Top Scientists Urge Smithsonian to Cut Ties With Those Who Fund Climate Change Denial

A group of scientists released an open letter March 24 urging the Smithsonian museums of science and natural history to cut ties with corporate donors who have a history of denying climate change, in particular David Koch.

“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,” the letter, signed by 54 leading scientists as of press time, reads. “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 first few signatories include climatologist James Hansen, former head of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies; geochemist James Powell, former head of both the Franklin Museum of Science and the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum; and climatologist Bob Corell, head of the federal Global Energy Assessment and former assistant director for geosciences at the National Science Foundation.

The letter singles out Koch as a trustee on the board of directors at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, as well as an exhibit sponsor, alleging that he has spent more than $67 million in the years since 1997 to fund groups that deny climate change.

Koch’s association to the museums isn’t news; The New Yorker published an in-depth feature examining these and other ties five years ago.

The letter comes just after outlets such as Think Progress have drawn attention to an exhibit funded by Koch that paints past climate change in a positive light and suggests that humans could simply evolve in order to survive further warming. “Will you have a tall, narrow body like a giraffe? Or more sweat glands?” one panel asks, telling visitors to imagine a future era in which the earth has warmed significantly. Setting aside that people probably don’t want more sweat glands (there are already 250,000 in the feet alone), critics have claimed the exhibit seeks to diminish what has been deemed a significant threat by scientific consensus.

While the open letter makes no specific allegations that Koch or any other donors have pressured the museums to host unscientific exhibits, they note that such associations “undermine public confidence in the validity of the institutions responsible for transmitting scientific knowledge.”

“This corporate philanthropy comes at too high a cost,” the signatories conclude.

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