fqxi award announcements

There has been quite a bit of discussion on physics blogs recently about the announcement of the Foundational Questions Institute grants a couple of days ago. The stated aim of the institute is:

To catalyze, support, and disseminate research on questions at the foundations of physics and cosmology, particularly new frontiers and innovative ideas integral to a deep understanding of reality but unlikely to be supported by conventional funding sources.

In the blogs and comments, some have praised the choice of grantees, whilst others have criticized it for being too conservative, a waste of time, or for not including grants for some particular foundational topics that they think are important. The connection of fqxi to the Templeton foundation has also been extensively debated. Being a recipient of a grant myself, I obviously think they made at least some good choices, and am looking forward to being able to do some foundational work without having to pretend it has any practical applications in quantum information.

For those who complained about the choice of topics, I would just say that they can only work with the proposals they actually receive, so if people want to change the range of topics that are supported then I think the best way to do so is to submit a strong proposal to the next call.  To other critics, I would say that the worth of fqxi should ultimately be judged by the quality of research that is produced, rather than any predjudices one might have about what makes good foundational research, and this will become clear over the next couple of years.

2 responses to “fqxi award announcements

  1. Congratulations Matt! And if it diverts Templeton’s money from some of their more questionable activities so much the better…

  2. Well, Templeton are not all that bad. I may believe that not much will come out of an increased interaction between science and religion, but there are plenty of people who do think so, and I don’t see any reason to discourage them from trying.

    However, I do find it interesting that there is so much debate about accepting funding from Templeton when so much existing science funding comes from the military, which is arguably even more morally questionable. Templeton have never invested a lot of effort in killing people as far as I am aware. If you are a quantum information person, and you have ever been to a conference, then it is almost certain that you have already benefited from military funding in one form or another, so I don’t think anyone has the moral high ground here.

    At the end of the day, you don’t have to completely agree with the aims of a funding organisation in order to accept money from them. If you did make that a requirement, then you would quickly find that there was virtually no money available to you, particularly if you are interested in science that is a little way off the mainstream. Provided the organisation allows you the freedom to pursue your research in the way you see fit, and doesn’t seek to exploit it in a way that you find morally questionable, then you should have no qualms about it in my opinion. Also, as you say, it diverts funding from any of their other activities that you may have more problems with.

    Of course, there is always the argument that you are somehow lending credibility to an organisation by accepting money from them. For example, they may wish to put your name on their website and advertise the grant as one of the myriad wonderful things they are doing. That does give me some pause for thought, but in this case I feel that fqxi is a sufficiently independent entity from Templeton, and I am strongly supportive of the aims of fqxi, so it isn’t really an issue. I think most people have enough sense to see through this sort of thing in any case.

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