Climate Science Deniers Defend New York’s American Museum of Natural History From Calls to Drop Trustee Rebekah Mercer

Dinosaur cast at the American Museum of Natural History

With friends like climate science deniers and alt-right megaphones like Breitbart, you have to wonder whether New York’s iconic American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) needs any enemies right now.

As the New York Times and others are reporting, the museum is facing calls from hundreds of scientists, its own curators, campaigners, and the public to drop rich benefactor and major Trump funder and ally Rebekah Mercer from its board of trustees.

As DeSmog reported in 2017, the foundation of the billionaire Mercer family has given millions to the museum, with latest figures putting their generosity at $3.8 million since 2013.

Rebekah Mercer, the daughter of hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer, heads the Mercer Family Foundation that has also been giving millions to climate science denial groups, including the notorious Heartland Institute.

But now the museum finds itself in the unenviable position of being defended, perhaps not surprisingly, by the Mercer-funded hyper-partisan outlet Breitbart and climate science denial characters from other Mercer-funded groups.

Deniers on the Defense

In a typically verbose screed on Breitbart, climate science denier James Delingpole called the scientists who had signed a letter protesting Mercer’s presence “basically frauds” and “imbeciles.”

Now climate science deniers have begun to circulate their own “open letter” calling for the AMNH to keep Mercer on the board and “not to cave in to this pressure.”

The letter reads: “The Earth has supported abundant life many times in the geological past when there were much higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. It is quite likely that future generations will benefit from the enrichment of Earth’s atmosphere with more carbon dioxide.

Make no mistake, the agitators are not defending science from quackery — quite the contrary!”

That statement itself is contradicted by every major scientific institution in the world and thousands of scientific studies over many decades.

Many of that letter’s signers are affiliated with groups funded by Mercer’s family foundation in recent years. There’s retired Professor Will Happer of the CO2 CoalitionRichard Lindzen, a fellow at the Cato Institute; and Craig Idso, the chairman of the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change

In a footnote, the letter states: “The views represented in this letter are those of the individual signatories and not the institutions they are affiliated with. Institutions are listed simply for identification purposes.”

The first signatory is Professor J. Scott Armstrong of the University of Pennsylvania.

Marketing professor Armstrong has spoken at several Heartland Institute conferences and was handed a “lifetime achievement” award at the institute’s March 2017 conference in Washington D.C.

The Mercer’s family foundation, which Rebekah leads, has given some $5.78 million to Heartland since 2008. Both Rebekah and father Robert attended Heartland’s D.C conference and have recently extended their funding to other anti-science groups.

As DeSmog reported, at the D.C conference Armstrong compared the apparently heroic work of climate science deniers to New York’s brave 9/11 firefighters.

Many of the names on the pro-Mercer petition have also signed numerous other letters denying the risks of human-caused climate change.

Pro-Science Petition Spammed

What’s more, it appears that some have targeted the pro-science public petition calling for Mercer's removal — which is separate from the open letter signed by scientists — by adding fake names.

In a statement, Beka Economopoulos of the Natural History Museum, a mobile science museum which is helping co-ordinate the letters, and petitions, said:

There have been about a dozen fake names added to the public sign-on list, ranging from the inventor of the steam engine James Watt, to Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels.

It’s not clear if the names were added as a simple prank or in a deliberate attempt to damage our credibility, but either way we quickly removed them and are keeping a close eye to ensure only legitimate names are added. It’s sad that people will go so far to protect Rebekah Mercer as to invoke the Nazi Minister of Propaganda, but here we are.”  

The museum’s famous astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson is known for his impassioned attacks on climate science deniers.

In 2017 when DeSmog asked Tyson about the Mercers' financial support, he stressed how his position showed the independence of science from funding, but added: “All knowledge has value, especially knowledge of how people distort knowledge.”

In response to questions about the current protests, Tyson told DeSmog: “I have nothing to add or subtract from my previous correspondence with you on this matter.”

UPDATED 11 February to add comment from Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Main image: New York's American Museum of Natural History features many fossils, which aren't to be confused with fossil fuels. Credit: Scott Beale/Laughing SquidCC BY-NC-ND 2.0