Scientists call out Science Museum over ties to big oil

  • A group that includes many leading climate scientists have today lodged a formal complaint with the Science Museum
  • The museum is accused of ‘undermining its integrity as a scientific institution’ by partnering with BP, Shell and Statoil despite their continued contribution to climate change
  • The complaint presents new evidence showing the museum knew about sponsors’ ties to corruption and climate disinformation but signed deals regardless
  • Today is the first day of Shell’s flagship science event Make the Future Live at Olympic Park, which has been labelled ‘greenwash’

Read the full complaint here.

Scroll down for a full list of signatories.

‘You cannot buy honest science with dishonest money’  – Professor Stephan Lewandowsky

Today, a group of 48 highly-respected scientists, climate experts, naturalists and representatives of impacted communities have joined forces to lodge a formal complaint with the Science Museum Group, calling on it to end its corporate partnerships with oil giants BP, Shell and Statoil/Equinor.

The complaint, compiled by Culture Unstained, sets out detailed evidence that the museum breached its Ethics Policy and is undermining its relationships with important stakeholders – especially scientists and young people, and risking its own reputation through these sponsorship deals.

‘Climate change is upon us. We are feeling its teeth tighten and it’s not just us – the world’s wildlife is beginning to seriously struggle. So I particularly dislike the fact that petrochemical companies are trying to influence young people. The idea that they have influenced the structure and shape of Science Museum exhibitions is insidious. I can’t imagine there aren’t alternative sources of funding out there; the museum should be looking forward and not just accepting the status quo.’

Chris Packham, naturalist and broadcaster

The signatories to the complaint’s opening statement include:

  • Chris Packham, well-known naturalist and broadcaster
  • Professor Naomi Oreskes, Professor of the History of Science at Harvard University and author of ‘Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming’
  • Sir  Jonathon  Porritt,  environmentalist  and  writer who for many years worked with both BP and Shell on transitioning away from fossil fuels but ultimately concluded It is ‘impossible’ for them to adapt to climate change

“It’s a pretty binary choice for the Trustees of the Science Museum: on the one hand, embrace the current science on man-made climate change – and, as a direct consequence, sever all links with the likes of Shell, BP and Statoil; or, on the other, continue to take their dirty money, and destroy their reputation, individually and collectively, as people who care about science – let alone about the future of humankind.”

Sir Jonathon Porritt, writer and environmentalist

  • Dr  James  Hansen, the world’s best-known climate scientist who first warned the US Senate about global warming in 1988
  • Professor Stephan Lewandowsky who has pioneered research into the psychology of climate denial
  • Professor James J. McCarthy, Professor of Oceanography, Harvard University; Former Director, Museum of Comparative Zoology; Former President, American Association for the Advancement of Science
  • Dr Stuart Parkinson, Executive Director of Scientists for Global Responsibility

Scroll to the end of this post for a full list of signatories.

“It’s been thirty years since I testified to the Senate about climate change, and since then fossil fuel companies like BP, Shell and Equinor have used their power and influence very effectively to resist the transition to clean energy. So I’m supporting this complaint because until fossil fuel companies support a rising carbon fee that means they will genuinely pay for the damage they are wreaking, museums of science have a duty not to promote their brands.”

Dr James Hansen, Director of Program on Climate Science, Awareness and Solutions, Earth Institute, Columbia University

On the same day, Culture Unstained have launched this brand new website,, to bring together the core arguments and evidence against oil sponsorship, using numerous case studies to highlight oil companies’ involvement in corruption, pollution and links to human rights violations. Many organisations have contributed information including DeSmog UK, Global Witness, Oil Change International, Medact, Platform and Art Not Oil.

The 40-page complaint presents new evidence uncovered through Freedom of Information requests that the museum was aware of the risks of partnering with oil companies but failed to act, including:

  • The Science Museum’s official “due diligence” reports into the backgrounds of all three companies, which reveal that the museum knew about multiple instances of pollution, corruption and links to climate denial – but did not judge them to be in conflict with its responsibilities as a trusted science institution.

‘To accept sponsorship from an industry that has worked to cast doubt on climate science undermines the scientific community’s clear message that climate change is real and urgent. Science museums have a crucial role to play in furthering the public’s understanding of climate science. Partnerships like these risk damaging the public’s trust in scientific institutions while legitimising the anti-scientific activities of fossil fuel companies.

