Funding and Philosophical Results (Updated w/ Replies by Dennett)

Funding and Philosophical Results (Updated w/ Replies by Dennett)


Suppose you were reviewing a scientific report that drew the conclusion that a diet without fat was in fact unhealthy, and that butter and cream and even bacon in moderation were good for you, and suppose further that the science was impeccable, carefully conducted and rigorously argued. Good news! Yes, but the author acknowledges in fine print that the research was financed by a million dollar grant from the Foundation for the Advancement of Bacon. We would be entitled—obliged—to keep that fact in the limelight. The science may be of the highest quality, honestly and sincerely reported, but do remember that the message delivered was the message hoped for by the funder. 

That’s Daniel Dennett, towards the end of a largely favorable review of Alfred Mele’s recent book, Free: Why Science Hasn’t Disproved Free WillIt is supposed to be an analogy to the Mele’s work and its funding by the John Templeton Foundation. (Disclosure: the Templeton Foundation funds a project currently advertising on Daily Nous.) Dennett continues:

It is important to note that Mele’s research, as he scrupulously announces, and not in fine print, is supported by the Templeton Foundation. In fact, Mele is the director of a $4.4m project, “Free Will: Empirical and Philosophical Investigations,” funded by the Templeton Foundation, almost certainly the most munificent funding of any philosopher in history. The Templeton Foundation has a stated aim of asking and answering the “Big Questions,” and its programmes include both science and theology. In fact, yoking its support of science with its support of theology (and “individual freedom and free markets”) is the very core of its strategy. The Templeton Foundation supports, with no strings attached, a great deal of excellent science that is otherwise hard to fund. The Foundation supports theological and ideological explorations as well, and it uses the prestige it garners from its even-handed and generous support of non-ideological science to bolster the prestige of its ideological forays…

The Templeton Foundation insists that it is not anti-science, and demonstrates this with the bulk of its largesse, but it also has an invested interest in keeping science from subverting some of its ideological aspirations, and it just happens that Mele’s work fits handsomely with that goal. 

Mele’s project is not the only Templeton-funded philosophy project, nor is Templeton the only source of funds with an agenda. Dennett is claiming that funding from ideological sources casts a shadow on philosophical research in much the same way that funding from industry casts a shadow on scientific research. Is he correct?

UPDATE: Commenter “amb” informs us that Terrance Tomkow and Kadri Vihvelin reply to Dennett, calling his remarks “disgraceful,” here.

UPDATE 2: Daniel Dennett has replied a couple of times in the comments below.

UPDATE 3: Alfred Mele replies to Dennett here.

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Jay Garfield
6 years ago

Well, caveat lector. I have benefitted from several grants from the John Templeton Foundation, and I have NEVER experienced any pressure to produce results sought by the Foundation or by the very capable grants officers with whom I worked. The Templeton Foundation is as hands-off with regard to research conclusions as the NEH or the NSF, and a lot easier to work with as a granting agency. I do not believe that those who doubt research funded by the JTF have done their homework.Report

amb
amb
6 years ago

FYI: Terrance Tomkow and Kadri Vihvelin reply to Dennett here: http://tomkow.typepad.com/tomkowcom/2014/10/dennett-mele-templeton.htmlReport

Richard Zach
Richard Zach
Reply to  amb
6 years ago

” the motives of the researcher or his employers are always beside the scientific point.”

It’s as if the past few decades of work on values in science didn’t happen.Report

district
district
6 years ago

The point is not that Templeton pressures grant recipients. The point is that they are both the interested party and the folks with the money. But I don’t think this is the serious problem suggested here – or at least, it isn’t different in kind from problems already afflicting the research selection and funding process. First think of the dis-analogy between the humorously fictional Foundation for the Advancement of Bacon and Templeton. The FAB (it should really be the *liberal* advancement of bacon so it could be FLAB) is interested as a means for profit, not because they are interested in some line of research being done.
But, you say, Templeton wants certain lines of inquiry studied, and probably hopes for certain results. Let’s think about these two things separately. Journal editors, reviewers of articles, hiring committees, and donors of endowed chairs also want certain lines on inquiry pursued. All these folks check for quality (except maybe the last), but are also interested in what gets researched (and probably also hope for certain results.) In short, all these people do is change the balance of what topics get covered. Templeton does the same. They make sure that projects focusing on “big questions” get funded which otherwise would not. They think it is in their interest to talk about these themes rather than not, and fund projects accordingly. Hiring committees or journal editors etc think it is their prerogative to do similar filtering. We could discuss whether this is pernicious or not, but JTF is no different.
Second, JTF probably hopes for certain results. Maybe. But these are private motivations. Everybody hopes for certain results. A a financial interest is different from the belief that your views are right and the accompanying hope that somebody smart comes along and makes a cogent argument for them.Report

