Scientists Tell Smithsonian to Ditch Koch Money

Calls for museums to cut ties with climate skeptics are growing louder.

Dozens of high-profile climate scientists want to make David Koch's funding for the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History and the American Museum of Natural History the next battleground in the global-warming fight.

The group of scientists, including James Hansen and Michael Mann, on Tuesday penned a letter calling on the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History and the American Museum of Natural History in New York City to stop accepting big-money donations from conservative financier David Koch and anyone with a financial stake in fossil fuels.

"This corporate philanthropy comes at too high a cost," the scientists wrote in an open letter to science and natural history museums, adding, "The only ethical way forward for our museums is to cut all ties with the fossil-fuel industry."

Koch, who along with his brother Charles heads the privately held Koch Industries and has given millions to conservative causes, is a member of the Board of Directors of the Smithsonian's Natural History Museum and the Board of Trustees of the American Museum of Natural History. He has donated $35 million to the Smithsonian for an overhaul of its dinosaur hall and another $15 million to sponsor the David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins. Koch has also given at least $20 million to the American Museum of Natural History.

Fifteen nonprofits, including the Sierra Club and Greenpeace, also launched a petition on Tuesday calling on museums to cut fossil-fuel ties. "It's time to get science deniers out of science museums. Kick Koch off the board!," the petition reads.

The push arrives amid revelations that Smithsonian scientist and climate-denier Wei-Hock Soon raked in roughly $1.2 million dollars from the fossil-fuel industry while failing to disclose a conflict of interest. One of the founders of Soon's research was the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation.

A spokesman for the Kochs gave no indication that David Koch plans to step down from the board of either museum or halt any donations. "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," a spokesman for Koch Companies Public Sector said.

Spokespeople for the Smithsonian and the American Museum of Natural History told The New York Times that Koch's affiliation with the institutions does not affect what they choose to display. A Smithsonian spokesman added that there were "no plans to ask any members to step down" from the board.

The Smithsonian's Natural History Museum or the American Natural History Museum did not return a request for comment from National Journal.

The petition is set to be delivered to the museums at upcoming board meetings this spring.

This story has been updated.