Natural History Museum Urged to Cut Ties with David Koch

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David Koch at the American Museum of Natural History's 2010 gala

Dozens of scientists from prestigious institutions around the world are calling on the American Museum of Natural History on the Upper West Side to stop taking money from David Koch, the billionaire oil magnate whose philanthropy has supported cultural institutions as well as climate change skeptics.

“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 scientists said in an open letter released Tuesday.

The signatories include James Hansen, the former head of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in Manhattan, and James Powell, the former president of the Franklin Institute Science Museum in Philadelphia.

Koch’s philanthropy has drawn unwelcome attention to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., which is also being asked in the letter to cut ties with the petroleum executive. Activists have charged that an exhibit there funded by Koch suggests that humans can adapt to climate change through evolution rather than by reducing their dependency on fossil fuels.

New York’s American Museum of Natural History has so far not been accused of soft-pedaling climate change, though Koch serves on the museum’s board of trustees and lent his name to its famed dinosaur fossil collection, the David H. Koch Dinosaur Wing.

“I’m a big fan of the museum and I go there with my toddler regularly,” said Beka Economopoulos, director of The Natural History Museum, a new mobile museum based in New York that was the driving force behind the letter. “That said, the museum is offering cultural capital and social license to David Koch as a supporter of science, yet he funds scientists and lobby groups that spread climate science disinformation and block action on climate change.”

The American Museum of Natural History has not responded to a request for comment. A spokesman, Roberto Lebron, told The New York Times that donors do not influence the content of the museum’s exhibits.

A spokesman for Koch Industries, Ken Spain, said in an email that Koch, the company's executive vice president, plans to continue to support cultural institutions as well as public policy organizations.

UPDATED, 3:40 p.m., March 24, 2015, with David Koch's response.