L. A. Museum explains why it removed the God quote

December 16, 2013 • 2:22 pm

UPDATE: Totten has updated his story.  This is the new stuff, and note that the museum may have to return the donor’s money (see statement at bottom that I’ve put in bold):

NHM director of communication Kristin Friedrich said many of the museum’s curatorial staff members shared similar concerns with management after the quote appeared in early December.

As I suspected!

Friedrich added that the museum has a statement posted on its website underscoring its support for the theory of evolutionary biology. The statement asserts “evolutionary biology is fundamental to understanding biological diversity and is critical for both scientific research and museums.”

However, former NHM Board Member Miriam Schulman says the incident points to a broader issue of the institution’s acceptance of large donations from people she characterized as having “anti-evolutionary beliefs.”

“It’s always dangerous when you accept money from people who have an agenda that runs counter to the mission of the museum,” Schulman said.

NHM’s Kristin Friedrich responded that she was unaware of Schulman’s concerns.

“I’ve worked here eight years, and it’s not an issue to me or something that’s been on the uptick,” she said.

The museum is in talks with the anonymous donor about the matter, and it is unclear whether it will have to return the money.


On the KPCC (Los Angeles public radio) website, science reporter Sanden Totten has a brief piece about the removal of the “creatures of God” sign from the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum. We’ve covered most of it on this site, but we have this added information:

On Monday, the museum released a statement saying it removed the quote, with the following explanation:

“Upon further reflection and after discussion with our staff, and in conversation with the donor, the Museum has determined that acknowledging donors by including personal statements in such a manner has the potential to cause confusion.”

As of last week the NHM said it planned only to modify the way it displayed the quote to make it clear that the sentence was the view of a donor and not the museum itself.

So now we know that the donor has agreed to the removal.  Thank you, donor! I’m very glad this worked out so the quote was removed but the donation remained.

I like the cryptic reference to “confusion,” which to me means the confusion of simultaneously presenting a scientific and a theistic point of view. “Discussions with the staff” undoubtedly means the Museum’s scientists and educators objecting to the sign.

39 thoughts on “L. A. Museum explains why it removed the God quote

    1. That’s not how I read it. It says that last week they planned to modify the way it was displayed. But this week, “upon further reflection”, they took it down.

      I guess we’ll just have to wait and see whether it stays down. But by now everyone, including the donor, knows that if they put it back there will be a renewed uproar that won’t serve anyone’s interests.

  1. Thank you, donor! I’m very glad this worked out so the quote was removed but the donation remained.

    I would have been surprised if the donor had withdrawn the donation. Donations like this don’t happen as the result of an adversarial process of ultimatum and capitulation. It’s a cooperative effort of trying to reach a common goal in a way that satisfies everyone.

    In this case the museum fundraisers simply failed to anticipate the adverse PR blowback when they okayed the quote. That error has now been rectified.

  2. This is a sequence of events that never would have occurred if the museum scientists were given a voice to ensure scientific integrity.

    1. The sequence may be a bit out of whack, but it’s clear from events (which literally means ‘outcomes’, after all) that the museum scientists had their voices all along, and something to say with them.

  3. Confusion = misrepresentation of who does and has done the work to understand nature: science, not religion.

    Kiddos out there learn this lesson well: that some adults make mistakes and sometimes they substitute unfounded beliefs for what is really a lot of hard work, genuine research and empirical discovery.

  4. As one who in an earlier thread counseled acceptance of the donor’s wishes in order to protect the donation I’m as happy as everyone else here to see the sign taken down. And it’s especially good that the donor was consulted during the process. Congratulations to Jerry and those others who were instrumental in causing the museum board to rethink the issue.
    Ceiling Cat rules!

  5. Congratulations to all of you who had an influence to enlighten the museum curators. Money should work but not talk.

  6. I find it sad the the Natural History Museum of LA costs $12 to get into (a 3 year old is $5 and college students $9). When I was growing up, it was a place where a poor kid (like me) could go for free and explore science and nature. I must have gone there 100 times as a teenager and young adult. Great place. There are still free days, but it’s not the same. When I was in college, I didn’t have $9 to spend on museums…there were books and food to buy.

