Chicago’s Field Museum must continue its historic mission of high quality scientific research

March 8, 2013 • 12:10 am

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 ( 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:

Field Museum Science letter

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 ( ) 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)

9 thoughts on “Chicago’s Field Museum must continue its historic mission of high quality scientific research

  1. Signed. I know the USA is not perfect and I fear greatly for your future if you cannot force the wealthy to pay taxes, but the rest of the western world would be greatly impoverished if the US were to fall into a kind of depressed bitterness, rather than strive to be the best she can.

  2. I saw that letter yesterday when the director at my museum (Louisiana State University Museum of Natural Science) sent around the PDF — another letter in the same issue is written by Sophie Warny, in paleontology. This is all very distressing, and I hope our collective small voices can make a difference.

  3. Peter Hitchens said …

    “They wanted, passionately, to believe it to be true. Had they not wanted to believe it, they would have seen the fake far more quickly. That is the point of the story.”

    Ironically, this describes why religion and faith persists.

  4. I do hope that everyone who has ever used the collections at the Field Museum, or everyone who has ever had a specimen loan from the Field Museum, or who has ever cited a paper based on research benefitting from the Field Museum collections, has signed that petition. At the very least.

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