A roster of scientists, including some Nobel Prize winners, have written an open letter pressuring museums of science and natural history to cut ties with fossil fuel firms and those denying human effect on climate change.
Specifically, the letter targets energy billionaire and major museum donor David Koch, who sits on the board of both the American Museum of Natural History in New York and the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.
Sponsored by The Natural History Museum and signed by 39 scientists,
the letter states, "We are deeply concerned by the links between museums of science and natural history with those who profit from fossil fuels or fund lobby groups that misrepresent climate science."
Further, it states, "We are concerned that the integrity of these institutions is compromised by association with special interests who obfuscate climate science, fight environmental regulation, oppose clean energy legislation and seek to ease limits on industrial pollution."
The letter is backed up with a petition, signed by 12,500 people to date, which states, "Oil mogul David Koch sits on the board of our nation's largest and most respected natural history museums, while he bankrolls groups that deny climate science.
"It’s time to get science deniers out of science museums. Kick Koch off the board!"
The letter terms Koch "one of the greatest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions in the United States" and states, "Mr. Koch also funds a large network of climate-change-denying organizations, spending over $67 million since 1997 to fund groups denying climate change science."
Koch donated $35 million to the Smithsonian in 2012 to refurbish the dinosaur hall, gave another $15 million in 2009 and gave $20 million to the Manhattan museum in 2006 to create the David H. Koch Dinosaur Wing, The New York Times reports.
So far, the museums are less than enthusiastic about evicting David Koch.
Randall Kremer of the Smithsonian told the Times,
"The museum director has no plans to ask any members to step down," and added that Koch has signed the institution's donor agreement which "prohibits donor or sponsor involvement in content.
American Museum of Natural History spokesman Roberto Lebron told the Times, "Donors do not determine the interpretation or presentation of scientific content."
The Natural History Museum is a mobile exhibit which states on its website,
"Unlike traditional natural history museums, it makes a point to include and highlight the socio-political forces that shape nature. These forces include those affecting the atmospheric climate on Earth, as well as the political/funding climate within museums of science and natural history," and adds, "The mission of The Natural History Museum is to affirm the truth of science."
While major museums struggle to remain politically neutral, paleontologist and museum blogger Chris Norris told the Times that if museums start removing board members, they would make it possible for "others to argue that the information they provide is partisan and not to be trusted."
Ken Spain, Koch's managing director for external relations, told The Washington Post,
"David Koch and the David H. Koch Charitable Foundation have pledged or contributed more than $1.2 billion dollars to educational institutions and cultural institutions, cancer research, medical centers and to assist public policy organizations. Mr. Koch remains committed to supporting these causes."
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