Professor Naomi Oreskes, author of ‘Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming’

  • No due diligence reports appear to have been created before 2016, despite relationships with Shell and BP going back decades. The report on Shell appears to have only been rapidly created – or immediately updated – the day after the FOI request was submitted.
  • Shell is currently listed as a corporate partner on the museum’s website, but the museum says it has not had a contract with the company since last year, raising questions about why Shell is still being promoted in this way.
  • A potential ‘gagging’ clause in the museum’s contract with Statoil which prevents Science Museum staff and trustees ‘discrediting or damaging the goodwill or reputation of the sponsor’. This clause becomes problematic given the company’s significant contribution to global warming and the limits this might place on the museum’s freedom to accurately communicate the causes of climate change.

Simon Clydesdale, Oil campaign leader at Global Witness, commented:

‘The people at the top of the Science Museum clearly think it’s important to know where their money comes from, as they conducted due diligence reports on all three of these oil companies. It is baffling that they could think that money from Shell, a company embroiled in one of the biggest corporate corruption scandals of all time, was clean enough to take.’

Other signatories include representatives of organisations in countries that have been negatively impacted by the companies’ activities, including Nigeria, Norway and West Papua. They also include youth organisations and science teachers concerned that young people are being specifically targeted by the oil companies through these sponsorship deals, while actively putting their futures at risk by continuing to extract fossil fuels.

‘Shell as a corporate entity is operating irresponsibly in Nigeria, involved in corruption, violating human rights and disregarding the rights of the indigenous peoples of the Niger Delta. Shell does not observe its own internal regulations nor Nigerian regulations, causing environmental pollution and many deaths of the Ogoni people and the people of the Niger Delta.’

Lazarus Tamana, Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People

The complaint, which was submitted by email on the morning of July 5th, recommends that the Science Museum Group ends these relationships as soon as is legally possible.

This isn’t the first time the Science Museum has come under scrutiny over its partnerships with fossil fuel companies. In 2015, emails revealed how Shell had attempted to influence the framing of the museum’s climate science exhibition ‘Atmosphere’, and the following year more than fifty scientists, politicians and campaigners signed a letter to The Guardian calling on the museum to drop Statoil as the title sponsor of its new interactive gallery for children, ‘Wonderlab: the Statoil gallery’. Both the BP-sponsored ‘Cosmonauts’ exhibition and the official opening of Wonderlab were met with creative protests by members of the Art Not Oil coalition and youth activists from Norway.

Jess Worth, co-director of Culture Unstained, said:

‘The Science Museum is engaging in a form of everyday climate denial by continuing to promote the brands of three oil companies while being fully aware of their colossal climate impacts and unethical business practices. At a time when major cities are launching legal action against these same companies for their contributions to global warming, it is inexcusable for a museum of science to help them pose as ethical and responsible when we are in the midst of a crisis they are actively exacerbating.’


Full list of signatories

(Institutional affiliation for identification only)

Emeritus Professor Keith Barnham, Distinguished Research Fellow, Physics Department, Imperial College London

Nnimmo Bassey, Director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation and winner of the Right Livelihood Award, Nigeria

Dr Alice Bell, climate campaigner and writer

Professor Sarah Bell, Professor of Environmental Engineering, UCL

Dr Jason Box, expert in atmosphere-ice interactions and physical climatology of Greenland

Dr Chris Brierley, Senior Lecturer in Climate Science, UCL

Dr Sarah R Davies, Associate Professor, Department of Media, Cognition and Communication, University of Copenhagen

Dr Deirdre Duff, Molecular Biologist

‘The health impacts of fossil fuels are unacceptable. Fossil fuels are a major contributor to air pollution, which claims 7 million lives annually according to WHO estimates. The fossil fuel industry is driving climate change which is increasing the spread of vector-borne diseases, heat related illnesses, malnutrition and water scarcity. Receiving sponsorship from fossil fuel companies is akin to receiving money from the tobacco industry; it is indefensible and seriously undermines the Museum’s mission to promote scientific and medical knowledge.’

