Dozens of climatologists and environmental groups are calling on science and natural history museums to “cut all ties” with fossil fuel companies and philanthropists like the Koch brothers.
“When some of the biggest contributors to climate change and funders of climate science disinformation sponsor exhibitions in science and natural history museums, they undermine public confidence in the validity of institutions responsible for pass on scientific knowledge, ”the letter said. “This corporate sponsorship comes at too high a cost.”
The letter does not mention specific companies, but does name David H. Koch, who serves on the boards of the American Museum of Natural History in New York and the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History and has donated tens of millions dollars to these establishments.
Koch Industries is a private company with subsidiaries in energy and other industries. Mr. Koch and his family have funded conservative causes, including scientists and organizations challenging the role of humans in climate change.
Public records show that many fossil fuel companies have made similar contributions to these organizations and scientists over the years.
The letter is a project of the natural history museum, a mobile museum that draws attention to “the social and political forces that shape nature yet are excluded from traditional natural history museums,” said its co-founder and director, Beka Economopoulos.
A petition drive, also released on Tuesday and sponsored by environmental organizations including Green peace and the Sierra Club, urges the Smithsonian and the American Museum of Natural History to “Kick Koch off the board!” “
Michael Mann, a climate scientist at Pennsylvania State University and signatory of the letter, said donors were looking for a halo they didn’t deserve. “Disguised as civic-mindedness, they whitewash their image while simultaneously and secretly influencing the content offered by these institutions,” he said.
Eric Wohlschlegel, spokesperson for the American Petroleum Institute, said he could not comment on the letter because he had not seen it.
Claims that contributions from donors like Mr. Koch influence institutions’ exposures are not new. A survey 2010 in The New Yorker noted that an underlying message from the exhibits in the David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History is that humans “evolved in response to an evolving world.” The article says that such language suggests that climate change has been a feature of the planet since prehistoric times, which downplays human contributions to climate change.
Randall Kremer, director of public affairs for the museum, said Mr Koch serves on the advisory board, which is “an advisory board and not a board of trustees” and that “the museum director does not intend to ask members to withdraw. “
Mr. Kremer added that although Mr. Koch was the museum’s largest donor, “he signed our standard gift agreement, which prohibits the involvement of donors or sponsors in the content.”
A spokesperson for the American Museum of Natural History, Roberto Lebron, said: “Donors do not determine the interpretation or presentation of scientific content.
Eric Chivian, founder of the Center for Global Health and Environment at Harvard Medical School and signatory of the letter, said he was not convinced that policies prohibiting donors from having direct control over exhibitions are effective. “It’s right in human nature not to bite the hand that feeds you,” he said.
Mr Koch, who gave Lincoln Center $ 100 million to renovate the old New York State Theater and supports many other institutions, said his contributions to museums came from a deep love of science and being “blown away and just fascinatedBy dinosaurs on his first visit to the American Museum of Natural History when he was 14 years old. Mr. Koch and his company did not respond directly to a request for comment on the letter.
Dr Chivian, who as co-founder of the group International physicians for the prevention of nuclear war shared the organization’s 1985 Nobel prize, said the Koch brothers’ contributions to natural history museums were fundamentally different from their contributions to artistic institutions.
“The Koch brothers have no interest in what’s going on at Lincoln Center,” said Dr. Chivian. But such funding for museums is no more acceptable than it would be if “a large tobacco company offered to fund an exhibition for them devoted to lung disease.”
Chris Norris, a paleontologist and prominent blogger on museum issues, warned that if museums started to dismiss board members or refuse donations, they risked damaging their reputation for objectivity. This, he added, would allow “others to argue that the information they provide is partisan and not trustworthy.”