Anonymous
Anonymous
6 years ago

I am a philosophy postdoc in a JTF-funded project, on a topic which most would assume that JTF has a view it might like to promote… and I have never been directed, encouraged, or pressured to take a position or pursue certain questions or conclusions (nor, I might add, have we been prodded to *avoid* certain conclusions: any of us could easily write and publish work against the assumed-to-be-JTF-view). Similarly for our principle investigator who got the JTF grant and works with us; likewise for the JTF representative who sometimes visits when we have a workshop/conference: no one has directed us in any way at all. Thus JTF is funding our work regardless of its results; and this may end up including results which would be antithetical the assumed-JTF-views.Report

Enzo Rossi
6 years ago

Grant-driven academia is headed to hell in the proverbial panier. This is already clearer in Europe than in the US. The question for HE ‘leaders’ is this: do we want to maximise the bottom line, or do we want to make ends meet while doing the research we think is actually important? Rankings and all sorts of neoliberal sticks and carrots have turned the former option into the default position, which would never have happened in a self-governed academic community.Report

Joel Katzav
Joel Katzav
6 years ago

A recent study published in Climatic Change claims that the Templeton Foundation is one of the major funders of the U.S. climate change countermovement. According to the study, the movement not only played a major role in “confounding public understanding of climate science, but also successfully delayed meaningful government policy actions to address the issue”. I would not want to endorse the ideas behind the study, but think it might provide further context for the discussion in this thread. The study is “Institutionalizing delay: foundation funding and the creation of U.S. climate change counter-movement organizations” by R. J. Brulle (2014), Climatic Change, 122:681-694:
http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10584-013-1018-7#Report

Jim Griffis
Jim Griffis
6 years ago

Having only read Dennett’s remarks here, it seems to me he engages in an ad hominem attack in his assumption. If the “science is impeccable, carefully conducted and rigorously argued” there would be no problem with who paid for the research. Similarly for philosophical works, either the argument is cogent or it’s not. Who cares where the source of funding comes from?Report

Kenny
Reply to  Jim Griffis
6 years ago

I would guess that the issue is that even though the research *appears* to be “impeccable, carefully conducted and rigorously argued”, one might think that the funding gives us a reason to distrust these appearances.Report

Jim Griffis
Jim Griffis
Reply to  Kenny
6 years ago

Just read the article by Terrance Tomkow and Kadri Vihvelin , and I see that my comment is very similar. They say it much better than I did, though.Report

Godehard Bruentrup
Godehard Bruentrup
6 years ago

I have collaborated with Templeton-funded projects on several occasions. I have never encountered any pressure, not even in a sublime and/or hidden way, to produce results pre-determined by the JTF. At one conference I presented a pretty far-reaching critique of how the methods and contents of this specific project had been chosen. It was especially this talk that found interest among the Templeton people who were present then. They were obviously not only open to, but pro-actively interested in dissenting voices. They displayed a highly professional attitude.
Getting funding from private sources is important for the future of the humanities. I am happy that foundations like the JTF (and a number of others whose endorsement I had the privilege to receive) provide resources for research and especially much needed funds for promising junior scholars (PostDocs) to help them bridge the time until they get a suitable tenure-track position. These private donors to a great service to the humanities.Report

Owen Schaefer
Owen Schaefer
6 years ago

The study Joel Katzav cites is indicative of something concerning JTF’s direction, but not its position on climate change. As far as I can tell, JTF does not provide *any* grants relating directly to climate change – it doesn’t really fit into any of their schemes, and a quick search of “climate change” on their grants site turns up nothing (in fact, ‘climate’ only comes up once in relation to social, not meteorological, climate). The cited study, though, is insensitive to this. Any grant to the AEI, for instance, counts as funding the climate change countermovement, simply because some work at AEI is part of that countermovement. This is a bit like saying any grant to the NIH supports cancer research, simply because a (major) proportion of NIH work. But of course it would be grossly misleading to claim a grant relating to Alzheimer’s disease research at the NIH directly supports cancer research. Similarly, the claim that JTF funds climate change scepticism is misleading.

