CGD in the News

American Museum Of Natural History Faces DNA Problem At The Board Level (Nonprofit Quarterly)

January 30, 2018

From the article:

Is being a big donor sufficient to serve on a nonprofit board? Does it trump sharing a common vision with the organization? How high should the wall be between board members’ political lives and their role as organizational leaders? For the leadership of New York’s American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), these questions are anything but academic at a moment when they are being asked to remove a wealthy, climate-change-denying board member.
 
Recently, several hundred scientists and academics signed an open letter asking the AMNH Board to sever ties with Rebekah Mercer, a board member since 2013.
 
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 most important asset any museum has is its credibility. This can be damaged by ties to donors and board members who are publicly known for investing in climate science obfuscation and opposing environmental solutions. We ask the American Museum of Natural History, and all public science museums, to end ties to anti-science propagandists and funders of climate science misinformation, and to have Rebekah Mercer leave the American Museum of Natural History Board of Trustees.
 
Mercer and her family foundation have made large donations to several organizations that reject the science of global warming and its human causes, positions that directly conflict with the museum’s focus on educating its public about the dangers we are facing as the earth warms. According to the New York Times, “tax records…show that the Mercers have given a little over $19 million to a variety of conservative groups, including at least three that reject the scientific consensus around fossil fuel-driven climate change: the Heartland Institute in Illinois, as well as the CO2 Alliance and the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change.” Mercer’s foundation has also given the museum $4 million.
 
...They may be correct that Mercer’s board role had no impact on the quality and integrity of their institution. Yet, when science is as politicized as it now is, what may be clear internally looks murkier from the outside. There is a big risk of serious reputational harm from a board member like this. According to the Huffington Post, Jonah Busch, an environmental economist at the nonpartisan Center for Global Development, accused the museum on Twitter of promoting misinformation on climate change when he found in its Dinosaur Wing an informational plaque that minimized the significant impact of human activity on the environment.
 
“When you’ve got people like Mercer on the board,” Busch said, “it just makes it that much harder to give the benefit of doubt when they are putting up inaccurate information about climate change. Something you could give a pass to as an innocuous mistake starts to have the appearance of something more sinister.”
 

Read the full article here.