Shell Oil Behind London Science Museum Decision to Take Anti-Science Stance on Global Warming?

Thu, 2010-03-25 16:51Leslie Berliant
Leslie Berliant's picture

Shell Oil Behind London Science Museum Decision to Take Anti-Science Stance on Global Warming?

The Times of London reports that the London Science Museum has decided to change its position from promoting understanding of the science of global warming to one that they deem “neutral” in their climate science gallery. And by neutral they mean a stance at odds with the widely accepted science on climate change. Science accepted by NASA, the UN IPCC and climate scientists around the world. And science being visibly demonstrated right now – today - in places like Antarctica and Nepal where ice is shrinking and in Africa where bodies of water are rapidly decreasing from drought and climate changes and in our oceans where coral reefs are dying at an alarming rate. But better not to upset a confused public. Let’s stay neutral.

Last October the museum launched a temporary exhibition called “Prove It! All the evidence you need to believe in climate change”. The museum said at the time that the exhibition had been designed to demonstrate “through scientific evidence that climate change is real and requires an urgent solution”.

Chris Rapley, the museum’s director, told The Times that it was taking a different approach after observing how the climate debate had been affected by leaked e-mails and overstatements of the dangers of global warming. He said: “We have come to realise, given the way this subject has become so polarised over the past three to four months, that we need to be respectful and welcoming of all views on it.” – Times Online

Joe Romm over at Climate Progress asked the museum director, Dr. Chris Rapley, to explain. Rapley agreed that the majority of climate scientists were in agreement on climate change being real and caused by human activity and that “the weight of evidence” supports them and the exhibit would reflect this. Yet here is an excerpt from Dr. Rapley’s response to Romm:

”The climate debate has become very polarised in recent months, and this has made even more important the need for a public space where people who agree, who are unsure, and who disagree that humans are affecting the climate system are able to explore the science and make up their own minds.”

I always thought it was the role of a science museum to help lay people understand science, not make up their mind as to whether science is real.

But is it just public skepticism driving the change? Left Foot Forward reports that may not be the only reason for the changes to the exhibit. Guess who is funding the exhibit. I will give you a hint. The name of the sponsor starts with an S and ends with an L and rhymes with shill. Yes ladies and gentleman, it might come as a big surprise but the Science Museum Climate Science gallery (no longer called the Climate Science gallery) sponsored by Royal Dutch Shell Oil is taking a “neutral position” on climate change.

Perhaps next they will have an evolution exhibit sponsored by creationists and throw Darwin under the bus.

As Romm points out, the original, temporary exhibit was very different. Their Prove It! website stated it quite clearly; “The Science Museum has examined the evidence. We’re convinced climate change is caused by humans and requires urgent action”. So what happened to all that conviction? It seems to have been replaced with shilling for Shell. And how much does it take to buy off the Science Museum? £4m.

Comments

Pity that a science museum is stumbling into a horrid reputation as a shill for Shell.

It takes a thousand times more effort to repair damage from such a stupid act, than it does to just do the right thing in the first place.

Perhaps they could just change the title of the exhibit to "How a polluter influences public opinion and science policy"

The Science Museum shot themselves in the foot right at the beginning over this. They invited people to vote on whether they thought man-made climate change was happening and made the mistake of throwing it open online, thereby allowing every sceptic on the planet to come out of the woodwork and heavily losing the vote. (Incidentally the breakdown of voting showed that those who actually visited the exhibition voted heavily in the other direction) So I wouldn't be so inclined to blame Shell - this was a big embarrassement for the museum and they probably decided they couldn't go against "public opinion".

Rapley, as I recall, is a respected scientist, who used to work at the British Antarctic Survey. I think his point is correct, people need to feel that their opinions are respected. This is true regardless of whether those opinions are right or wrong.

The danger of aggressively criticizing sceptical views is that it makes people defensive. But if sceptical views are responded to in a thoughtful fashion, I think this can be constructive. Hopefully the Science Museum will manage to do this.

I think that it's also worth noting that there are legitimate scientific arguments about climate change. I mean this in the sense of arguments presented in the scientific literature, e.g., cosmic rays, negative water vapour feedback etc. These views, despite not being widely supported, probably deserve some attention by the Science Museum. This is because they are something that members of the public might be interested in, and have prior knowledge of. Another example is the urban heat island effect. As long as these issues are explained in a balanced way, I think that the Science Museum will be doing its job.

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