Still, the JTF’s grants to the AEI and other conservative think tanks are noteworthy for a *different* reason. They are often clustered under the “Individual Freedom and Free Markets” stream. Unlike the Big Questions stream, there is an explicit ideological tilt to the Freedom stream: that free markets are a good thing. Unsurprisingly, the grants in that stream almost invariably support free market enterprise. I would be quite surprised if this was just a big coincidence, and suspect there is a strong bias in that stream towards promoting free markets and free market solutions. So Dennett’s worry would almost certainly apply to projects funded by the Freedom scheme.

Does the JTF’s ideological bias in the Freedom stream pollute its work in other streams, though? Perhaps not directly; it shouldn’t cast a shadow on Mele and others’ work per se. But maybe there’s a sense of complicity: by applying for/taking the JTF grant, one grants legitimacy to a group that offers other grants that arguably skew discourse concerning free markets/promote a particular ideological agenda through the funding mechanism. This may not be very strong (four million bucks might be worth a little complicity, or maybe one agrees that free markets are great and there’s nothing wrong with using ideological grants to support them), but it’s at least worth noting.Report

anon
anon
Reply to  Owen Schaefer
6 years ago

I’m curious if anyone has attempted to argue that one *should* take money from foundations that support causes or principles one finds morally problematic. It seems like a case could be made on the grounds that spending their money on your research is the least objectionable thing the foundation is likely to do with the money, and that in taking the money you are actively preventing it from being used for morally or otherwise objectionable purposes. I myself have considered taking money from the Koch brothers foundations (if it is ever offered to me in the future) for reasoning along these lines.Report

Lewis Powell
6 years ago

If there is good evidence to show that ideological bent of funding institution influences the research outcomes, then I don’t think this would qualify as an ad hominem, so much as pointing out that we cannot always rely solely on our direct assessments of the quality of the work to determine whether there has been undue influence in the outcomes (and this would not, I don’t think, require the assumption of dishonesty on the part of the authors involved). I believe there is such evidence about the influence of funding sources in some of experimental sciences, but I am not 100% sure, and I am also not sure that such worries would directly extend to this sort of funding arrangement.

If there is not good evidence to show that such influence exists, then I think the relevant standard is something like the disclosure we expect in ethical journalism, where any connections to interested parties are clearly indicated even when the journalist sincerely believes that the relevant connections have no bearing n the impartiality of their reporting. If we are in something like the latter scenario, it sounds like Mele’s work meets the relevant demands of disclosure and that Dennett’s review acknowledges that Mele is not hiding this disclosure in the fine print (though it would require us to ask what further Dennett thinks is needed, since the remarks quoted here make it sound as though he thinks something further is required from either Mele or from Mele’s audience).Report

Daniel Dennett
Daniel Dennett
6 years ago

Tomkow and Vihvelin describe my review of Mele’s book as “disgraceful,” and as slanderous or as committing the ad hominem fallacy—not directly, they acknowledge, but by “coyly” insinuating it. Nonsense. I was very careful with my wording precisely because I did NOT want to make any such insinuation but instead wanted to point out that Mele has a problem simply because he took Templeton money.

