Questioning the Integrity of the John Templeton Foundation

Questioning the Integrity of the John Templeton Foundation

Sunny Bains – 2011. 9(1): 92-11 pdf link

« La science en otage » serait un très beau titre pour décrire les activités de la JTF, c’est peut-être pour ça que Staune l’a choisi pour son dernier bouquin ?


In the last few years, the John Templeton Foundation has garnered substantial attention by advertising in many of the US and UK’s most prestigious scholarly magazines and journals. These advertisements have showcased debates on what the Foundation describes as the “Big Questions,” some of which have a scientific theme. Various scientists, philosophers, and theologians have been paid to offer their answers to these questions.

This pronounced visibility has led many scientists and academics to wonder about the Foundation and how it operates. One of its stated goals is to forge a closer relationship between religion and science. To many scientists, this is anathema. They see religion and science as fundamentally incompatible and, therefore, that any relationship between them could only be built on dishonesty or ignorance. To others, the goal is laudable: Some scientists welcome the assistance as they attempt to reconcile their personal religious beliefs with their scientific understanding. To still others, religious or not, any science funding (part of the work of the Foundation involves providing grants for scientific research), from whatever source, is welcome.

For many who do not have a problem with the science/religion agenda of the Foundation, the issue is then one of integrity. Is the Foundation what it says it is? Are its stated goals and its actual goals the same (as judged by who and what it funds)? Does it operate in a transparent and non-corrupt way?

In this commentary, I consider five issues that suggest that the John Templeton Foundation is not what it represents itself to be:

  1. The Foundation began as an overtly pro-religious organization. It has since changed its stated aims and goals, and their presentation, in a way that seems calculated to make them appear more “open-minded.” Nevertheless, the Foundation’s agenda—based on its actual activities—seems to have remained the same.
  2. The Foundation’s organizational structure and the awarding of its prizes appears to be rife with cronyism.
  3. Respondents to the Foundation’s “Big Questions” (at least those questions with clear links to science) are disproportionately Foundation advisors and grantees, and yet it is implied that they represent a balance in responses.
  4. The Foundation finances prestigious external organizations to run its activities, often without making the participants and/or audience aware of who provided the funding.
  5. The Foundation and its current chairman, John (Jack) Marks Templeton, Jr., have a history of funding what could be seen as anti-science activities and groups (particularly concerning climate-change and stemcell research).
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