It’s money vs. principles

Museums (good museums, that is, not trashy sideshows like Ken Ham’s rubbish in Kentucky) have a real problem: they’re expensive to maintain. They aren’t dead piles of old bones, but are sites of active research, and they have to employ knowledgeable people to do the science that goes on there. It takes lots of money to keep one going.

But along comes a dilemma. Who has great big piles of money? Unfortunately, money tends to concentrate in the hands of assholes. And one thing many assholes would like to do is buy respectability and influence from more prestigious institutions…like museums. Some of the biggest, most assholish, ignorantest rich people are the Koch brothers, and the Koch brothers have been very generous in promoting their agenda by throwing money at museums.

Some people have had enough. There is an open letter signed by many scientists to encourage museums to divest themselves of the taint of Koch.

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.

I have to agree that it is unprincipled to accept money from people who actually undermine your mission of promoting good science. But I feel for the museums, too — it’s easy for us to say, “You shouldn’t accept that million dollars from this bad person!”, but then, what are we doing to help the museum replace that money?

Sign the petition. But maybe also, if you can, send a few dollars to the museums you care about. Or buy a ticket and spend a day appreciating what they actually do.

(via Greg Laden)

In case you’re wondering if maybe having a big-money donor fund exhibits as long as there are no strings, read this article about Koch funding for the Smithsonian. There are strings. There are always strings.


  1. says

    Yep, AND he funds BOTH of the dinosaur wings at the Museum of natch hist in NYC too…His fucking name is RIGHT up there at the entrance to both mega-galleries…

  2. twas brillig (stevem) says

    Koch name also taints Nova on PBS. I always pause to wonder if that “sponsorship” gives them any editorial clout over the program. Which I then dismiss, to let the story speak for itself, which I’ll then judge rigorously. This attitude of mine, I also apply to the museum “sponsorships”. Is their moneys being used to distort the museums findings and displays, or are they just using the moneys to get the museum to put the Koch name up there, as an expensive advertisment of the Koch industry? To gip the people into thinking their industry is “good”, cuz they support good causes? I need to see a complete itemization of the Koch influence in these orgs. I don’t want to be propagating an ad hominem fallacy. Just because Koch spends his money on many bad stuffs, doesn’t mean that when he gives some to a museum, they will automatically do bad stuffs with it. Let him throw his money around all over. Let good people collect it and do good stuffs with it, and let them say they got the moneys from Koch. As long as Koch has no significant control over how the money is spent, let him throw it around.

  3. says

    A couple years ago a friend and I went to the insect museum in New Orleans. The section on termites, and the display, were sponsored by Orkin – and mostly were about how damaging termites are and how to kill them. I had to watch hours of David Attenborough videos in order to recover, afterward. As we can see from Iraq and elsewhere, museums are “critical infrastructure” for societies that consist of more than barbarians and brutes.

  4. What a Maroon, oblivious says

    twas brillig,

    The message at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History’s Hall of Human Origins exhibit is that humans evolved during periods of drastic climate change, that we’ve adapted to climate change in the past, and so we shouldn’t worry about current climate change (see here for details). It’s a slyly misleading message which serves the interests of the Kochs and their carbon-based wealth.

    So yes, their sponsorship is a problem.

  5. tbp1 says

    @#5 We sent to the same Insect Museum in NOLA a few years ago. Some great stuff, but hugely tainted by the Orkin sponsorship, as you point out.

    Some years before that, finding out the the former New York State Theater was now the David Koch Theater certainly didn’t add to our enjoyment of The Nutcracker.

    No idea what the solution is, and I’m really really glad I’m not the development officer for a museum or arts organization.

  6. Rob Grigjanis says

    twas brillig @4:

    Koch name also taints Nova on PBS. I always pause to wonder if that “sponsorship” gives them any editorial clout over the program.

    It’s not just sponsorship. David Koch is on the board and the Science Visiting Council of Boston’s WGBH, which is PBS’s largest TV producer, and the maker of NOVA.

    What a Maroon @6: That message got into NOVA as well. From the above link;

    …in 2009, reporter Matthew Yglesias noted that through underwriting a NOVA series on evolution, “Koch the Global Warming Crank” may have used his influence to conclude the series “with an oddly upbeat description of the positive role cataclysmic shifts in climate have played in human history.”


  7. llewelly says

    Of course, if you actually understand evolution, the idea that climate change played a strong role in human evolution has a frightening implication: climate change killed an awful lot of our ancestors’ relatives. If it’s going to help humans evolve further, it’s going to kill an awful lot of humans again.

  8. doublereed says

    The Kochs donate huge amounts of money to a lot of good things. That’s not a problem. If anything, that’s transferring the money from the bad guys to the good guys.

    In case you’re wondering if maybe having a big-money donor fund exhibits as long as there are no strings, read this article about Koch funding for the Smithsonian. There are strings. There are always strings.

    Yea, the strings are the bad parts, especially when the strings undermine the institution itself.

  9. llewelly says

    It should also be pointed out, this is not just motivated by the troubling Koch Climate Change and Human evolution display. It is also motivated by the Willie Soon scandal, which the Smithsonian is involved in .

    By the way, while I am convinced that the call for museums to divest themselves of Koch funds is a good thing, it’s nonetheless that some sciences, such as paleontology, will pay a high price for this. I think that’s tragic, but I don’t think there is much other choice.

  10. says

    @Giliell 3

    This. Please, please, please.

