Templeton Frontiers Program

The Perimeter Institute announced yesterday a new partnership with the Templeton Foundation, in the form of something to be called the Templeton Frontiers Program. The research areas to be supported are “quantum foundations and information, foundational questions in cosmology, and the emergence of spacetime.” A $2 million grant from Templeton will pay for three postdocs, as well as other programs in this area.

The previous major Templeton effort in this area was the $8.8 million dollars in grants a few years ago that funded FQXI. I’m not aware whether FQXI is still getting money from Templeton, or if it has successfully found other sources of funding.

Update: I hadn’t realized this, but over the last year, the Templeton Foundation has awarded an even larger sum of money in direct individual grants (for details, see here). They’ve made about $2.4 million in grants for research in the area of foundations of quantum theory, and another $1.1 million in grants in mathematics/logic, emphasizing foundational results on the limits of mathematics. These are quite large sums relative to the previously available research funding in these particular areas.

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28 Responses to Templeton Frontiers Program

  1. moneyyyyyy says:

    Why exactly should FQXI be either/or wrt Templeton and other sources of funding? Why not get Templeton money AND funding from elsewhere too?

  2. Peter Woit says:

    moneyyyyy,

    My understanding was always that FQXI was always trying to get funding from both Templeton and elsewhere, I just don’t know how much success they’ve had.

  3. Bernhard says:

    Supporting research for emergence of space-time (EST) is an idea I´m in favor of. Kind of thing Lee Smolin is advertising for years. I´m curious tough how projects for EST are judged. The funding agencies I know here in Europe would never have something so specific. In any case, as usual, money goes to postdoctoral positions, not jobs.

  4. Allen Massey says:

    How does this fit with unbiased science? The Templeton foundation seems to insist on linking all science to God and religion.

  5. Richard Séguin says:

    In addition to the religious aspect of their foundation, John Templeton has also been contributing money to the extreme right wing politics of the day. A recent example is a contribution to fund the reelection of a Wisconsin supreme court judge who was probably crucial to maintaining a supreme court favorable to program of governor Walker. I believe they also contribute to the Heritage Foundation.

  6. Avattoir says:

    So, the first temptation is to think Perimeter has made some deal with the devil in taking money from Templeton, implying this compromises Perimeter in pursuing science in an areligous way, but I actually think most here would see this as something more subtle; after all, not just is Smolin there but the joint is run by Neil Turok, both of whom have written more than enough for us to judge them on this, and each comes out looking fine.

    This, I think, and again I’m sure I’m not alone in this, is John Templeton purchasing tolerance for his activities in support of the right by covering his areligious left flank. He and his apologists will be able to point to this funding of Perimeter in an effort to blunt criticism for the inexcusable bigotry and ignorance they will continue to fund elsewhere. I think it was Martin Rees who earlier this year tried to erect some sort of wall between the prize money Templeton ‘gave’ him and his science chops, and that sort of thing, a general gift to a person, gets way too obvious because then Rees had to talk and talk about that dang wall. This is shrewder: both Templeton and Perimeter can point to the specificity of the grant, and no one is going to be going after Turok or Smolin as having volunteered to wear a scarlet R.

    It also suggests to me John Templeton is very likely anticipating doing some awfully nasty things in the 2012 election.

  7. may c j says:

    As far as I remember this 2M is exactly (or close to) the amount Verlinde got for that entropic thing he is doing. Funny coincidence.

  8. Just another instance of “The World is in the Hands of Children”, as I see it. Money, money, money, money, money, money, MONEY — it’s a gas (as Pink Floyd used to sing). Put that together with “the emergence of spacetime” in the same sentence, and it becomes clear, to me, that this is a circus announcement, meant to thrill the geeks (the paying customers/supporters; the academic establishment first and the public last). It’s Not Even Wrong, and It Is To Laugh, or Cry.

  9. Yatima says:

    I don’t know what the problem is here (and no problem was mentioned in Peter Woit’s post, either). Cries of “right-wing” this and that and bemoaning of money changing hands seems to be a hankering for some bizarre Marxist position that should have been abandoned when people promoted from high school.

    Or to put it more succintly:

    “If all the researchers would work for free, all of this could have been avoided.”

  10. Peter Woit says:

    For more about the complicated issue of what the Templeton Foundation funds and how it is run, see a previous posting

    http://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/wordpress/?p=3396

    and the links contained there.

  11. Albert Z says:

    Rumor has it that Don Page is going to be appointed the Archbishop of Perimeter.

  12. Allen Massey says:

    Of course research needs funding (and lots of it), but taking money from a group that tries to bend science to support their view of creationism seems like a bad idea.

