"Why are science museums in bed with science deniers?" (actor-activist Mark Ruffalo)
The link in Mark Ruffalo's tweet is to the above-referenced petition, organized by a new outfit called The Natural History Museum, which "is free from ties to the fossil fuel industry, calls out climate science deniers and culprits obstructing action on climate change, and actively champions the just transition to a sustainable and equitable future."
Actor-activist Mark Ruffalo isn't the only one wondering, "Why are science museums in bed with science deniers?," but earlier this week Mark was putting the question out with a vengeance. Of course he, like everyone else who poses the question, knows the answer: $$$$. That's right, almight dollars. Right-wing plutocrats have 'em, and nonprofit orgs of every stripe need 'em, more often than not desperately.
And the lucky-ducky institutions that cash those checks are quick to assure us that the money doesn't influence the way they perform their functions, no sir! And with that assurance we can all rest easy, right? Except that pretty much every day we read new, usually well-documented charges that, on the contrary, nonprofit institutions and media are giving their right-wing zillionaire donors quite a bit of "consideration."
Now I understand why, for example, whoever pocketed that pile of Koch cash forged ahead with the renaming of what was for decades Lincoln Center's New York State Theater as the David H. Koch Theater. Because, after all, they got to pocket that pile of cash. So you see, I understand. Nevertheless, as someone who has I logged a ton of evenings in the State Theater since it opened, I can report that I haven't set foot in the joint since the rechristeneing. (In the interest of proper disclosure, I should note that I probably hadn't been inside the building for a while before the renaming, probably since I gave up trying to find anything on the NYC Opera schedule -- back when there was a NYC Opera -- that seemed worth my time and money. At the moment I can't actually think of any event whose pleasures I've denied myself because I won't, you know, set foot again in that goddamned building. Sometimes these things just work out.)
THE GRITTY WORLD OF NONPROFIT "DEVELOPMENT"
Considering how big a business the "development" (i.e., fund-raising, not to be confused with the "development" of anything actually cultural or artistic) arm of the nonprofit world has become -- one often gets the feeling that the "development" teams have become more important at many orgs than the teams that actually do stuff -- it's not hard to understand the appeal of free-floating $$$$. Small orgs, no matter how high-minded, are in a terrible position to turn away any potential donor, and large orgs now have such an overwhelming need for $$$$ that they feel they have no choice but to go where the $$$$ are.
To get back to the immediate case, that of science museums taking money from science deniers, one thing the museums have known for ages is that we Americans love our dinosaurs. And if you've got dinosaurs and any notion of how to monetize your assets, then the formula is simple: Dinos = $$$$. They can bring in paying customers and paying donors. Including, it seems, PR-conscious energy mega-industries.
If you go to the link for the Natural History Museum's petition, you'll find the following appeal (emphases in the original):
The world’s top scientists, including several Nobel Prize winners, just released an unprecedented letter calling on science and natural history museums to cut all ties to the fossil fuel industry.*
The letter comes on the heels of recent news that Smithsonian-affiliated scientist Willie Soon took $1.25 million from the Koch brothers, Exxon Mobil, American Petroleum Institute and other covert funders to publish junk science denying man-made climate change, and failed to disclose any funding-related conflicts of interest.
In particular, the letter points a finger at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History (D.C.) and the American Museum of Natural History (NY), where David Koch is a member of the board, a major donor and exhibit sponsor.
Oil mogul David Koch sits on the board of our nation’s largest and most respected natural history museums, while he bankrolls groups that deny climate science.
Sign this petition to the Smithsonian and the American Museum of Natural History: It’s time to get science deniers out of science museums. Kick Koch off the board!
We’ll deliver this message and the list of signatures to the American Museum of Natural History before their annual board meeting the first week of April. Then we’ll do the same at the Smithsonian before their board meeting in June.
THAT "UNPRECEDENTED LETTER" FROM "TOP SCIENTISTS"
Why don't we just take a look at it?
To Museums of Science and Natural History:
As members of the scientific community we devote our lives to understanding the world, and sharing this understanding with the public. 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.
Museums are trusted sources of scientific information, some of our most important resources for educating children and shaping public understanding.
The Code of Ethics for Museums, adopted in 1991 by the Board of Directors of the American Alliance of Museums, states:
“It is incumbent on museums to be resources for humankind and in all their activities to foster an informed appreciation of the rich and diverse world we have inherited. It is also incumbent upon them to preserve that inheritance for posterity.”