Would you take research money from The Unification Church of Reverend Moon? Would you take research money from Scientology? How about the Discovery Institute? I wouldn’t, and it has nothing to do with whether there would be pressure applied to my work. I wouldn’t take it because I wouldn’t want to lend my good name and reputation, whatever it is worth, to these would-be supporters.
Unfortunately, Prospect Magazine deleted, without my approval, an analogy I drew at the end of my review that made that point quite vividly. I had wanted to say: “Templeton is like an heiress who uses her wealth to endow a fine art museum, fills it with the best art her money can buy, and then stocks one room of the museum with the works of her boyfriends.” That sentence got deleted at the last minute without my approval. The history of the Templeton Foundation amply justifies drawing the parallel; it used to attach lots of strings to its grants, but engendered so much criticism that it decided to change its strategy. It could come clean and keep its political agenda and its scientific agenda distinct. Then I would consider taking Templeton money, and encourage others to do so. But it persists instead in following the heiress’s strategy, and I think that is a fact worth keeping in mind.
As for Tomkow and Vihvelin’s high-minded insistence that one is obliged “to ignore” the sponsorship of research, I wonder what planet they have been living on recently. Why do they think that researchers have adopted the policy of always declaring the sources of their funding? Do they think it was ‘disgraceful’ of me to so much as mention the fact that Mele has Templeton Foundation support? Was I supposed to keep that fact to myself? I think that Tomkow and Vihvelin owe me an apology. They attribute motives to me for which they have no evidence, and use those attributions to accuse me of very serious offenses. I criticized Mele of nothing worse than poor judgment in taking the Templeton money.Report

Grad Student
Grad Student
Reply to  Daniel Dennett
6 years ago

Professor Dennett,

Thanks for taking the time to clarify your position in response to T and V’s criticism. I wonder if you could clarify a further question about your heiress example: What is supposed to be the research analogous to the boyfriend’s artwork.

I ask because the analogy seems somewhat inapt. I would think that a more accurate analogy would be this: The heiress funds not one museum, but many. And she selects curators of those museums who share with her a rather particular aesthetic. When these museums open to the public, unwitting critics and audiences become susceptible to apprehending a new consensus in the art world–the shared aesthetic sense of the curators and heiress is the new “default position”.

This, it seems to me, is analogous to an actual side-effect of JTF grants. The quality of the JTF-funded projects with which I’m familiar is impeccable. But they do convey a sense that a certain way of approaching problems, see esp., the free will problem, is now nearly uniform. We can (and probably should) ask whether and to what extent this effect is pernicious.

But the “boyfriend’s work” doesn’t exist, so far as I’m aware, among JTF-funded philosophical projects. Obviously there are projects that JTF funds, beyond its philosophical scope, which I vehemently reject. But I think that (at least recently) there has been a clear separation between the high quality philosophy that has been produced with JTF money and other, morally/epistemically dubious cases.Report

Tomkow
Reply to  Daniel Dennett
6 years ago

In such a forum as this, it is depressing to have to remind everyone what “ad hominem” means but it is apparently necessary.

Let us concede to Dennett that the Templeton people are odious and evil and let us agree, for the sake of the argument, that Mele did a very bad, terrible, not good thing by taking Templeton money.

So what?

How is this relevant to the cogency of Mele’s argument that science has not proven free will an illusion? That is what Mele’s book was about.

Dennett says:

” I criticized Mele of nothing worse than poor judgment in taking the Templeton money”

Since when is it on the cards to criticize authors for exercising “poor judgment” in their personal conduct when discussing their academic work?

Dennett reminds us, as have several commenters, that there is such a thing as experimenter bias and that bias can reflect a funder’s agenda. Of course. Indeed, let us agree that such bias is inevitable and ubiquitous .

So what?

In that case it cannot be a criticism of any particular piece of research that its results reflect the agenda of its authors because we have just agreed that all research is thus biased. Nor can we say that research that confirms its authors’ biases should be subjected to special scrutiny. “Special” in what sense? It can’t be that we should give it more scrutiny than the unbiased research because we have just stipulated that there is no such research.

Note that Dennett did not just “so much as mention” the Templeton point. He devoted more than a fifth of his review to the topic and would have included more if the editors of Prospect had not had the good taste to excise his grotesque analogy with the heiress’s museum.

And, of course, as a celebrity intellectual Dennett is far too sophisticated not to have realized what the effect of his criticism would be. It has already overwhelmed and will likely long overshadow discussions of the substance of Mele’s book.

As we said, disgraceful.