    Would the PI be comfortable accepting money from the flat earth society? Especially if the PI knew the flat earth society would advertise that the PI and the society were working together?

    All I am saying is that taking money from people that want to turn back the clock a few thousand years may not be the best idea.

  13. Jim Akerlund says:

    may c j,

    According to Peter’s post of June 2011, Verlinde got 6.5 M. http://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/wordpress/?p=3781
    Just wanted to let you know.

  14. Peter Woit says:

    Allen Massey,

    The Templeton people are not creationists, Flat Earthites, or multiple thousand year clock-turn-backers. They are in favor of both religion and science, which is not exactly an unusual combination among people in the US and Canada today. From what I have seen they generally keep religion out of their physics research funding. Except perhaps in the case of their fondness for multiverse studies, but there the danger to science is coming not from without, but from within…

  15. Avattoir says:

    Peter, I found your take-down of Sean Carroll’s inaugural feature in Discover on the multiverse compelling for the latter materially depending on string “theory”, but then a few days later I read this:

    http://scienceblogs.com/startswithabang/2011/10/why_we_think_theres_a_multiver.php

    which purports to rely entirely on concepts both consistent with the Standard Model and not at all on string “theory”.

    I wonder if you’d consider letting us know your view on whether that purport is accurate, and secondarily your take on the argument as a whole.

  16. Peter Woit says:

    Avattoir,

    That blog posting is mostly just about inflation, with eternal inflation mentioned at the end. Not everyone agrees about inflation implying eternal inflation, see the Tom Banks guest post at Sean’s blog. There’s certainly no relevant experimental evidence, and the theory is highly speculative.

    As the blogger notes at the end, the eternal inflation argument gives something different than what Sean and the string theorists are promoting. All the extra disconnected universes you get have the same physics, this isn’t a multiverse with different physical laws in different places. You can’t use it to try and justify not being able to explain anything. It really tells you nothing about fundamental theory, as I wrote:

    “Inflation is part of the story, but it’s not a fundamental theory by itself. All it can tell you is that your fundamental theory should have an inflaton field of some kind, with a potential satisfying certain properties. “

  17. Giotis says:

    “the eternal inflation argument gives something different than what Sean and the string theorists are promoting. All the extra disconnected universes you get have the same physics, this isn’t a multiverse with different physical laws in different places. You can’t use it to try and justify not being able to explain anything. It really tells you nothing about fundamental theory”

    Peter, the eternal inflation described in the aforementioned blog is one type of eternal inflation. The string landscape picture fits with the false vacuum driven eternal inflation where part of a universe in a inflating dS false vacuum may tunnel to another lower dS vacuum while the parent false vacuum keeps inflating. As you know the properties of the compact extra dimensions changes in the new vacuum because the moduli fields (which constitute the landscape) change and thus in general you may have different physical laws e.g. a different standard model.

    Of course these things are well known but for some reason you avoid to mention them in your reply and thus your statement may be misinterpreted by the uninitiated.

  18. Peter Woit says:

    Giotis,

    The eternal inflation argument made in the blog entry that I was being asked about is explicitly one where you have a simple dilaton field. This doesn’t affect at all the SM. The author states this quite clearly and notes that the string theory landscape, with its multiple moduli fields, and moduli stabilization problem is something quite different and much more complicated, for which there is not the slightest evidence (unlike inflation itself).

    What’s misleading is the often-made argument by string theory multiverse proponents that evidence for inflation based on a single scalar with a specific potential chosen to make inflation work is somehow evidence for the string theory landscape picture with its (hundreds…) of moduli fields, determining all low energy physics.

  19. Jess Riedel says:

    I’m a grad student advised by Wojciech Zurek, and our work is partially funded by the Templeton Foundation. Here’s my impression, for what it’s worth.

    I have not gotten the slightest hint from the foundation that we should connect our research with religion in any way whatsoever. Wojciech’s grant proposal to the foundation made no mention of it, and the conference we attended back in July with the other grant recipients was similarly completely secular. (The description of Wojciech’s grant and those of the other grant winners are available on the Templeton website.)

    As you can expect, the topic of Templeton bias came up during dinner conversation. Among the presenters I spoke with, none claimed to be theists or expressed any sympathy with religious ideas. I also had a chance to speak with the two representatives of the Templeton foundation who were personally chosen (along with others) by John Templeton to help direct the foundation after his death. They seemed very genuine in their belief, which they said was shared by John Templeton, that truths about science and religion would arise naturally from objective research. I didn’t get the sense that they had any interest in trying to influence anyone at all.

    Of course, just choosing who to fund unavoidably influences the direction of scientific research. And the Templeton Foundation unabashedly funds scientists sympathetic to religious ideas. But, to my knowledge, they do so with grants which are explicit about this. (Presumably, they think these ideas aren’t given adequate consideration from other funding sources.) The idea that they are cleverly trying to steal the reputability of Perimeter Institute or of the physics community at large is pretty laughable.

