Museums Struggle to Find Unbiased Funding

For years museums have been trusted to provide accurate information to their patrons; however an exhibit installed at the Smithsonian (D.C.) in 2010 has led many to question the museum’s integrity. The exhibit about climate change conflicts with the museum’s official stance in which they identify climate change as being caused primarily by humans. Despite the inconsistency they continue to show the display five years later. The misleading exhibit not only disregards many known facts about climate change, it dodges the important dangers associated with climate change almost entirely. Most museums today are non-profits which constantly seek new sources of funding. This controversy exemplifies the ethical struggles that modern museums face when funding their exhibits.

David H. Koch, co-owner of Koch Industries. From: bloomberg.com

The new Hall of Human Origins was funded by none other than David H. Koch, co-owner of fossil fuel superpower Koch Industries. It must be noted that this is not the first lump-sum of cash that Koch has donated- in fact he has become one of New York City’s most notable and respected philanthropists. As a survivor of prostate cancer; Koch has donated enormous bulks of money to many organizations including his $1.2 billion to cancer research, $100 million to the New York-Presbyterian Hospital to help build the David H. Koch Center, and over $100 million to other various medical institutions and schools. Many find it commendable that billionaires such as Koch donate money to institutions which promote scientific learning, but really if we look at this specific donation to the Smithsonian from a more humanistic approach we must ask; why would someone give so much while gaining nothing in return? The reality of the matter is that this donation was only a small cost for Koch and it has been speculated that his company had a lot to gain from the exhibit.

In the video below, author and Climate Expert Joe Romm explores the contents of the David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins.

The multi-billion dollar Koch Industries has grown to surpass even the likes of Exxon Mobil when it comes to the spread of climate-related misinformation. The David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins cost Mr. Koch $15 million to install which relatively speaking; is mere pocket change to an economic titan such as himself. The exhibit’s contents are all geared to dissuade visitors’ fear of climate change. One feature of the exhibit is a timeline of climate fluctuations since the beginning of life on Earth, due to this enormous scale, the rise in climate which has taken place over the last few decades was rendered practically invisible. An interactive game station about the future of climate change can also be found in the exhibit, here visitors can predict the path of human evolution in an altered climate. Primarily the game conveys a message that humans will adapt to whatever environmental changes come our way. It speaks of large evolutionary steps such as the development of gills for humans to survive life underwater. Over a period of a million or so years this may be possible, but with the rate at which carbon emissions are produced today this belief is simply not true. Through displays such as these, Koch along with the entirety of fossil fuel industries are able to gain public support and traction.

Below is a comparison between the large-scale timeline found in Koch’s Smithsonian exhibit, and a timeline of the past 12,000 years from climateprogress.org.

Large-scale climate change timeline in the Smithsonian’s David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins. Image: thinkprogress.org
Recent climate change timeline. From: climateprogress.org

Last month it was found that researcher Dr. Wei-Hock Soon of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, has accepted over $1.2 million from fossil fuel industries over the past decade. Dr. Soon reportedly took this money as a bribe to publish “junk science articles” denying human-driven climate change. Human driven climate change is a former theory which has become a widely accepted, and unofficially proven phenomenon by many other unbiased climate science organizations including NASA. The Smithsonian posted a statement on Facebook saying that the museum does not support Dr. Soon’s findings, nor do they agree with his conclusions on climate change. Reporters have tried to contact Dr. Soon recently but he has denied interviews and left his phone calls and emails unanswered.

The ethical dilemma of museum funding lies not with the individual donor, but with the industries associated with the donor and in some special cases the researchers affiliated with the museum. In recent weeks three dozen scientists have collaborated and sent an open letter to the Smithsonian and it’s subsidiary, the American Museum of Natural History (NY); urging them to cut ties with not only the Koch brothers, but the fossil fuel industry as a whole. These same scientists have also formed a petition specifically to remove David Koch from the Museum of Natural History’s Advisory Board. The petition has secured 173,928 of its 256,000 signature goal; bringing the petition to 67% completion. Although industry beneficiaries provide massive amounts of funding for these museums, the knowledge being spread by their exhibits is sometimes inaccurate and the resulting public beliefs have potential to become severely skewed. The purpose of a science museum is to spread factual knowledge, not the opinions of their donors.

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