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.