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David Koch Leaves Museum Board Amidst Controversy

RP Siegel headshotWords by RP Siegel
Leadership & Transparency
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Last week, David Koch resigned from the board of the American Museum of Natural History. Koch, along with his brother Charles, owns Koch Industries, a petro-chemical conglomerate that is the second largest privately-owned company in America. The two have received a great deal of attention for their efforts to use their vast fortune to push the American political dialog sharply to the right. Koch sat on the museum’s board of directors for 23 years.

One of the Koch Brothers' best-known efforts is their funding of the climate-denial machinery conducted under the banner of the Americans for Prosperity group. These actions fly in the face of all serious science, in which the overwhelming majority of those actually qualified to have an opinion on the subject agree. Because of this anti-science stance, environmental groups among others have been clamoring for his departure from the museum’s board.

Koch, who holds a master’s degree in chemical engineering from MIT, almost certainly understands the science. It’s most likely because it does not fit with his libertarian ideology, or for that matter, the financial goals of his company, that he chooses to not only ignore it, but to defy it.

This ‘disingenuosity’ has led to multiple ironies, both in his support of the museum and in his resignation from its board. It led Mark Antonio Wright, for example, to comment recently in the right-wing National Review, “Let me get this straight, ‘members of the scientific community’ are upset at a philanthropist who has given tens of millions of dollars to a science museum?”

Indeed they have been, and Mr. Wright knows exactly why, unless he’s been living in a cave. The Kochs have become the principle proponents, indeed the very embodiment, of the idea that wealth trumps truth -- an idea completely antithetical to science and one that, sadly, seems to be catching on again.

Foremost to many will be the question of timing. Why now? The Kochs are nothing if not methodical. Clearly, groups like Greenpeace, which first exposed the Koch Brothers’ shenanigans back in 2010, would like to take credit for the pressure they’ve applied. That certainly must have had an impact. Indeed many on the left are celebrating the announcement. But according to an unnamed spokesman at the museum, “He was not swayed by any of that.”

It may in fact have something to do with a new tactic the Kochs have taken on in their quest to shape American politics in their image. It was described in a recent piece in the New Yorker by Jane Mayer, who also wrote the book, "Dark Money," an exposé of the Kochs' geopolitical machinations.

The Kochs have surely been aware, for some time, that they are widely despised. But, they’ve apparently only recently come to understand that that opinion is standing in the way of achieving their objectives. Therefore, they have set forth in an effort to clean up their image.

Says Mayer, “As the Kochs prepare to launch the most ambitious political effort of their lives, they appear to be undergoing the best image overhaul that their money can buy.” The once-reclusive brothers are now making public appearances everywhere and agreeing to interviews even on supposedly left-leaning outlets like NPR.

Perhaps part of that overhaul is to disengage from the cognitive dissonance of the science museum post, which has become a lightning rod for protest, attracting what they consider the wrong kind of attention.

Playing down their controversial positions, the brothers are now focusing instead on more palatable aspects of their platform, like their longstanding interest in criminal justice reform, their support of the Hispanic nonprofit LIBRE Initiative that emphasizes “economic freedom,” and their donation of $25 million donation to the United Negro College Fund (earmarked for entrepreneurs).

The Kochs, according to Mayer, appear to be taking a page out of John D. Rockefeller’s playbook. Rockefeller used philanthropy to clean up his image after causing widespread misery on his road to fortune. The difference with the Kochs is that they want to clean up their image now so that Americans will open up our doors and let them and their extremist ideas in.

Image credit: Gage Skidmore

RP Siegel headshotRP Siegel

RP Siegel, author and inventor, shines a powerful light on numerous environmental and technological topics. His work has appeared in Triple Pundit, GreenBiz, Justmeans, CSRWire, Sustainable Brands, Grist, Strategy+Business, Mechanical Engineering,  Design News, PolicyInnovations, Social Earth, Environmental Science, 3BL Media, ThomasNet, Huffington Post, Eniday, and engineering.com among others . He is the co-author, with Roger Saillant, of Vapor Trails, an adventure novel that shows climate change from a human perspective. RP is a professional engineer - a prolific inventor with 53 patents and President of Rain Mountain LLC a an independent product development group. RP was the winner of the 2015 Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week blogging competition. Contact: bobolink52@gmail.com

 

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