Terrance Tomkow Kadri VihvelinReport

Pascal Engel
6 years ago

I do not think that Daniel Dennett made any fallacy here, on the contrary he has put his finger on an old one. C.S. Peirce described “sham reasoning” as the kind of reasoning where “it is no longer the reasoning which determines what the conclusion shall be, but it is the conclusion which determines what the reasoning shall be”. When research is funded by some Body who announces as being its mission to promote a certain kind of aim, and to discover a certain kind of truth and that the research in question turns out to promote the aim and to lead to the kind of truth in question there will always be the suspicion that the whole process is based on sham reasoning – whatever can be the quality of the research, the carefulness and good will of the researchers in achieving the aim. The suspicion may be unfounded,
the researchers perfectly honest, but it could always arise .Report

Blain Neufeld
6 years ago

The main worry that I have with wealthy funders like the Templeton Foundation (and the various foundations supported by the Koch Bros., etc.) is not that individual researchers will be influenced in their work by their funders’ agendas (although that may be a worry). Rather, my main worry is that some projects receive funding because they are perceived by the wealthy funders in question as supportive of their agenda(s). Thus the positions that end up being debated, over time, will (to some extent at least) be tilted towards those projects that are funded, since funding enables researchers to write and submit papers to journals, write books, organize conferences, and so forth. Thus the shape of the overall debate on certain issues and topics within the public academic sphere, over time, will be indirectly (but significantly) influenced by the wealthy funders in question in ways that are broadly supportive of their agenda(s). And this can be the case even if *individual* researchers and project teams are under no pressure to produce certain outcomes. It is the selection of which projects that receive funding in the first place that does the necessary work.Report

Derek Bowman
Derek Bowman
Reply to  Blain Neufeld
6 years ago

Exactly. And these effects only become amplified the more academic research (and teaching!) becomes tied to grant-funded positions.Report

Libet's Ghost
Libet's Ghost
Reply to  Blain Neufeld
6 years ago

I am afraid that the question of which topics get attention has been already tilted in certain directions by wealthy people, and that this has been going on long before Templeton. The tilters are called universities. Universities fund only certain kinds of projects and they decide which kinds of fields, what sorts of questions, and what sorts of approaches are the “right” kinds. Templeton is just late to the game.Report

Blain Neufeld
Reply to  Libet's Ghost
6 years ago

But universities do not (or should not) have a clear ideological agenda. Templeton does.Report

Libet's Ghost
Libet's Ghost
Reply to  Blain Neufeld
6 years ago

Of course universities have ideological agendas (whether they are clear or not is a different matter). If it is hard to fathom that they do, this is only because we have adopted their ideology as our own. The values and goals of a university, as with most areas of life, are not “neutral,” nor could they be.Report

Blain Neufeld
Reply to  Libet's Ghost
6 years ago

Research-oriented universities *generally* are very diverse entities (there may be exceptions). Members of departments often disagree with one another, let alone departments with each other, faculties with each other, and so forth, on what kinds of research to prioritize, what kinds of questions to explore, etc. No single group gets to call all the shots. So most universities do not have coherent ideological agendas in the same way that wealthy funding entities do (like Templeton, the Kochs, etc.). So I don’t see universities playing a role in priority-setting that is analogous to that increasingly played by private funding entities.Report

Libet's Ghost
Libet's Ghost
Reply to  Blain Neufeld
6 years ago

“So I don’t see universities playing a role in priority-setting that is analogous to that increasingly played by private funding entities.”

You are correct. But this is true only because universities (and not other private entities) are the primary parties involved in setting academic research priorities: they hire, they tenure, and they promote. And they teach the next generation what is, by their lights, important and what is not. From the private entity’s perspective, they are trying to get a seat at the table, a table that (by their lights) has set research priorities that does not incentivize research into things they value. Of course, no one has to let them at the table. Members of the guild can simply say No. But let us not pretend that the university gatekeepers don’t have their own views about what is and what is not worth research money. Indeed, Prof. Dennett has made his own views on this matter quite clear.Report

Blain Neufeld
Reply to  Libet's Ghost
6 years ago

“But let us not pretend that the university gatekeepers don’t have their own views about what is and what is not worth research money.” I certainly would not deny that (and did not mean for my comments to indicate otherwise). However, I have more confidence in a pluralistic process in which the primary decision-makers are (relatively autonomous) scholars, who themselves endorse a *diverse* range of priorities and views, than I do in a process in which outside wealthy patrons decide the funding agendas.Report

