April 7, 2016

SCIENTISTS UNITED AGAINST SCIENCE MUSEUMS: Prominent researchers have joined greens and progressives (including MoveOn.org and the Working Families Party) in a campaign to reduce funding for science museums. They’re demanding that museums reject donations and investment dividends from “the fossil fuel industry and funders of climate science obfuscation,” starting of course with David Koch. The activists are hailing Koch’s recent resignation from the board of trustees at the American Museum of Natural History as a triumph for their cause. (He and the museum say the departure was voluntary.)

The activists claim to be worried about museums’ objectivity, but that’s a ruse, I argue in City Journal. If there’s any bias at science museums, it goes the other way, toward eco-alarmism. Showing the wonders of nature is no longer enough; visitors must be hectored to change their lives and save the planet. Edward Rothstein, who has been writing about museums for a decade at the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, has summarized the trend: “Over the last two generations, the science museum has become a place where politics, history and sociology often crowd out physics and the hard sciences. There are museums that believe their mission is to inspire political action.” 

So why worry about conservative donors when they’re having no impact? Because this isn’t really about science or museums. It’s about silencing political opponents. It’s a warning shot to donors and corporations: if you give money to a conservative cause, you will be banished from museums and respectable society.

In this fight, the science museums are just bystanders. If their budgets suffer, if their visitors end up paying higher admission fees or seeing fewer exhibits, that’s just collateral damage. A dedicated leftist can excuse it as a small trade-off to reach our glorious collective future. But the curators and scientists who have signed on to the cause have no excuse for the damage they’re doing. They’re supposed to give science priority over politics—or at least that used to be the professional ethic. 

Several museums, including the Phipps Conservatory in Pittsburgh and the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, have already caved to the activists. Nearly 150 academics have joined the cause, including George Woodwell,  director emeritus of Woods Hole; James Powell, former president of the science museums of Los Angeles and of the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia; and climate researchers like like James Hansen of NASA, Michael Mann of Penn State, and Kevin Trenberth of NCAR.

 

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