In Brief

Scientists Ask Natural History Museums to Cut Ties with David Koch

Viewing a grizzly bear at the American Museum of Natural History in New York (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)
Viewing a grizzly bear at the American Museum of Natural History in New York (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

In an open letter posted today, 39 scientists call for natural history and science museums to sever connections with climate change deniers. In particular, the signatories single out David Koch and his support for both the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History and the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH). The billionaire has supported dinosaur galleries at both, including an expansion now under construction at the Smithsonian, to which he donated $35 million.

“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,” reads the letter, hosted and released by the Natural History Museum, a mobile museum founded by the arts collective Not an Alternative. While “those who profit from fossil fuels” covers quite a bit of the United States, there is legitimate concern about people who support climate change denial — like Koch — being major forces in science museum funding. For example, a 2010 New Yorker story noted that “The David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins, at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, is a multimedia exploration of the theory that mankind evolved in response to climate change. … The exhibit makes it seem part of a natural continuum.”

Alongside the letter, the Natural History Museum shared an online petition that, as of this writing, has over 25,500 signatures.

The letter follows agitation against Koch at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where the David H. Koch Plaza was unveiled last fall, supported by a donation of $65 million. That protest included members of the Illuminator projecting the words “Koch = Climate Chaos” onto the building. Koch is on the board of both the Smithsonian Natural History museum and the AMNH, and as Smithsonian Spokesman Randall Kremer told the Washington Post, he and all the other trustees have complete knowledge that these museums display information on climate change. That statement doesn’t, however, resolve ongoing concerns about the implications of museums accepting high-level donations from individuals who may be working counter to their goals.

Read the full open letter on the Natural History Museum’s website

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