Templeton News

Looking at my list of items to blog about, I see most of them have some relation to the Templeton Foundation, so this will be a blog post just about those. To get some idea of the scale of Templeton’s activities, at the end of 2014 they had about \$3.2 billion in assets, and during 2014 had given away about \$185 million. For comparison, the NSF budget for FY2014 for physics was $267 million and for mathematics \$225 million.

One of the main goals of the foundation is to bring together science and religion. Among the many things they are funding to accomplish this is a \$871,000 grant to Arizona State University to fund Think Write Publish Fellowships in Science and Religion. If you’re a hard-up writer, these people will give you the opportunity to get $10,000 to write “creative nonfiction stories about harmonies between science and religion” and help you get them published.

Over the next few years, as you see things like this make it into the media, realize that this is not evidence of an intellectual trend, but a reflection of Templeton money and their agenda. ASU’s Lawrence Krauss is, for good reason, not happy.

To give an idea of the range of Templeton’s influence, just at ASU they’re funding several other large grants, including $745,000 for Representations of God (this and this), and $544,000 for emergent gravity. When you notice conferences, seminars, public lectures, etc. about “emergent gravity” in coming years, realize that some of them are happening because of Templeton’s agenda (one of the PIs is a Templeton Prize winner).

One of Templeton’s largest recent grants has been \$4.7 million to FQXI for research into “Physics of the Observer”. Among other things, this funded a recent conference at Banff.

A major interest of Templeton’s over the years has been “Genius”. Another of their large recent grants has been to the World Science Foundation for its Cultivating Genius Initiative.

Finally, there will be an interesting mathematics conference related to quantum field theory at Harvard October 8-10. I’ll likely be up in Boston visiting my brother and hope to maybe attend some of the talks. Funding for this is coming partially from the “Templeton Charity Foundation Switzerland”. I guess this is these people, some off-shoot of the Templeton Foundation, with exactly the same interests, They say they have made \$85.2 million in grants, a list is here.

: I was thinking of commenting that Templeton at least seemed to have slowed down its efforts to promote multiverse mania. But then I noticed this. If you want to know why Ira Flatow on NPR keeps bringing up the multiverse, \$150,000 in Templeton money might have something to do with it…

Update: I keep on finding out about more of these Templeton-funded things, they are endless. Templeton is funding an Institute for Cross-Disciplinary Engagement at Dartmouth. Themes to be investigated are “Can science alone explain the nature of reality?”, “Is there free will?” and “Is there purpose in the universe?”. Among their many activities will be an event featuring a dialogue between Sean Carroll and a Buddhist Scholar in San Francisco in February.

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20 Responses to Templeton News

  1. I’m all in favor of studying physics of the observer. After all, every real experiment is an interaction between a system and an observer, and the outcome depends on the physical properties of both. Studying an aspect which is present in all experiments and which has been hitherto rather ignored seems like a promising approach to make progress.

    Of course, an “observer” does not have to be conscious or even alive. Perhaps “probe” is a better word, or “test particle” in the context of GR.

  2. Bernd says:

    Is “emergent gravity” somehow related to “intelligent falling”?

  3. Jess Riedel says:

    As someone who attended the Banff conference, whose thesis was ~20% funded by Templeton, and who is applying for a grant, I strongly agree with Peter’s wariness and the danger of interpreting forthcoming fads as meaningful intellectual trends rather than just the effect of funding incentives. This is important to highlight. That said, I think the Templeton funding is a definite net positive for the world (my own work aside, of course). They aren’t a lone nefarious bias in an otherwise pristine academia, they are just one of many, many distortionary incentives, created by mostly well-meaning human beings.

    Yes, if Templeton really was an O(1) fraction of the funding for physics (or any other subject), what would be serious cause for concern, but the numbers given above are misleading. The large majority of Templeton money is not going to math and physics research, so it’s not fair to compare all $185M to the $492M total NSF math and physics funding. Take a look here for the Templeton Foundation’s Math & Physical Science grant winners. They gave $12.2M in 2014, $17.4M in 2015, $7.5M so far in 2016. I encourage concerned folks to go read the grant descriptions for signs of nefarious religious influences.

    Ultimately we have to reply on the marketplace of ideas. If the marketplace breaks (say, because physicists are more dysfunctional than mathematicians when unconstrained by experimental data), it can’t be saved by rallying the group to exclude certain funders.

    Thanks for the very useful post, Peter!

  4. Jonathan Miller says:

    They have a lot of money, I should make a grant application.

