An exhibit about climate change in the Arctic on display from April to November of last year at the Smithsonian Institution was toned down so as not to anger Congress and thus endanger up to a billion dollars in taxpayer funding.
This is the charge from Robert Sullivan, the former associate director in charge of exhibitions at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.
Though the exhibit Arctic: A Friend Acting Strangely is now closed, some of its content remains available online.
Sullivan states that “It just became tooth-pulling to get solid science out without toning it down”. After 16 years of service, Sullivan resigned from the Smithsonian last fall after “higher ups tried to reassign him”.
Officials from the Smithsonian say that political concerns did not influence the development of the exhibit, citing instead concerns of objectivity. Some consulting scientists on the project said nothing significant was left out.
Just a little confused?
I certainly don’t know what really happened here; if it is a case of politics adversely effecting the presentation of science or nothing more than striving for balance.
The material online discusses what can’t be denied; arctic ice is melting, spring is early and winter is late, temperatures are rising. What I didn’t see discussed in any great detail is what might be causing these changes; which is itself not really that balanced.
I guess my point here is that the past few years has brought about a climate of distrust and idealogical politicalization of science. A bit of a tongue-twister – think of it as another kind of climate change.
Nobody seems to trust anyone else’s motivation – even that of the nation’s premier natural history museum.
I’d be lying if I didn’t say that whenever I hear the Bush administration speak of any environmental policy – the Clear Skies Initiative, Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, Healthy Forests Initiative – I doubt that I am being told the truth. Maybe that is wrong of me, but George Bush has been fairly clear in his fundamental animosity toward science.
This story strikes me as yet another consequence of the failure of leadership at a national level in forging effective environmental policy. From energy to resource conservation and global warming, the debate has been pulled into the deep red/blue, right/left divide of the current political landscape.
We need to claw our way back to a reasoned discussion about how to manage the planet’s environment and the ever increasing demands on its resources.