    Of course, this was before Prop 13 when Californians decided to no longer fund public institutions. Back then, a poor kid could actually get a fairly decent education at university for very little money. The masses got educated and everyone had hope for a better life. Today, they graduate with enough student loan debt to buy a house and still can’t get a good job.

    A society with uneducated, unemployed, hopeless masses is not a stable society. I hope this changes.

    I’m glad for all my free trips to the museum and I’m glad they changed the sign, it was stupid.

    1. When I was a freshman at Berkeley a million years ago, there was a tuition charge of $50/semester, regardless of the number of units taken. Today, it’s getting hard to tell the difference between Berkeley and Stanford relative to tuition charges.

    1. From the report:

      It’s always dangerous when you accept money from people who have an agenda that runs counter to the mission of the museum

      Ouch – well that confirms it. Too bad the money could have to be returned.

      1. I’m not sure this confirms anything. Much as I agree with Schulman’s sentiments, this statement is coming from a former trustee who was presumably not party to the negotiations with this particular donor. So we still don’t know for certain what really went on, or is still going on.

        I think we should withhold judgment while talks are in progress and give this donor every opportunity to do the right thing. Let’s not make the museum’s job harder by condemning the donor prematurely.

        1. Well, I think “condemning” is reading a bit much into it. What I suggested, and the article suggested as well, was that this wasn’t the first time it happened.

          1. Let me rephrase then. Whatever may have happened in the past, we should resist the temptation to jump to conclusions about this donor’s motives while there’s still hope of salvaging the situation.

      2. Do we have any lawyers who could comment on the status of such things? Would there be a breach of contract or something like that if the museum simply kept the money and removed the sign?

  7. My guess is that it will instead be shown on a plaque, or similar. I took the ‘confusion’ to mean that the current way they were displaying the quote made it seem like something the museum supported, instead of just a quote of someone who gave money to the building.

    1. There are ways that could reasonably be done. Assuming multiple donors have contributed to the museum, they could all (or many) be given a one-sentence quote on a wall of thanks. “And now a word from our sponsors” — that sort of thing.


      1. For most ones I’ve seen just a list of names seems to keep people happy – albeit with an indication/hint of how much you stumped up:

  8. The problem isn’t that the donor may have “anti-evolution beliefs”, but that s/he may have an anti-evolution agenda.

    1. I don’t follow why the donor would be assumed to have either anti-evolution beliefs or an anti-evolution agenda.

      Not all religious believers are anti-science or anti-evolution. Since the donor put a great deal of money to fund this exhibit, why should such assumptions be made?

      My assumption is that the donor is a religious believer (most likely Christian) who accepts evolution and supports science.

      1. Well “accepts evolution” isn’t a precise description. The fact that this person made a point of inserting a deity into a subject for which there is no deity required suggests that the purpose was not benign and this was not an accidental faux-pas.

        1. But the point is that we don’t know how insistent this donor is on keeping God in the quote. That “fact” has not yet been established, since negotiations are still ongoing. And while they are, we do the museum no favors by imputing to the donor nefarious motives that haven’t been clearly demonstrated.

          1. Perhaps. But I’m not sure why conditional interpretations are out of place. One interprets the world using the available information. Yesterday I was willing to say (and I did so in a comment) “Thank you, donor.”

            Subsequently we’ve learned that it was premature to express gratitude.

            Meanwhile, it is a fact, apparently, that there are negotiations of some sort happening, which I can see as nothing but ominous. What exactly is there to negotiate? Either the donor understands the inappropriate nature of a devotional quote or not. Why would negotiations be needed if there weren’t some sort of “nefarious” motives involved? (“nefarious” is probably a stronger term than I’d prefer)

            1. There are certainly lawyers involved on both sides, and that makes everything more complicated, even if verbal agreement was reached fairly quickly.

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