    This article resonates deeply with me, as I live in DC and the NMNH is one of my absolute favorite places in the city. I especially love how it’s free to the public, and how it has rooms where kids can play with microscopes, bones, etc. Seeing children getting excited about science is amazing. At the same time, seeing Koch’s name on exhibits makes me ill. I’m embarrassed to say that I never noticed the BS climate change stuff in the Human Origins exhibit. I spend most of my time admiring the fossils. The thought that people are coming away from the exhibit with such a warped view of the dangers of climate change is really infuriating.

  11. says

    The US military was spending between $12bn and $20bn/year on air conditioning in Iraq and Afghanistan. The US could easily public-fund a few museums by trimming an iota from the military budget. The Pentagon is asking for $10bn to upgrade the nuclear arsenal (which, under the NPT, the US is supposed to be eliminating, while we rant at Iran…) museums not WMD! What an idea!

  12. unclefrogy says

    @ 10 absolutely.
    commonly held ideas I hear is we will not “destroy the earth” which is true. We will not kill humanity which is also true . Which is likely true even if we decide to have a thermonuclear war. What we can easily do is create the conditions where civilization as we know it is impossible which would as indicated above come with a great lose of life, a die off.
    The understanding of the majority of the population of science and history is incomplete at best. The degree that museums are funded by vested interests and exercise editorial control to promote and perpetuate this ignorance is inevitable as we are currently organized .
    Until we decide that what we want as a society and a civilization and support it we will be at odds with the open access to knowledge and understanding of the reality of the world and humanity. Maybe I should say until we change our priorities from the accumulation of wealth and power to the accumulation of knowledge and understanding we will have this struggle.
    uncle frogy

  13. says

    Ive been trying to highlight the disturbing fact that the owner of Hobby Lobby (Green) has spent the last few years building a collection of early christian documents.

    As the grave robbers of Isis are fully aware that the money is in the christian stuff , they are discarding and even destroying collections of 1st to 4th C Syrian papyri in their hunt for the pay dirt.

    Watch Josh McDowell describe how he was invited to rip apart a ancient funeral mask in the hope of finding christian papyri.

    I’d tried to contact Prof Myers about this before but couldn’t find a contact here and didn’t want to disturb his other publicly available email.

  14. militantagnostic says

    Marcus Ranum

    museums are “critical infrastructure” for societies that consist of more than barbarians and brutes.

    So the USA doesn’t need any museums – problem solved.

  15. chrisdevries says

    Re: #10, #15

    I have always held that “environmentalism” isn’t primarily about conserving rare arthropod species in countries most real ‘Merkins haven’t even heard of, though this is what most right-wing morons seem to believe. Sure, biodiversity is important, but the ecosystems we are quickly and thoroughly obliterating will, in the course of geologic time scales, rebound (mass extinctions happen, but life endures). However, by continuing on our present course of short-sighted resource profiteering, we are, in effect, committing slow, worldwide genocide against the impoverished majority of the human species. The methods of hurting and killing the poor are multifarious: resource scarcity (food and water, primarily) due to climate change, overuse and global free trade is already causing famine and war; extreme weather events are increasing in intensity and frequency, and tend to have the greatest impact in places where people are already struggling to survive (and thus have low resilience to catastrophe); people who have moved to big cities in developing nations because the modern economic reality ensures urban job opportunities are more profitable than rural ones, have to deal with stifling air pollution, a cause of millions of fatalities annually.

    Eventually (possibly within my lifetime), the quality of life in every country will be like what the poorest of our species is dealing with today; we have one world and nowhere to run when it cannot sustain healthy civilizations anymore. So I see “environmentalism” as a subset of humanism, nothing more. Continuing to use an economic system that doesn’t account for and protect the so-called “free” services pristine ecosystems and healthy global biogeochemical cycles (both of which we’re fucking with) provide us with will not only ensure the destruction of hundreds of thousands of plant, fungi and animal species, it will condemn billions of human beings to short, painful lives and ensure the tremendous intellectual achievements of the human species are lost forever. Personally, I think we’re already screwed, but it would be nice if global powerhouses like the USA started acting like this is a serious problem and electing governments that are capable of pushing back against the Kochs of the world, and creating policy that prioritizes the long-term survival of human civilization by radically altering the global economic system, making it sustainable.

  16. twas brillig (stevem) says

    It appears the Koch brothers are playing the ‘ad hominem fallacy’ card.
    See, they spend money on good stuff (museums and PBS science shows), therefore the Kochs are good people, Q.E.D.

  17. militantagnostic says

    chrisdevries @20

    nowhere to run when it cannot sustain healthy civilizations anymore.

    This is the big difference from the previous times when humans may have been able to take advantage of rapid climate change. Now that we are pretty much everywhere, their are no new environments to exploit. Every migration will be into someone else’s territory. Usually that hasn’t worked out well.

  18. ck, the Irate Lump says

    Isn’t this exactly what the robber barons used to do?

    And even if the first dose of Koch money is free and clear, once you’re hooked, they can make sure you pay for the rest.

  19. leerudolph says

    >Koch name also taints Nova on PBS.

    There’s, of all things, a campus child-care center at MIT bearing his name.

  20. lorn says

    IMO the crux of the problem isn’t that those that give money include strings that seek to persuade the receiver into modifying their presentations toward the contributors political. The problem is that wealth is so concentrated that the dynamic is one of a few sources giving huge amounts, which justifies the question of what they are getting for their generous contributions, instead of many giving much smaller amounts which might be parted with more casually, and with fewer strings.

    The two countermeasures come down to easy and hard. Easy, but likely less effective because it is hard to come up with the funding this way, is to limit funding to entry fees and anyone willing to contribute without any strings. The hard, correct the wealth imbalances within society. As long as it is only a very wealthy few who can afford to meaningfully contribute there will be strings. Concentration of wealth within society changes everything.