Libet's Ghost
Libet's Ghost
6 years ago

Could someone please explain how an argument concluding something like, “current science does not show we lack free will” is an argument that is “anti-science,” or, minimally, “fits handsomely” with the goal of being anti-science?Report

Zara
Zara
6 years ago

Maybe there’s an argument against any endowed Chairs in academia, unless the discipline and subdiscipline of those Chairs is left entirely at the discretion of the university in question and can change as the university sees fit — e.g., if the Smith Chair could move from Physics to Social Work at the University’s discretion. After all, if wealthy donors endow Chairs in specific disciplines or subdisciplines, then wealthy donors are to some extent determining the direction of research. It is arguably important not only for universities to refuse endowed Chairs where the donor seeks control over the hiring process, but also to refuse endowed Chairs where the donor seeks control over discipline or subdiscipline. (BTW, this is not an extension of Dennett’s worry, which is more about lending one’s good name to a funding source. Rather it is an extension of Neufeld’s worry.)Report

FM
FM
6 years ago

It’s pretty easy for someone in Dennett’s position to indict others for where they get their support. Mele’s situation may be different, admittedly, but for many of us, it’s either Templeton funding or no funding. Given the choice, I’d prefer NEH money too (to take just one example). But today’s NEH is a shell of its former self and not likely to recover anytime soon.Report

Alex Kiefer
Alex Kiefer
6 years ago

First, let me say that I love Dan Dennett’s work and have for decades. That said, I think his position on Templeton, which seems to be shared by the majority of academic philosophers I’ve talked to about it, is mistaken. As far as I can tell the problem is that JTF is willing to fund researchers in fields associated with religion as well as many others. Why is this a problem? Allowing theologians to participate in discussion of the Big Questions is surely just open-mindedness in the face of the unknown? Blanket exclusion of any pursuit of knowledge that strikes one as religious, however, is just expression of atheist ideology, much more surely than JTF’s practices are the expression of any particular ideology. Give me a working definition of “ideology” that supports the assumption that religious perspectives stem from ideology while scientific ones don’t, and then you’ll have an argument.Report

Jane Dewitt
Jane Dewitt
6 years ago

Is the objection to the JTF general or specific? Neufeld is right: the shape of funding opportunities influences the shape of various debates. But that is a perfectly general claim. My university will not fund, or count towards tenure and promotion, various sorts of research. That gives me a strong incentive not to engage in such research. Since many other universities have similar implicit policies, the shape of the literature is shaped by such policies. But there’s just nothing to be done about *that*, and in many cases we think it is *good*: much of the research my university would not count towards tenure and promotion is unimportant, wicked, misguided, or some combination thereof. Obviously, many people in our profession might not like the way that JTF money is shaping the profession. But that is only a political reason for them to oppose that specific funding, not a general moral reason to oppose the funding of research by foundations like the JTF.Report

Derek Bowman
Derek Bowman
Reply to  Jane Dewitt
6 years ago

“But there’s just nothing to be done about *that*” [=universities shaping research]

But of course there is something to be done about that – finding other, non-university homes for philosophical research. Of course that would mean giving up the various perks that go with university positions, so maybe it’s not worth it. (Or maybe it is) But let’s not pretend that option doesn’t exist.Report

Jane Dewitt
Jane Dewitt
Reply to  Derek Bowman
6 years ago

I am open minded about this, but I don’t know what other homes you are thinking of. No one is going to give money to philosophers to just do whatever they want (Objectivism, ID, bridging the gap between logical positivism and evangelical theology, etc.). Right?Report

Derek Bowman
Derek Bowman
Reply to  Jane Dewitt
6 years ago

I don’t know either. But in opening our minds to the possibility we should remember that what we need is, on the one hand to be paid enough to live on, and on the other hand to be able to do philosophy. We do not necessarily need to be paid to do philosophy to achieve both of these aims.