    And yes, even genuine, nice people can do harm if they are convinced of sufficiently destructive ideas. But I really don’t think this is true of the Templeton foundation. The impact on physics of the foundation’s funding will be grossly positive.

  20. Peter Woit says:

    Thanks Jess,

    I agree that from what I’ve seen, when the Templeton people fund something related to religion, they are explicit about it, when they fund science they leave religion out of it.

    I hadn’t realized that this year they have funded a variety of physics related grants, including the one you’re associated with, with information about them at their web-site at:

    http://www.templeton.org/what-we-fund/grant-search/results/taxonomy%3A2?page=1

    I’ll add a note about this to the posting.

  21. Anon says:

    Avattoir, just wanted to mention that John Templeton has been dead since 2008.

  22. Peter Woit says:

    Anon,

    He means the son, John M. Templeton, Jr. (Jack), who is now in charge of the Foundation.

  23. Bobito says:

    Yatima: When one takes money from the Templeton Foundation or the NSA or the DOD one is at least implicitly, and often explicitly, participating in the agenda of the funder. In the case of the NSA or the DOD the legitimacy of the funder, in a purely scientific sense, is not much questioned, whereas in the case of the Templeton Foundation, some regard its agenda as even anti-scientific. It’s not a question of right or left wing. It’s a question of whether the goals of the agency funding one’s research act in favor or to the detriment of science and understanding. In the case of the NSA or the DOD those goals might even be to the detriment of humanity (how one sees this depends on how one views activities such as building atomic bombs or cloaking devices for robotic aircraft rather than on ideology per se – comparing the Obama and Bush administrations, one sees that these goals are not much dependent on political ideology, at least in the US, both being fully supported by all important political actors).

    What also happens is that all these organizations fund genuinely basic research that apparently has no direct contact with their explicit agenda. They do this for at least two reasons. The two I have in mind are: 1. they understand that basic research, directed by curiosity, is at least as likely to produce results useful to them as is heavily focused research. 2. they see funding basic research as a way to counteract the sort of criticisms I implicitly made in the previous paragraph. For example, the Templeton Foundation can defend itself by saying that it funds much research that has nothing to do with religion, and those who accept that money can salve their consciences by believing that what they do does nothing to promote its agenda, although their acceptance of its funds gives it credibility.

  24. Anon says:

    Bobito, you have raised a good point. Those among us (almost all in the U.S., I think) who have accepted funding from the NSA or the DOD have no moral standing to condemn receivers of Templeton funds.

  25. patfla says:

    Is PI’s funding particularly problematic given the declining fortunes of RIM (as in the Blackberry)?

    PI was founded (in the money sense) by one of the founders of RIM, Mike Lazaridis, but I don’t know the extent to which PI has remained a beneficiary of either Lazaridis or RIM.

    If so, then your iPhones (I’m a programmer but haven’t sprung for an iPhone) are contributing to PI’s difficulties.

  26. Avattoir says:

    Patfla, I cannot see why that would be. Just going off the disclosure on the Perimeter Institute website, it looks like not just Lazaridis but anyone connected to RIM last provided large funding in 2009, with the bigger donations from that group coming even earlier, and at about the same time that roughly comparable funds were coming in from the governments of Ontario and Canada. A lot of all that would have been construction, and just from having been involved in a few of these sorts of things in the past, it looks like the PI is working on an endowment model for its basic work, with the new projects like the one raised in this post being the ones that need new targeted funds.

  27. Bobito says:

    Anon: I think your “almost all” is too much, as I know physicists who for many decades have had funding, never once from the DOD, DOE, NSA, or anything similar. In the 60s and 70s there was more consciousness about this, I think, than there is now. There is always the NSF. One can argue that it’s the same government, but I think that is not entirely fair. On the other hand, I agree with what may be implicit in what you say – I’d perhaps go further – while I object to the Templeton Foundation’s mission, I find that its mission is far less problematic than that of the DOD or the NSA, for instance, simply because it never intends to do any concrete harm to anyone, whereas those institutions certainly do.

  28. Anon says:

    Bobito, it is my impression that the majority of important high energy physics departments in the U.S. get a large part of their funding from DOE grants and that it would be almost impossible to avoid benefiting from this. Even if you are not the grantholder, you may be his student and get paid from his grant, your postdoc may be funded by such a grant, you may share lab equipment, computers, or secretaries paid for with DOE money, your expenses or your office as a visiting scholar to a department may be paid from such a grant, or you may attend a conference sponsored by the DOE.

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