This is a disturbing story about a difficult ethical issue. Can you fund research at one part of an organization without seeming to support the work of the entire organization? Or to protect youself must you be as Caesar's Wife, remaining even free of the implication of bias? A perplexing conundrum.
Why the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation gave more than $10 million to the Discovery Institute, champions of "intelligent design."
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By Farhad Manjoo
Aug. 26, 2005 | No one could deny that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation cares deeply about science. The foundation, by far the nation's largest philanthropic organization, donates hundreds of millions of dollars every year to promising medical research, including vaccines and treatments for malaria, AIDS and tuberculosis. The foundation also cares about education. In 2004, it donated $720 million to improve American schools. Both Bill and Melinda Gates themselves frequently argue for schools to ramp up their science and math programs to create a competitive American workforce for the future.
It comes as no small surprise, then, to learn that during the past five years the Gates Foundation has pledged more than $10 million to the Discovery Institute, the Seattle think tank that is leading the charge to bring "intelligent design" to the masses. Advocates of I.D. say Darwin's theory of evolution is flawed and that certain complex biological features -- such as, for instance, the human eye -- point to the presence of a "designer" at the source of creation. The scientific establishment roundly rejects I.D. They say it represents a back door through which religious views are being snuck into public education. Due to the Discovery Institute, I.D. is popping up in school districts all over the country, fueling a renewed controversy over evolution that has even made its way into national politics. George W. Bush recently espoused Discovery's views by urging teachers to make sure "both sides" -- that is, I.D. as well as evolution -- are "properly taught."
The Gates Foundation responds that it hasn't abandoned science to back intelligent design. Greg Shaw, Pacific Northwest director, explains that the grant to Discovery underwrites the institute's "Cascadia Project," which strictly focuses on transportation in the Northwest. The Discovery Web site lists several program goals, including financing of high-speed passenger rail systems and reduction of automobile congestion in the Cascadia region, which encompasses Oregon, Washington and British Columbia. (The Gates Foundation, which is based in Seattle, gives a small slice of its money -- about $40 million in 2004 -- to groups that aim to improve life in the Pacific Northwest.) Poor transportation is a key problem for low-income families, Shaw says, and "when Cascadia came to the Foundation, there was a sense that there had not been a regional approach to studying transportation. Cascadia's plan to solve the transportation problem "was very much a bipartisan state, local and regional approach with a variety of states and counties and mayors." He didn't know if people at the foundation were aware of Discovery's I.D. work at the time they decided to fund Cascadia. " It is absolutely true that we care about sound science as it pertains to saving lives," he says. "The question of intelligent design is not something that we have ever considered. It's not something that we fund." (more)