Has the Smithsonian Sold Itself to David Koch?

Wednesday, March 25, 2015
David Koch (photo: Jason Kempin, Getty Images)

Conservative billionaire David Koch has been singled out in a letter by dozens of climate scientists who have asked the Smithsonian and other museums of science and natural history to stop taking money from oil interests and climate-change deniers.


“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.”


That cost includes letting the Smithsonian present a view of climate change that is skewed at best. Koch gave $15 million to fund the Hall of Human Origins at the National Museum of Natural History. The exhibit suggests that humans can simply evolve to adapt to the changes brought about by climate change, according to ThinkProgress. One part of the exhibit asks visitors whether humans might develop bigger sweat glands or become tall and thin, like giraffes.


Since the temperatures are increasing faster than humans could possibly develop those traits, the exhibit is misleading. It also misstates the possible rise in sea level because of warming; the exhibit mentions 21 feet as a possibility, while some research shows it could rise 75 feet or higher.


The letter mentions only one person specifically, Koch, who has been 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,” according to the letter signed by 39 scientists and others.


In addition to the letter, a project of The Natural History Museum, environmental groups such as Greenpeace, the Sierra Club and others have started a petition drive urging the Smithsonian and the American Museum of Natural History to “Kick Koch off the board!” according to The New York Times.

-Noel Brinkerhoff, Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

Science Museums Urged to Cut Ties With Kochs (by John Schwartz, New York Times)

Smithsonian Stands by Wildly Misleading Climate Change Exhibit Paid for by Kochs (by Joe Romm, ClimateProgress)

An Open Letter to Museums from Members of the Scientific Community (Natural History Museum)

Climate Change Denying Scientist Received more than $1 Million from Oil, Gas and Coal Industries (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Danny Biederman, AllGov)


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