[Marxism] Bill Gates and the creationists

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Aug 26 08:02:53 MDT 2005

Intelligent donation?
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."

The Gates Foundation first gave money to Discovery in 2000 -- $1 million 
for the Cascadia initiative. In 2003, the foundation promised $9.35 
million, with $1.1 million distributed annually for the first three years, 
and the rest dispersed according to Cascadia's progress. Only since 
Discovery stepped up its promotion of intelligent design has public 
scrutiny of the conservative think tank increased. Time magazine recently 
noted the Gates affiliation with Discovery, as did Jodi Wilgoren in her 
profile of Discovery in Sunday's New York Times. Wilgoren pointed out that 
an annual $50,000 of the grant goes to the salary of Bruce Chapman, the 
founder and president of Discovery. Chapman oversees the entire institute 
-- including both the Gates-funded Cascadia work and the center's promotion 
of intelligent design. But Shaw says the foundation money for Chapman "is 
for the time he's putting in on the transportation project," not for the 
work he's doing on I.D.

Several biologists and representatives at organizations that promote 
evolution education say they have no problem with the Gates grants to 
Cascadia. "I've been getting so many e-mails from people who are frothing 
at the mouth at this," says Eugenie Scott, the executive director of the 
National Center for Science Education, whose tag line is "Defending the 
Teaching of Evolution in Public Schools." "There is confusion about, 'What 
is Bill Gates doing supporting intelligent design?'" As far as Scott is 
concerned, the Microsoft chairman is not funding intelligent design.

Even if the Gates money doesn't directly fund Discovery's I.D. work, the 
grant has created an image problem for the foundation. "Its support of the 
Discovery Institute is not commendable because of the murky situation 
created," wrote Francisco Ayala, a biologist at the University of 
California at Irvine, in an e-mail. "Many people will not notice that 
Gates' support is restricted to one particular project ... I am reminded of 
the saying, 'The wife of Caesar not only should be chaste, but also appear 
to be so.'" Ayala raises an intriguing question: As the Discovery Institute 
becomes increasingly associated with intelligent design, does the Gates 
foundation worry that its own good name might get tied up in the political 
storm? "It's a good question," Shaw says. "When a grantee's work is so much 
associated with something not related to the work you are funding, how does 
that affect your grant? I don't know the answer to that. It's something we 
are going to have to look at."

Other foundations that have given money to Discovery also seem unsure 
whether the donations may tarnish their image. Still, all insist the money 
they gave to Discovery does not go to fund Discovery's intelligent design 
work. Alberto Canal, a spokesman for the Verizon Foundation, says the 
five-year, $74,000 grant the foundation made to Discovery in 2001 was 
earmarked for a lecture series focusing on technology. "We weren't looking 
at what some of the other centers [at Discovery] were doing," Canal says. 
Discovery's lecture series focused on "technology and how it fits into 
public policy," areas that are in line with Verizon's goals. The David and 
Lucile Packard Foundation gave $200,000 to Discovery's Cascadia center in 
2002. Chris DeCardy, a spokesman, says that "we now know they focus on 
intelligent design, and with the investments we make in science, it's not 
an area we would support." A spokesman for the the Weyerhaeuser Company 
Foundation -- affiliated with the Weyerhaeuser forest-products company -- 
says that the foundation's several donations (many more than $20,000) over 
the past five years also went to fund Cascadia work, not intelligent design.

The Gates Foundation's grants to Discovery are not the only connection 
Microsoft has to the institute. Mark Ryland, who heads the institute's 
Washington office, is a former Microsoft executive, and a Microsoft 
employee named Michael Martin is a current member of Discovery's board. A 
spokeswoman for Microsoft says that Martin served on the board in his 
personal capacity, not as a representative of the company. In an e-mail, 
Keith Pennock, the program administrator of Discovery's Center for Science 
and Culture (which runs its intelligent design work), concurs. "Mr. Martin 
is a member of the Discovery Board in his individual capacity and does not 
represent the Microsoft Corporation. Does Microsoft support Discovery's 
work on intelligent design? No."

Kennock ends his e-mail to Salon with criticism over the inquiry into the 
groups that finance Discovery's work. "Finally, I have been asked to advise 
you that it is unseemly for people who dislike one program at a think tank 
(or a university -- or an on-line magazine, for that matter) to try to 
pressure funders of other programs there," he writes. "It is illiberal and 
contrary to the spirit of free speech."



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