“Museums are grounded in the tradition of public service. They are organized as public trusts, holding their collections and information as a benefit for those they were established to serve…Museums and those responsible for them 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.”
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.
For example, David Koch is a major donor, exhibit sponsor and trustee on the Board of Directors at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, and the American Museum of Natural History. David Koch’s oil and manufacturing conglomerate Koch Industries is one of the greatest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. Mr. Koch also funds a large network of climate-change-denying organizations, spending over $67 million since 1997 to fund groups denying climate change science.
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. This corporate philanthropy comes at too high a cost.
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 is signed, as of the time of writing, by 54 scientists, from climatologist James Hansen, former head of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, to Andrew S. Johnson, a research scientist at the Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience. See the list with the posted version of the letter.
[Potential signers are invited to e-mail thenaturalhistorymuseum.org "with your full name, scientific credentials, and affiliation (past or present) as you’d like it listed."]
ARE WE "IMPLICATING" THE FIRST AMENDMENT?
In a Washington Post "In the Loop" item on the scientists' letter and the petition, Colby Itkowitz highlighted the link between the Kochs and the two giant museums directly in the line of fire:
David Koch, the billionaire conservative donor and executive vice president of Koch Industries, donated $35 million in 2012 for a new dinosaur hall at the Smithsonian’s Natural History museum. He had previously given $15 million to the museum’s hall of human origins that is named for him. In New York’s museum, he donated $20 million to the dinosaur wing that is also named after him.And Colby got some responses. First, from the Smithsonian:
Randall Kremer, spokesman for the Smithsonian Natural History museum, said both exhibits deal in great detail with the impacts of climate change. And that Koch, and others on the board, are well aware of that.And then from KochWorld:
Kremer told the Loop that they wouldn’t be supporting the museum if they “did not understand the science behind our public programs.” (The Smithsonian has been unequivocal in its belief that climate change is manmade.)
[David] Koch did not respond directly to the letter, or his opinion on climate change, but Ken Spain, Koch’s managing director for external relations did send the Loop an e-mailed statement:As Colby notes, there's a lot of interest in just "how much the Kochs support climate change deniers," although I think she's pretty much missing the point when she describes this as "a popular topic for Democrats hoping to vilify them." Is it really so hard to grasp that this is really and truly not a matter of political tit-for-tatting? (Yes, apparently it is.) She does report, though, that "several Democratic senators wanted to investigate whether fossil fuel companies, including Koch Industries, were funneling money to groups trying to discredit climate change," and that "the Kochs’s lawyer said that information was protected by the First Amendment."
“David Koch and the David H. Koch Charitable Foundation have pledged or contributed more than $1.2 billion dollars to educational institutions and cultural institutions, cancer research, medical centers, and to assist public policy organizations. Mr. Koch remains committed to supporting these causes.”
That last link, by the way, is interesting. It includes a letter from Mark V. Holden, Koch Industries senior vice president, general counsel, and secretary, to Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Edward Markey (D-MA), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), in response to their inquiry for information "about Koch Industries' payments made in support of scientific research and scientists, as well as support for other efforts related to climate change, if such payments have been made."
Here's what Senior VP Holden had to say:
As you can see, the counselor, who holds a J.D., class of 1988, from Catholic University Law School, writes a nice lawyer-letter -- except maybe for that phrase about "matters that implicate the First Amendment." I didn't go to law school, but myself, I would be more likely to say something like "matters that involve" or "invoke" the First Amendment. But "matters that implicate the First Amendment"?
. . . The activity and efforts about which you inquire, and Koch's involvement, if any, in them, are at the core of the fundamental liberties protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. To the extent that your letter touches on matters that implicate the First Amendment, I am sure you recognize Koch's right to participate in the debate of important public policy issues and its right of free association. These rights have been recognized by the United States Supreme Court.
In reviewing your letter, I did not see any explanation or justification for an official Senate Committe inquiry into activities protected by the First Amendment.
Under the circumstances, we decline to participate in this endeavor and object to your apparent efforts to infringe upon and potentially stifle fundamental First Amendment activities.
Maybe, though, now that the Right has taken up the First as its next-to-favorite amendment, it's not surprising to learn that the shysters of the Right regard it as something to be "implicated." Well, I suppose if the First Amendment gets too deeply implicated, it can always evoke the Fifth Amendment. If corporations have person-like rights, don't constitutional amendments?