Dear Mr. Koch,
This past weekend, my family and I visited the American Museum of Natural History. This was a special visit for me. I grew up with the Museum. My mother did not understand science, but she saw that it interested me, so we visited the Museum regularly. I never got tired of it. Then I went to college, moved to California, pursued a career, and suddenly 25 years had gone by since I last paid a visit.
I couldn't wait to introduce my son to the Museum. I wondered if it would have the same impact on him that it had on me. It turned out to be everything I remembered, and more, and my son loved it. Some of the great old exhibits remain exactly as I remembered them, and they have lost none of their power. Others have changed, and have become even more interesting, enlightening and inspiring.
(More, below the orange dinosaur egg...)
The most awesome of all the exhibits at the Museum is, of course, the Dinosaur exhibit. Ask anyone who ever visited the Museum as a child, and all they will talk about is the enormous fossil Stegosaurs and Triceratops and Tyrannosaurs posed in the halls on the fourth floor. What impressed me most on this visit was the way the exhibits incorporate all the latest scientific findings about these amazing creatures, including updated models for how they lived, reproduced, moved around, hunted, and died. Most of all, the exhibits cover the latest research on how they evolved, and their relationship to the living creatures of today.
The quality of these two huge halls of Dinosaur exhibits owes itself in large part to your generosity. They are even named after you. We know that you gave large sums of money to enable the museum to do such a magnificent job. The Museum's mission is vitally important, and it needs that kind of support. I happen to know that you support other organizations that nurture science, the arts and culture. I want to thank you for having been generous to such institutions.
And so, I must confess more than a little confusion about how this fits with some of the other causes to which you give money. You see, I also know about your politics. I know that you give lavishly to organizations that espouse libertarian economic views; in fact, some of these groups would not exist without your support. That is your right, though I disagree with what those groups stand for. But you have also given generously to regressive right-wing organizations that inculcate ignorance, that exploit and nurture superstition among the citizens of this country, that fight the teaching of science, especially evolutionary theory, and worse. You do so for what appear to be pretty cynical reasons.
Economic libertarians and religious fundamentalists share only one thing: You view liberals and progressives as the enemy. You have obviously decided to support the anti-science, anti-intellectual, anti-modernist forces in our country because they make convenient allies in the fight against liberalism. It would merely be unfortunate if that were all there is to it. As I said, I accept your right to espouse your libertarian views, though I disagree with them. But there is more to it than that. By supporting the forces of ignorance, often under the rubric of "patriotism", you are attacking one of the sources of strength that made this country great. Can't you see how perverse this is?
What I don't understand, and cannot accept, is your willingness to fund an institution like the Museum of Natural History with one hand, and with the other hand cultivate and exploit popular ignorance of science to further your political goals. It is unfathomable. Your support of the Museum, which is a monument to the theory of evolution, would seem to be a serious statement of commitment to science and to rationality. Yet your funding of national political groups which wage a campaign to foster ignorance and superstition has done vastly more damage than can be made up for by your support of the Museum, which is, after all, available only to those people who live in New York, or who happen to visit.
Put another way, your support of the Museum barely qualifies as a band-aid on the enormous wound you have inflicted, and continue to inflict, on our country's intellectual and scientific base. It may be that you don't realize that. Most of the people who walk through the Museum's doors probably see your name there and have no idea who you are, or how ironic that is. If you, yourself, don't see the irony, then you are more deeply into self-justification than seems possible. It is more likely that you realize perfectly well how ironic it is, and just don't care. As long as enough poor souls, people you despise so much that you fight to deny them an education, continue to vote your way in elections, all is good, right? That would be the height of cynicism, but I can't find any other explanation.
You have proven you have the resources to bend the political system your way when it comes to economic issues. You don't need to secure further votes by cultivating a scientifically ignorant populace just so you can persuade them to vote against your opponents. You are harming the children whose education you are stunting; you are harming the industries which need educated employees; you are hurting your country; and you are damaging something you yourself value, if your support for the Museum actually means anything to you.
I challenge you to reverse course in the culture wars, and fight to bring some of the fruits of the Enlightenment to audiences beyond New York and Washington, instead of keeping it from them.
I challenge you to withdraw your support from political groups which promote and exploit backwardness and ignorance, and let the debate over economic policy be held on its own merits.