The last time billionaire and libertarian activist David Koch paid for a permanent exhibition at the National Museum of Natural History, in 2010, the unveiling attracted a tiny smattering of protesters. The show was the institution's hall on evolution, and the demonstrators, from Green Peace, kind of had a point: It's great that Koch, the executive vice president of petroleum and chemicals firm Koch Industries, was so generous in his defense of Darwin. But what about his support of climate-change denial?
The answer then, and I suspect the answer now, is that the Smithsonian can't be choosey when it comes to its benefactors' politics—even their opinions on science. But I have to imagine the announcement today of Koch's $35 million gift to Natural History to overhaul its display of dinosaur fossils and skeletons may attract at least a little more push-back—because it's one of the biggest attractions on the National Mall, and because in the two years since the evolution display opened, Koch's become a much more prominent conservative boogeyman due to wider coverage of his "war against Obama," as the New Yorker termed it. (Koch is also a massive supporter of arts and humanities institutions in New York City.)
It'll be a fun press opening, is basically what I'm saying.
How enthusiastic is Koch about dinosaurs, by the way? Asked in 2010 about Koch's politics, the Museum of Natural History's director, Christián Samper, described his first meeting with Koch, during which the executive paused the conservation to show off a fossil he'd dug up at an archeological site himself.
Photo via Flickr user agent_shir, creative commons