Anyway, I don’t think it’s a reductio if worries about Templeton influence cause us to also be worried about university influence on philosophy.Report

Zara
Zara
Reply to  Jane Dewitt
6 years ago

“No one is going to give money to philosophers to just do whatever they want.” One of the points of tenure is to make it that, in their research, tenured academics can just do whatever they want (constrained by the law, for example, if they plan to use live animals in their experiments) — while continuing to get paid money and without fear of dismissal.Report

David Gordon
David Gordon
6 years ago

in his review, Dennett notes that Mele stays “strictly neutral” on compatibilism and and wonders whether this is a decision to postpone “the more difficult issue.” Mele uses the same “neutralist” strategy in his book Autonomous Agents, published in 1995. This was long before he received Templeton funding. He develops two conceptions of autonomy, one for compatibilists and one for incompatibilists, and doesn’t try to decide between them. http://www.amazon.com/Autonomous-Agents-Self-Control-Alfred-Mele/dp/0195150430/ref=sr_1_6?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1413850184&sr=1-6&keywords=alfred+mele#reader_0195150430Report

Daniel Dennett
Daniel Dennett
6 years ago

Blain Neufeld makes a very important point, with which I concur:
“Thus the shape of the overall debate on certain issues and topics within the public academic sphere, over time, will be indirectly (but significantly) influenced by the wealthy funders in question in ways that are broadly supportive of their agenda(s). And this can be the case even if *individual* researchers and project teams are under no pressure to produce certain outcomes. It is the selection of which projects that receive funding in the first place that does the necessary work.”

Tomkow asks:
“Since when is it on the cards to criticize authors for exercising “poor judgment” in their personal conduct when discussing their academic work?”
That is an easy question for me to answer: I was not criticizing Mele’s PRIVATE personal conduct (about which I know nothing) but his PUBLIC decision to accept more than $4 million from a foundation that many academics view, with good reason, as attempting to exercise undue influence on the treatment of various sensitive topics (the “Big Questions”). Mele must have known that the Templeton Foundation is a controversial funder, with many academics publicly refusing to accept their money, for reasons well publicized in recent years (and many others deciding to grit their teeth and take the money), so his decision was a public, political decision and he made it knowing that it might well generate this sort of attention. He shouldn’t feel surprised or blindsided; he must have weighed the pros and cons, and decided that all things considered, he could justify his decision. I’m taking the opportunity to point out that one of the down sides of taking Templeton money is that no matter how good and honest and unbiased your work is, you can expect criticism for allying yourself to the Templeton Foundation l pointing out that now he’s stuck with it, and there’s not much he can do about it. I’m glad I’m not in his shoes, but maybe he is proud of his association with the Templeton Foundation. We haven’t heard from him, so far as I know.Report

Jane Dewitt
Jane Dewitt
6 years ago

I would be interested in knowing by what metric Prof. Dennett thinks the influence of the JTF is “undue”. Is this claim supposed to be objective, or does Dennett just mean that he, and many others, do not welcome the influence of the JTF? In response to Zara, I know that is supposed to be one of the purposes of tenure. But there’s also promotion to full professor, and getting invited to speak at conferences, and getting teaching assignments one desires, and getting special internal research money or travel fund, and getting NEH or NSF money, and etc. In any case, I don’t doubt that many philosophers find the influence of the JTF unwelcome…certainly almost all philosophers would, themselves, have made at least somewhat different funding decisions were they running the JTF. I certainly would have! What I want to know is if there is supposed to be an objective difference between JTF funding or other types of funding, or if people are just expressing their dislike of the effects of JTF funding.Report

Stephen R. Grimm
Stephen R. Grimm
6 years ago

It is worth noting that the NEH has funded, and no doubt will continue to fund, projects in theology. Here is $500,000 given to my own institution to fund a Center for Orthodox Christian Studies. (http://www.fordham.edu/Campus_Resources/eNewsroom/topstories_2641.asp)Report

