A pair of prominent scientists working in the field of plastic research have said that their work won’t be included in the Science Museum’s collection due to the commercial links to the oil and gas company Shell the museum enjoys. Steve and Dee Allen went on the record in November to state that the Science Museum Group’s sponsorship deal with the global fossil fuel company was incompatible with their work. The pair have undertaken out some of the most extensive and important studies into microplastic pollution around the world. They told the press that it was not just Shell’s commercial relationship with the museum that cause them a problem but what they called a ‘gagging clause’ that came with it. For them, this meant that the museum was not a credible scientific institution anymore.
Steve Allen said that the museum had ended up in a place whereby it was failing in both of its primary tasks. “[The museum should]… preserve and present the truth as best it can,” he said. The decision by two such eminent scientists in their field to effectively boycott the institution will undoubtedly be a cause for concern for some. However, it is not the first time that respected academics have walked away from the Science Museum over its relationship with Shell and – more specifically – over the conglomerate’s ‘green’ division, a newly launched brand known as Adani.
In October, one of the country’s leading climate scientists, Professor Chris Rapley, chose to step down from the Science Museum’s advisory board. At the time, Rapley – a former director of the museum – said that took issue with the institution’s ongoing willingness to take money from oil and gas companies in the form of sponsorship. Rapley was not the only high-profile case in recent times, either. His resignation was followed by two trustees stepping down from their posts within a matter of weeks. Hannah Fry, a broadcaster and a professor of mathematics, as well as Jo Foster, a director at the Institute for Research in Schools, a UK-registered charity, said they could no longer serve on the museum’s board due to its relationship with Adani.
Nevertheless, the Science Museum put on a brave face with respect to the twin boycotts of Steve and Dee Allen’s work. In a statement, it rejected the academics’ claims. It said that the inclusion of research in a national collection like the Science Museum’s constituted a ‘significant process’. It said the effective boycott of the Allens, a married couple, was misplaced because ‘none of those formal steps’ needed to acquire their work for the collection had yet been started.
Furthermore, a spokesperson for the museum group also went on to reject the idea that its sponsorship deal with the oil company had made any difference to its independence in the museum sector. The spokesperson said that the museum’s board ‘entirely rejected’ the allegations that there were any curatorial restrictions in the museum following the deal with Shell. “Curators are in no way inhibited in carrying out their vital roles,” the spokesperson said.
Loss of Confidence
For their part, the scientists said that they had, indeed, been approached by the museum which had sounded them out on their research and whether it would be suitable for inclusion in the museum’s archive. The Allens said that they had several discussions with the museum online and had reached the stage where they had agreed which items would be suitable as well as how they might be delivered to the institution.
Dee Allen said that she stood by the claim that the Science Museum had contacted them about items being placed in the museum’s permanent record. She went on to reiterate her husband’s claim that it was the museum’s relationship with both Shell and Adani that had led to them declining the offer. She also said that the museum’s recent treatment of climate protesters on its site had contributed to their decision. Dismissing some of the claims made by the museum’s spokesperson, Steve Allen said that he and his wife had simply lost confidence in the institution.
About the author – Manuel Charr
Manuel Charr is a journalist working in the arts and cultural sectors. With a background in marketing, Manuel is drawn to arts organizations which are prepared to try inventive ways to reach new audiences.