Museums’ Ties To The Koch Brothers Are Not OK, Scientists Say

Leading climate scientists and museum experts called on science and natural history museums to “cut all ties with the fossil fuel industry and funders of climate science obfuscation” in a letter released Tuesday. Specifically, they singled out David Koch.

Koch is not only a major donor and exhibit sponsor, but he’s on the boards of both the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and the American Museum of Natural History. At the same time, the letter notes, Koch “also funds a large network of climate-change-denying organizations, spending over $67 million since 1997 to fund groups denying climate change science.”

As the letter explains, “This corporate philanthropy comes at too high a cost”:

When some of the biggest contributors to climate change and funders of misinformation on climate science sponsor exhibitions in museums of science and natural history, they undermine public confidence in the validity of the institutions responsible for transmitting scientific knowledge.

Geochemist and letter signer Dr. James Powell told me, “I agree with the statement absolutely.” Powell, who was President of the Franklin Institute Science Museum in Philadelphia, as well as President and Director of the L.A. County Museum of Natural History, explained: “The first requirement for a science museum communicating to the public is to get the science right. Funders may have a different agenda.”


That’s why museums need to stay away from accepting money for exhibits from funders of anti-science agendas — and not put them on their boards. The Code of Ethics for Museums, which was adopted by the Board of Directors of the American Alliance of Museums in 1991, is clear that museums are “public trusts,” whose board and staff “must do more than avoid legal liability, they must take affirmative steps to maintain their integrity so as to warrant public confidence. They must act not only legally but also ethically.”

Dr. Michael Mann, another one of the letter signers, wrote me: “We simply cannot allow folks like the Koch Brothers to undermine efforts to preserve the habitability of the planet while greenwashing their public image, facilitated by museums that take their money.” Mann, one of the country’s leading climatologists, pointed out, “The stakes — the planet we leave behind for our children and grandchildren — are simply too high.”

Indeed the Code of Ethics makes clear that museums not only must “foster an informed appreciation of the rich and diverse world we have inherited” in every activity, but it is also “incumbent upon them to preserve that inheritance for posterity.” That inheritance is precisely what the Kochs seek to destroy by funding those who support climate inaction and anti-science denial.

I don’t generally sign letters, but I signed this one because I have seen first hand the taint and conflict of interest that Koch money has created for the Smithsonian, as I explained in my Monday post “Smithsonian Stands By Wildly Misleading Climate Change Exhibit Paid For By Kochs.”

I can accept, as the Smithsonian claims, that David Koch did not personally intervene to affect the exhibit. But I defy anybody to actually go through the exhibit — which praises the virtues of past climate change and misleads on current climate change — and conclude that the designers of the exhibit were not influenced at all by knowledge of the source of the money.


How else can one explain why the Smithsonian has so many scientifically dubious and outright absurd displays that that all just happen to be misleading in exactly the same way — all serving to downplay the threat of current and future climate change? How else can one explain why — five years after being informed of those flawed displays by Climate Progress and the New Yorker — the Smithsonian has not changed a single one, including the ridiculous interactive video that lets visitors create a “future human” who deals with major problems humanity faces, like climate change, by simply evolving:

In the Koch-funded exhibit on how past climate change was supposedly a benefit to human evolution, visitors can solve the problem of current global warming by simply having humans evolve a giraffe-like body or “more sweat glands”!! Click to enlarge.

The truth is that the most senior people at the Smithsonian have known of the flawed and misleading nature of these displays for a long time, but have chosen to do nothing.

I challenge the Smithsonian executives and Board members to walk through the exhibit with me and the media — and see just how many of the final displays can stand the light of day. In addition, they should set up an independent panel of evolution, climate, and museum experts to review the exhibit.

Richard Potts, who directs the Smithsonian’s Human Origins program, told Climate Wire (subs. req’d) that the exhibit is a hall on human origins “rather than a hall on climate change as seems to be the incorrect implication.”

In fact, this is very clearly an exhibit on evolution and climate change from the very first panel and the opening video visitors are exposed to. I doubt there are many museum exhibits in the whole world that explicitly reference “climate change” (or similar phrases) in more displays than this one.


Climate Wire reports that “the exhibition comes with a companion book that explicitly addresses the ‘scientifically obvious impact’ of atmospheric carbon dioxide, Potts said. Sadly, the exhibition whitewashes the subject, and vastly more people will see the misleading displays than will ever read the book.

The petition telling the Smithsonian and the American Museum of Natural History that David Koch shouldn’t be on the board can be found here.

CREDIT:The Natural History Museum
CREDIT:The Natural History Museum