by Greg Mayer
At the end of last year, the Field Museum in Chicago announced that it was considering draconian budgetary cuts to, and even more ominous institutional restructuring of, its scientific departments. Jerry and I wrote about this here at the time, decrying the Field administration’s plans.
In January, Science published a news article on the situation. A number of us had been discussing various actions to protest the planned cuts, through petitions (change.org here), resolutions, critical commentary, and letter writing. In response to the Science piece, Jon Losos, Johannes Foufopoulos, Neil Shubin, Doug Futuyma, Ben Campbell, Scott Edwards, Jerry, and I wrote a letter to Science supporting scientific research at the Field Museum. The letter was published in today’s issue. The opening snippet:
The headline, which was written by Science, is appropriate: it refers to a famous line by the English scientist James Smithson, founding benefactor of the Smithsonian Institution, that we quote in our letter. Smithson wrote that his institution would be devoted to the “increase and diffusion of knowledge“. While many (especially newer) science museums can contribute to the diffusion of knowledge, only great natural history museums like the Field, with its priceless treasure of collections and and staff of outstanding scientists can contribute so much to the increase of knowledge. It is this mission that the Field administration threatens to give up, but must not dare, for shame, to abandon.
There’s another letter supporting science the Field Museum in the same issued, by Sophie Warny of Louisiana State University, arguing for the importance of natural history museums for practical applications.
Public outcry has worked before in saving some of the research departments at the Smithsonian. If you have not yet done so, you can sign the petition linked above, or write to the Field’s President, Dr. Richard Lariviere (firstname.lastname@example.org ) or Board Chair John Rowe (postal address for both is The Field Museum, 1400 S. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, IL 60605-2496).
Mayer, G.C., J.A. Coyne, J.B. Losos, J. Foufopoulos, N. Shubin, D.J. Futuyma, B.C. Campbell and S.V. Edwards. 2013. Museums’ role: increasing knowledge. Science 339:1148-1149. (pdf; if link doesn’t work for you, email me and I can send you a pdf)