitive Talent & Genius (humans can be “helpers in the acceleration of divine creativity”), and Genetics (the Foundation is not yet accepting unsolicited proposals in that area). Jack Templeton would not discuss any differences from Sir John in those areas: His calling is to do the will of his father.

The son clearly sees things the same way as his father in one other Core Area, Freedom & Free Enterprise. Jack recalls how Sir John “often spoke, year after year about ‘people’s capitalism’ and what it would mean if the overwhelming majority of people in any country were shareholders themselves with the result that they would be much less likely to be envious and instead would focus much more persistently on ‘the good of the whole.’

Besides science, Templeton has traditionally funded lots of activities related to religion, as well as ones promoting “Character Development” and “Freedom and Free Enterprise”. Another core funding area is “Exceptional Cognitive Talent and Genius”, where they try to identify and nurture “young people who demonstrate exceptional talent in mathematics and science.” Their newest interest is in genetics, where they’ve just started to make grants, including one in support of the “Genetics of High Cognitive Abilities Consortium.”

One of the Templeton Foundation’s biggest grants, featured on the front-page of their web-site, was $8.8 million given to set up FQXi. They list this grant as having an end-date of December 2009, and the plan was for FQXi to get later funding elsewhere. FQXi is still in operation, either with leftover Templeton money or new funds from other sources. They announced today the award of $1.8 million dollars in grants for research into “The Nature of Time”, based on this request for proposals, which asked for research “unlikely to be supported by conventional funding sources”. The list of grants announced includes quite a few that satisfy that criterion, but winners also include some prominent theorists working on not exactly unconventional topics such as Andy Strominger on AdS space-time, Joe Polchinski on holography and AdS/CFT duality, Hiranya Peiris on analyzing WMAP data, and Berkeley’s Raphael Bousso on the Multiverse (along these lines). Maybe the last one does qualify as “unlikely to be supported by conventional funding sources”.

In further support of the cause of investigating the Nature of Time, FQXi will pay for an event entitled Setting Time Aright which will take attendees on a chartered cruise from Bergen to Copenhagen late this summer.

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9 Responses to News from Templeton and FQXi

  1. id says:

    So – setting aside questions of ‘is string theory science?’ – does Templeton fund grants on Intelligent Design? Apparently not, back in 2007 –

  2. QED says:

    what are some of the bigger research results to come out of the fqxi research?

  3. larry says:

    garrett lisi’s e8

  4. larry says:

    i meant to write lee smolin’s garret lisi juggernaut

  5. Peter Woit says:

    QED and larry,

    Garrett’s initial work on E8 was done way before he got any funding from FQXi. If his newer work ends up being successful, I suppose FQXi should take some of the credit.

    Maybe the relevant question though is to compare the results of FQXi funded research and DOE/NSF funded theoretical physics research. Neither has had much success in recent years, which you could take as due to the problems addressed being too hard, or to both of them funding the wrong things.

    One area where FQXi beats DOE/NSF in terms of funding research results is in multiverse studies. In that case there’s an argument to be had about whether more and bigger research results is a good thing. Does the world need big, high-impact pseudo-science results?

  6. QED says:

    well, garrett lisi may well be the next einstein as lee smolin proclaimed, and we may well live in a multiverse. both entities represent the pinnacle of fqxi’s foundational research. and just like lisi did a lot of his research before the fqxi funds, so too was the multiverse conceived of and set forth before fqxi. 🙂

  7. QED says:

    Dear Peter,

    After googlig some items this morning, it seems you are a fan of Garrett Lisi and Ed Witten, while you are not a huge fan of fqxi, the multiverse, and some string theorists’ claims of the testability of their theory. Well, Ed Witten supports the the multiverse, and Lisi claims his theory can be tested, even though it cannot. Can you please elaborate on these inconsistencies?

    Thanks for your time!

    QED 🙂

  8. Peter Woit says:


    I guess I am a “fan” of Ed Witten’s but no, I’m not a “fan” of Garrett Lisi. In any case though, in almost all cases I like some aspects of people’s work, and not others.

    In Witten’s case, some of his work is just completely fantastic and far outclasses anything anyone else in the field has done (see my book for a chapter about this). But I also think he has made a mistake in not giving up in the face of things not working out on an idea (string theory unification) that he had some good reasons to get enthusiastic about back in 1984. He’s in good company though, Einstein made the same sort of mistake. About the multiverse, several people have told me that he has been quite critical of the idea in private. His public statements on the subject are typically rather guarded. Recently he sometimes in public talks describes the string theory multiverse idea, then says something about how he’s not yet convinced, but it might be true. I’d rather he adopt David Gross’s full-throated denunciation.

    About Lisi, he’s obviously not in the same league as Witten. I’m sympathetic to some of the ideas he is working with and wish him well. What he’s trying to do is worthwhile, but I don’t think he’s yet found a solution to the basic problems of the subject. He should be careful and precise in what he says in any claims of testability of his work. Caveats tend to get lost in the media.

    Back to Templeton and FQXi, Witten has nothing to do with them as far as I know. One of my criticisms of the two organizations would be that they don’t support research of the sort that Witten has had success with, at the intersection of mathematics and quantum field theory. Lisi’s research is about as far as they go in that direction, and he seems to be somewhat of an anomaly in terms of what they support.

  9. Steve Dufourny says:

    Hi all,

    Sorry for my english.I am belgian.
    I am surprised.First FQXi is a wonderful platform where scientists can speak together in a total transparence.
    For example ,I come from Belgium, I work about my theory of spherization, a GUT of spinning spheres.In resume,quantum spheres….cosmological spheres…UNIVERSAL SPHERE.
    And FQXi has accepted my posts.There on FQXi you can see this year for ther contest, scientists from all over the world.It’s wonderful.These scientists speak together in a total transparence.A real innovant platform, young with a fantastic and wonderful future.This net is revolutionnary indeed.
    An other point dear scientists, the strings are purelly falses , a string is divisible, a sphere no.Mr Lisi and Mr Witten are falses simply in the whole and in the details.We can’t play as we want with our constants, irreversibilities, coherences,….if you want really knowing FQXi….Read their threads or I have a better idea, you go there and we shall speak in total transparence together with our real name of course.
    Dear Mr Woith, come on FQXi you shall be accepted and we shall speak.

    On that

    Best Regards


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