Monday, April 18, 2011

Yes, Templeton is antiscience

Building my list of organizations in the Latin American Rightwing Network, and with recent gnu discussions in mind, something jumped out at me: the name Templeton. The Templeton Foundation is simply all over these networks: founding, funding, grooming, championing. (It’s odd that Sourcewatch has virtually nothing on them.)

There've been several posts among atheists and detractors lately about the disrespect for and abuse of science perpetrated by the Templeton Foundation. Sunny Bains’ recent article looks at rampant cronyism in the organization, but just barely touches upon the contempt for science evidenced by the organization’s funding choices. Bains mentions the Templeton Freedom Awards for the Promotion of Market Fundamentalism (OK, not the actual name), hinting at Templeton’s role as a rightwing funder. Josh Rosenau, not one to be denied the opportunity for apologetics, tries to run with it:
The sloppiest part of the piece comes when Bains tries to justify the claim: "For a group that claims to be pro-science, the Templeton Foundation, and Jack Templeton, its Chair, seem to fund organizations that have an anti-science bias." Bains makes that "and" do a lot of work, since she never shows the Templeton Foundation itself funding anything that she can characterize as anti-science. She talks about Jack Templeton's private funding of conservative groups of various sorts, both directly and indirectly, a trend which might be problematic if she could show that Jack Templeton (Sir John's son) was using his position to sway the Foundation in more conservative directions. The Nation offered some evidence of that, but Bains simply doesn't try. Talking about the Foundation itself, she notes that:
the Templeton Freedom Awards are administered by the Atlas Economic Research Foundation, a group that is perhaps most notable for its opposition to taking action against climate change and for being a defender of the tobacco industry that has traditionally given them funding.
She never clarifies what relationship the Templeton Freedom Awards have with the Templeton Foundation or the Templeton family. A bit of searching on Google turned up that the Foundation did endow those awards, but Bains never bothers to mention that tie, leaving the reader to do her research for her. Nor does she establish what, if any, ongoing role the Foundation has in the administration of those awards. This is the closest she comes to showing the Foundation itself flirting with anti-science positions, but she fails to show the crucial link between the Awards and the Foundation, or to clarify what influence, if any, the Foundation still has on the awards. It's possible that the Foundation does direct these awards toward climate change deniers, but it's also possible that the initial endowment of the award gave AERF complete autonomy. Bains doesn't give us enough information to draw any conclusions. She may well not have gathered enough information to draw conclusions. Yet draw them she did.

Thus, when the story concludes that she finds the Foundation's agenda "unclear" and adds "At worst, its agenda is pro-religion and anti-science," she simply hasn't made the case for the latter point, and doesn't show a good faith effort to actually examine the agenda. No, Rosenau, it’s you who hasn’t made a good faith effort.
Aside from your ignoring your own acknowledgment of evidence of the organization’s conservatism, the willful blindness it takes to suggest that Templeton merely endowed these awards, with their name, and handed them to Atlas while stepping aside (It’s possible!) is staggering. Since the “research” you claim to have done for Bains appears to consist of following a Google search to a Wikipedia page, allow me to elaborate a bit.

One recent award winner is the Free to Choose Network, specifically for its web site Izzit distributes free rightwing propaganda to schoolteachers. An example is “Unstoppable Solar Cycles,” an AGW denialist video for which Heartland evidently tricked people into appearing. Where does Free to Choose – also one of the sponsors of Heartland’s 2009 climate-change conference - get its funding? Well, the Templeton Foundation gave them almost $1.5 million for a project in 2007. (Several of the organizations listed as sponsors of the 2009 Heartland conference are funded by Atlas.)

Another 2009 award winner is Poland’s Globalization Institute, in Atlas’ AGW-denial stable, “for publishing ‘The Mythology of the Greenhouse Effect’, right before the 2008 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Poznán.” I can’t make this up: The full title is “…: How eco-terrorists, big business and politicians manipulate the public.” This is the Templeton Freedom Award video put out by Atlas on YouTube. Here’s their “History” page in English, where you can read about the winning mix of market fundamentalism, AGW denial, and Catholicism.

Atlas is rightwing and antiscience through and through. It’s sponsored events with Heartland and, as mentioned above, spawns ideologically allied and AGW-denying think tanks around the world. It’s been funded by ExxonMobil and Phillip Morris, and received a $4 million 2009-2012 “Discovery and Innovation in Free Enterprise Education” grant from…Templeton:
Building on the success of the Templeton Freedom Awards (Grant #10605), this expanded program seeks to improve research and education on the nature and benefits of freedom and free enterprise. The program will introduce a new competition to launch Free Enterprise Centers and establish a high-profile Templeton Leadership Fellowship program to advance the strategic impact of think tanks.
If you want to do a comprehensive study of the Templeton Foundation’s funding, Rosenau, you can start here. They’ve funded and worked with the AGW-denying Mercatus Center (another Templeton Freedom Award Winner). They’ve funded the Heritage Foundation, the John Locke Foundation, AEI, the Manhattan Institute, Alliance for the Family, the Jesse Helms Center Foundation,… And if you insist on emphasizing that, well, they fund many things, I will insist on the fact that you’re recklessly and irresponsibly naïve.

Accomodationists have to get past this willful blindness and see Templeton for what it is, and the apologetics have to stop. They don’t even have implausible deniability. They promote a religious-right neoliberal agenda that cares about science only to the extent that it can be manipulated, twisted, distorted, and denied. They and the think tanks they fund are antiscience to the core, and there’s no excuse for pretending this isn’t the case.


  1. I wonder what Chris Mooney thinks about all of this. He did a great deal of mostly pro-science reporting on global warming, but then he got that Templeton fellowship. And that makes me think on Nisbet; he was allied with Mooney for a long time, and recently he published a report that is basically a counter-factual history of the debate over the climate bill. Among other silly things, Nisbet counted "the entire lobbying budget on all issues from major corporations like BP, Bank of America, GE, and ConocoPhillips, in the total of what was “representative of the capacity for power and influence” that the environmentalists supposedly had to bring to bear on the climate bill debate" (quote from Joe Romm's article on the topic.) However I do not know of any direct link between Templeton and Nisbet.

  2. And the information was easy enough to find before he accepted the fellowship. Shameful.

    I read that article about Nisbet from the link (yours?) at Pharyngula. The report sounds shockingly bad (not that this is surprising coming from Nisbet, who's pretty much wrong about everything). Would be interesting to learn if he has links to Templeton. I would be more suspicious if he appeared to be intelligent.

  3. Ok, this clinches it. Any organization that funds "global warming denial" is antiscience (and antihuman, too).