Bill Gates gives millions to the Discovery Institute

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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