  5. Peter Woit says:

    Thanks Jess,
    The numbers were meant more to give an idea of the overall scale of the resources Templeton is devoting to its agenda. To compare the impact on physics and mathematics you’d have to look at different numbers. Templeton does very little to support mathematics research, so has just about no impact there. For physics research (unlike the NSF) they do very little on the experimental side, which is the most expensive.

  6. sebastian says:

    Judging from the invited speakers, the conference is mainly about the operator algebra approach to 2 dimensional conformal QFT.

  7. Jess Riedel says:

    > For physics research (unlike the NSF) they do very little on the experimental side, which is the most expensive.

    Yep, that’s a good point.

  8. Matt Leifer says:

    I am not completely comfortable with taking Templeton money, but on the other hand there really is nobody else funding work on the foundations of physics, so if you want to work on that where are you supposed to go?

    I do think we need a private funding body that has a skeptical agenda as a counterpoint to Templeton. In an ideal world, the NSF would be doing that, but in the current political climate that is not going to happen.

  9. Kevin Henderson says:

    It appears Templeton will continue to fund research which will likely never match their aspirations. It is innocuous to apply and accept grants from them as it only benefits the researcher.

  10. Peter Shor says:

    If, on the religion side, the Templeton Foundation supplies a balance to the creationists and the other virulent anti-science religious types, it may end up doing much more good than harm.

    Of course I, and most readers of this blog (I suspect) can only judge what effects the Templeton Foundation is having on the science side, where it seems to be doing things like putting more emphasis on emergent gravity than is really justified.

  11. Dragster says:

    > For physics research (unlike the NSF) they do very little on the experimental side, which is the most expensive.

    Is that still true? Looking at the 2016 grants, their second largest is $1.5M for this project:

    A tabletop-scale experiment to probe for new particles and forces responsible for the predominance of matter over antimatter in the Universe

  12. Tim May says:

    I recall that a semi-crackpot organization called the “Gravity Research Foundation,” or something similar, funded some important GR work in or about the about the 60s, maybe as late as into the 70s.

    They were interested in anti-gravity stuff, but they funded some important GR things.

    Didn’t seem harmful. Everyone knew the funding was coming from some near-crackpots, but, hey, it was there money.

    –Tim May

  13. Peter Woit says:

    Tim May,
    They’re still around, see Wikipedia or their web-site for more of their story and what they’re up to. As far as I can tell, they’ve got about $1 million in assets, and their only expenses going to further physics are about $10,000/year for their essay awards. So, we’re talking .01% of Templeton.

    Actually, doing a little investigation of that Foundation, there are some analogies with Templeton. It appears to be run by the son (George M. Rideout, Jr.) of the guy who, together with Roger Babson, started the thing (and a large chunk of the Foundation income goes to him). The founders were, like Templeton, in the investment advisory business. Also like Templeton, there is an associated Foundation supporting religion, the “Open-Church Foundation”), also run by George M. Rideout, Jr.

  14. Peter Woit says:

    From their grant descriptions it appears that support of experimental research is still quite unusual and a small proportion of what they do. On the other hand, at NSF physics, I believe more funding goes to experiment than theory (although a quick search hasn’t turned up numbers categorized that way).

  15. Daniel says:

    An off-topic news, CN Yang just officially opposed to the building of the large collider. This may have important effect on Chinese government’s decision.

  16. Peter Woit says:

    Thanks, but I want to discourage discussion of this here since it is off-topic. For those interested in this, there is more here
    and surely Chinese speakers can find other sources.

  17. Larry Lurio says:

    We (NIU) just had a colloquium from Alexey Burov on “Genesis of a Pythagorean Universe” which was based on an essay that won an FQXi award http://arxiv.org/abs/1411.7304. The talk claimed to disprove the unconstrained multiverse hypothesis since there was an infinite probability of each universe containing the seeds of its own destruction. The resolution was a constrained multiverse constructed by “The Mind” which wished to be observed. I was a little surprised that religious based philosophy of science would win an award from a foundational questions institute, but after reading your information about the source of funding, I am less surprised.

  18. Mozibur Ullah says:

    I just reread the beginning of Feynmans lectures on physics, and his polemics against philosophers which I enjoyed when I was younger now just make me feel a little annoyed; the same went when I looked at Susskinds lectures where he suggested, for example, that Aristotle supposed F=mv – which quite missed the point of Aristotles subtle analysis what change requires.

    So I’m all for a dialogue between philosophy, religion and physics – and oh, mathematics.

    If the Templeton organisation is over-funding emergent gravitation it certainly suggests that they ought to have input from more physics-wise physicists; but how can this happen if they’re eyeing each other nervously/reluctantly?

  19. Pingback: Templeton: Write about harmonies between science and religion, $10,000 | Uncommon Descent

  20. Pingback: Links for August-September 2016 – foreXiv

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