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Smithsonian Arctic Exhibit Tainted by "Scientific Uncertainty"

Smithsonian Arctic Exhibit Tainted by "Scientific Uncertainty"

Image from Smithsonian Institute web site showing research on prior warming cycle in the Arctic.

November 16, 2007 —

Scientifically correct clouds are roiling in the atmosphere of the Smithsonian Institute. The institute’s much vaunted 2006 exhibit on warming in the Arctic was shown recently to have been altered toward a global warming-not-yet-proven view at the last hour by the Smithsonian’s director, Cristian Samper. The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History is one of the most seen visitor destinations in Washington D.C., and garners much respect in the museum field (despite scandals over the past few years). When the climate change exhibit was due to open in late 2005 Samper ordered last minute changes to the script to add in an element of “scientific uncertainty.” Scientists working on the project from other agencies stated in emails their belief that the inclusion of doubts on global climate change was in response to worries over criticism from congresspersons and Bush administration officials skeptical of climate change conclusions.

Samper denies any pressure, but internal documents—including hand-written notes—showed there was a sudden concern over not enough scientific uncertainty in the exhibit. The exhibit was halted for a 2005 release. New scripts were written and the hard conclusions on Arctic climate change were moved further toward the back of the presentation. The exhibit ran from April through November 2006. The museum has bent to other Bush administration pressures involving a wilderness photography exhibit that Bush officials wanted open for mining and oil.

Samper has also approved a gift of $5 million from the American Petroleum Institute to fund the museum’s Ocean Initiative exhibit and web site. The approval of the gift has been sent on to the museum’s regents.

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