Aeon J. Skoble
Aeon J. Skoble
6 years ago

Prof. Dennett’s clarification notwithstanding, it’s still ad hominem, and despite his protestations, the criticism implies that Mele is a shill, taking money to advance the donor’s position even though he doesn’t believe it. The arguments Mele produces either hold water or they don’t, and Mele either believes it or he doesn’t. If he doesn’t believe what he’s saying, you could criticize him for being a hack whether the arguments hold water or not, and if he does believe it, then the only issue is whether he’s advanced good arguments, not the extent to which the donors agree. So unless we have some reason to allege that Mele is advancing a position he does not actually hold, it’s entirely irrelevant what his funding source is.Report

p
p
6 years ago

It is interesting to me that 4.4 millions went to a study that shows that x does not exist. I did not know science is in the business of showing that certain things do not exist. It still did not show that unicorns don’t. In any case,denett’s article does not contain any ad hominem argument since he does not insinuate anything about the quality of research as done by mele vis-a-vis his funding judgments. But it does raise an ethical question for all philosophers about whether or not to accept money from certain sources or go with cicero’s pecunia non olet.Report

Anonymous
Anonymous
6 years ago

If we’re not worried about individual research being corrupted by JTF funding, then it seems we’re worried that JTF selects certain projects over other ones. But, well, duh. So at the end of the day, what is the problem? Does it have to do with academic freedom? With impartiality? With dirty hands? With guilt-by-association? I’m having a hard time keeping these questions apart. Also, just out of curiosity (since I honestly am ignorant on the matter): Who are these scholars who have “turned down” JTF funding? Did they apply for it and then turn it down? Was it just offered to them?

I ask because the discourse here implies JTF just “offered” Mele the money, and he accepted it. But usually one has to *apply* for grants. Thus, if there is a worry, shouldn’t it be about applying for grants from JTF? Yet suppose I think it important and worthwhile philosophically to put together a research project/group on a certain topic. I know that my chances of being able to pursue this project are higher if I submit a grant application to a certain foundation X as opposed to Y or Z. I talk to people funded by X and inquire as to whether their academic freedom has ever been limited by X. They reply in the negative. I also find out that X gives money privately to certain organizations/individuals who push agendas I don’t agree with (politically or morally).

The relevant question here is whether it is permissible for me to apply. On the one hand, I think philosophy would be better off if this topic received renewed attention, but I need funding to pursue the project on a large scale. X is most likely to grant me funding. On the other hand, I don’t approve of everything that X does with their money. There is something morally at stake here, to be sure, but I don’t think it’s crystal clear as to how one should respond. Intuitively, we think one shouldn’t apply for funding from, say, the Nazi party. (Though even here it’s not clear that it would not be permissible to do so, if one’s aims were morally impeccable.) At the same time, I apply for funding from my department, but I certainly don’t approve of everything the department does with its money. Or what about an instance where I get money from my grandmother to do a research stay? She gives it to me because she wants *me* to succeed. Obviously there’s a partiality there, but does that mean I shouldn’t solicit her help? Are these cases relevantly analogous to the case at hand?Report

Matthew J. Brown
6 years ago

Justin’s original post asked a broader question about whether the same issues of conflict of interest go for philosophy that go for science. (It boggles the mind that philosophers can seriously deny the premise that there are conflict of interest issues that are important to science.) Since the comments on this post focused on the more narrow issue between Dennett, Mele, and Templeton, I posted a response to Justin’s comment over at my blog:

http://thehangedman.com/blog/2014/11/03/philosophy-funding-and-conflict-of-interest/Report

PeteJ
5 years ago

Late to the party but…

All this seems to show the dangers of professional philosophy. Genuine disinterest becomes almost impossible to maintain and one has to worry about maintaining the appearance of disinterest. If Nigel Farrage can accept funding from the EU…

It is beyond my comprehension how such a large grant could be awarded to research into freewill. Why do the researchers feel that this is such an expensive problem? Because they do not accept the solution offered by the perennial philosophy. So this grant is actually funding research into the plausibility of the Buddha’s explanation of freewill, as fleshed out in, for instance, ‘A Course in Miracles’, where freewill would be a misunderstanding and choice would be meaningless.

$4.4 million dollars is lot, but the logic is inexorable. They will not improve on the traditional explanation.

What is truly weird is that anyone would think, as it appears many do, that a defence of freewill implies a religious agenda, while a defence of determinism implies a scientific agenda. This is even more confused than back to front.Report