A photo of Chris Packham

Academics vow not to work with Science Museum Group over fossil fuel sponsorship

Image: Chris Packham at RSPB Minsmere, Suffolk, England (CC-BY-2.0 Jo Garbutt)

Former collaborators and TV personalities are also among the signatories of an open letter calling for the Group’s senior leadership and trustees to end ties with fossil fuel sponsors.

The Science Museum Group has suffered another blow as a result of its fossil fuel sponsorship.

In an open letter published today and signed by 60 science professionals – some of whom have previously worked with the group – is a pledge not to work with the organisation while it accepts funding from fossil fuel companies.

The letter states that many of its signatories have “excellent personal relationships” with Science Museum staff, but that they “can no longer be complicit in the policies adopted by the Group’s senior leadership and trustees.”

It continues: “With sadness therefore, we commit not to work with any organisations in the Science Museum Group until it announces a moratorium on partnerships with fossil-fuel-producing companies.”

The news follows the resignation of Trustees Dr Jo Foster and Dr Hannah Fry, who stepped down from their roles over disagreement about the sponsorship of a new gallery by energy company Adani Green Energy, an arm of the energy giant Adani Group.

The letter specifies that signatories will not work with the Group until it publicly commits not to renew any existing contracts when they expire, or to form any new ones until the company demonstrates a plan for phasing out fossil fuels in line with the Paris 1.5°C target.

Those that have put their name to the letter include academics who have previously worked with the museum. Jon Spooner, one of the initiators of the letter, is Artistic Director and Chief Executive of Unlimited Theatre, which has previously worked with Science Museum Group members.

Prof Joanna Haigh, Emeritus Professor of Atmospheric Physics at Imperial College London and former Co-Director of the Grantham Institute, who has spoken at a number of Science Museum events, most recently at one of the Science Museum’s ‘Climate Talks’ also signed.

Dr David L Clements, Reader in Astrophysics, Imperial College London previously organised and hosted exhibit stands for Science Museum Lates and other events related to Space and Astronomy.

Dr Emma J. Sayer, Reader in Ecosystem Ecology at Lancaster University also signed the letter, after removing her work from the ‘Our Future Planet’ exhibition on learning it was sponsored by Shell.

Signatory Prof Mike Berners-Lee, Professor of Sustainability at Lancaster University, who has previously consulted on the Science Museum’s Atmosphere Gallery, said: “As a kid I loved the Science Museum. I’m so sad to see it failing completely in its duty to impartially educate on this most critical topic.”

Other notable signatories include Prof Susan Michie, Professor of Health Psychology and a member of SAGE; Danish politician Kira Marie Peter-Hansen,a Member of the European Parliament and Chris Packham, a naturalist and BBC broadcaster.

From the museum sector, signatories include Jess Turtle, co-founder of the Museum of Homelessness.

Dr Deonie Allen, Dr Steve Allen, Dr Sedat Gundogdu, three microplastic pollution experts who were recently refused to contribute materials to the Science Museum collection over a reported ‘gagging clause’ with Shell, have also signed the letter.

A statement from Dame Mary Archer, Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Science Museum Group said: “Respecting those who disagree with our approach will not stop us from robustly challenging anyone peddling falsehoods such as the claim that our curators have been gagged. Our museums retain editorial control in all our galleries and exhibitions and I am hugely proud of our talented team who carry out their work in an independent, expert and thorough manner.”

“Given the scale of the climate challenge, we reject the argument that we should sever all ties with the energy sector.”

Archer added that the Science Museum Group has “robust internal debates” about sponsorship and as a science institution the group would “encourage our critics to consider what is achieved by deplatforming.”

Updated 19th November 5:49pm to include a statement from the Science Museum Group