A group of leading scientists and non-profit organizations are urging museums of science and natural history to break their ties with the Koch brothers, climate-change deniers and industrialists. The two brothers of Koch Industries, the second largest privately-held company in the US, are funding misinformation campaigns regarding global warming and humanity’s impact on the planetary climate.
“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,” the letter states. “This corporate philanthropy comes at too high a cost.”
The letter doesn’t name any companies nor the Koch brothers in particular, but it does single out David H. Koch, who sits on the boards of the American Museum of Natural History in New York and the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History and has given contributions of millions of dollars to those institutions.
But science isn’t the only thing he’s been investing in. The Koch brothers have put money into attempting to prove the climate change isn’t happening (or rather, to make it seem like it isn’t happening). In 2011, one of these studies they funded backfired as the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature team found a significant increase in global temperatures associated with human activity. They also wanted to change the school books in Texas to say that we don’t know what’s causing climate change, despite a basic scientific consensus on the issue (1, 2).
David and his brother Charles have also emerged as the nation’s top donors to a vast array of libertarian-conservative politicians and causes, supporting and basically sustaining a number of right wing think tanks such as the Heartland Institute, which likened climate scientists to criminals and terrorists. While many museums in the world are in dire need of funding at the moment, accepting money from groups such as the Koch brothers does seem to come at a too high cost.
“It is one thing for David Koch to give money to Lincoln Center or Carnegie Hall, but it is quite another to support a science/natural history museum that has a role to play in doing research on, and helping educate the public about, climate change, the greatest threat ever to confront humanity,” Nobel laureate Eric Chivian, a signer of the letter, said in a statement. “The philanthropy serves to silence any criticism of the practices of the donor, and even, any critical discussion of the issue.”
Forbes estimated in late 2014 that Charles and David Koch are the 6th and 7th richest people in the US, worth just over $40 billion each. Their agenda has become clearer and clearer in recent years, and their voice has become more and more powerful, especially with millions and tens of millions of dollars spent in philanthropy. But even as David Koch, who was diagnosed with cancer in the 1990s, invested $66.7 million in the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City and $100 million to the New York-Presbyterian Hospital to help build the David H. Koch Center, he and his company fought hard against the regulation of formaldehyde, a well known human carcinogen.
It’s a tough decision for museums to make. Do you take the “dirty money” and accept funding from the same sources groups like the Heartland Institute do, or do you maintain your integrity but miss out on tens of millions? This group of researchers urgest for the latter.
“Drawing on both our scientific expertise and personal care for our planet and people, we believe that the only ethical way forward for our museums is to cut all ties with the fossil fuel industry and funders of climate science obfuscation”, the letter reads at its end.