Many science museums are dominated by major corporations and often display whatever exhibits the corporations donate, charges a study prepared for the Washington-based Center for Science in the Publish Interest.
Museums in Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston and Detroit came in for sharp criticism in the study by a Harvard law school student, Howard Learner.Though fund primarily by the federal government, the Smithsonian also was criticized for some 1979 exhibits that were "tingled with commercialism."
The White Paper is intended "to encourage science museums to shake loose from the straitjackets of corporate domination," said the executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Michael F. Jacobson.
The director of the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry, Victor Danilov, called the report "a biased indictment of science museums. . . . a lot of propaganda and hogwash." He charged that the Center for Science in the Public Interest was concerned about its own propaganda efforts" in such areas as energy and nutrition
The Chicago Museum of Science and Industry and the California Museum of Science and Industry in Los Angeles, which alone accounted for 7.5 million of the 36 million visitors to U.S. museum in 1877, were cited for exhibits "biased in industry's favor."
The report termed the Chicago museum a "supermarket of corporate logos," including those of General Motors, Amoco, Commonwealth Edison and Kodak. A Commonwealth Edison Company-sponsored exhibit was called "little more than unrestrained advocacy of the suggested virtues of nuclear power."
Nuclear power industry-sponsored displayes in several cities "all describe nuclear power as safe, economical, environmentally sound and efficient," the report said. It also criticized computerized nutrition exhibits which it said gave no indication to visitors that diets high in fat and sugar promote heart disease, obesity and dental problems.
Danilov said he saw nothing wrong with giving "credit" for exhibits but that the Chicago museum "has control over the contents." Though the museum's energy presentation was to a large extent pro-nuclear, Danilov said "we are seeking changes to give it more balance," but not because of the report.
The Smithsonian was criticized because seven of its nine private citizens on its board or regents are directors of large corporations; for barring public and press from board meetings and for displays "such as cars donated by the STP Corporation and an illuminated map donated by AT&T," which the report said "fit into the advertising category."
A Smithsonian spokesman said the regents "have nothing to do with the exhibits policies" and that press briefings are held after each board meeting. He added that "the Smithsonian goes to great pains to avoid commercial endoresement" and that stripping logos or nameplates from donated items would "steal from the item its significance."
The report said the museums' "biases" were caused by "the perprtual need for funding and the domination of trustees by industry executives." I made 10 recommendations, including an end to corporate logos, an effort by museums to encourage companies to give general donations rather than sponsor specific exhibits, and the addition of local citizens on boards of directors
Museums in Minneapolis, Berkeley, San Francisco and Toronto were cited for "some of their more enlightened practices."