Dr Deirdre Duff from the public health charity Medact

Gaute Eiterjord, Chair of Natur og Ungdom/Nature and Youth, Norway

Dr Matt Folley, Senior Research Fellow, Marine Renewable Energy Group, Queen’s University Belfast

Dr Peter C. Frumhoff, Director of Science and Policy, Chief Climate Scientist, Union of Concerned Scientists

Dr Andy Fugard, Senior Lecturer in Social Science Research Methods, Birkbeck, University of London

Dr James Hansen, Director of Program on Climate Science, Awareness and Solutions, Earth Institute, Columbia University

Professor Tim Jackson, Professor of Sustainable Development and Director of the Centre for the Understanding of Sustainable Prosperity, University of Surrey

Professor David A. Kirby, Programme Director for MSc in Science Communication, University of Manchester

Jeremy Leggett, author, solar entrepreneur and advocate

Professor Stephan Lewandowsky, Chair in Cognitive Psychology, University of Bristol

“Corporate sponsorship for any scientific endeavour always entails the risk that the outcome is shaped in the corporation’s interest. That is why the World Health Organization insists that government and researchers do not accept funding from the tobacco industry, no matter what its stated purpose might be. For the same reason, the Museum should sever links with the fossil-fuel industry, which, like the tobacco industry, has a long history of misleading the public about the adverse consequences of its products. You cannot buy honest science with dishonest money”

Professor Stephan Lewandowsky who has pioneered research into the psychology of climate denial

Professor Simon Lewis, Chair in Global Change Science, University College London

Dr Barbara Magennis, Science Teacher

Dr Michael Mason, Associate Professor, Department of Geography and Environment, LSE

“I have signed the complaint as a means of calling out the unquestioned way in which the Science Museum embraces partnerships with fossil fuel corporations, seemingly oblivious to their central role in driving dangerous climate change”Dr Michael Mason, Associate Professor, Department of Geography and Environment, LSE

Professor James J. McCarthy, Professor of Oceanography, Harvard University; Former Director, Museum of Comparative Zoology; Former President, American Association for the Advancement of Science

Dr David McCoy, Professor of Global Public Health, Queen Mary’s University London

Professor Bill McGuire, Professor Emeritus of Geophysical & Climate Hazards at UCL

Dr Felicity Mellor, Senior Lecturer in Science Communication, Imperial College

Professor Hugh Montgomery, UCL Professor of Intensive Care Medicine; Consultant Intensivist, Whittington Hospital; Head, Centre for Human Health and Performance; Director of Research, Institute for Sport, Exercise and Health

‘The time for patience with the oil companies is over. That they continue to plan – and plot – for a world burning essentially the same quantities of fossil fuel decades from now is unconscionable, knowing the existential dangers inherent in the science of climate change, and the potential of an accelerating global energy transition to abate those dangers. Museums and universities should no longer take their money.’

Jeremy Leggett – author and solar entrepreneur

Dr Frances Mortimer, Director, Centre for Sustainable Healthcare

Professor Jenny Nelson, Department of Physics, Imperial College London

Sophie Neuburg, Executive Director, Medact

Professor Jonathan Oppenheim, Professor of Quantum Theory, UCL

Professor Naomi Oreskes, Professor of the History of Science, Harvard University

Chris Packham, naturalist and broadcaster

Dr Stuart Parkinson, Executive Director of Scientists for Global Responsibility

‘Oil corporations are very prominent in their support of science education activities across the UK – and they use this both to deflect criticism of their unsustainable activities and to build undeserved trust with the next generation of scientists. Sponsorship of the Science Museum is central to their strategy and so it is very important that this relationship is ended.’

Dr Stuart Parkinson, Executive Director of Scientists for Global Responsibility, who has a research background in climate science and policy, and is co-author of the report, ‘Science and the corporate agenda’

Drew Pearce, Progressive Science Institute

Professor Kate E Pickett, Professor of Epidemiology, University Champion for Research on Justice and Equality, and Deputy Director of the Centre for Future Health, University of York

Sir Jonathon Porritt, environmentalist and writer

Professor Megan J W Povey, Professor of Food Physics at University of Leeds

Kate Raworth, Senior Visiting Research Associate, Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford

Dr Beth Rice, Imperial College

Alom Shaha, science teacher and writer

Andrew Simms, co-director of the New Weather Institute

‘Science stands by its method and objectivity, and its great institutions project a consensus view on what we know and can trust about the world. Yet the Science Museum, one of our leading institutions, is contravening its own guidance in taking sponsorship from controversial oil companies whose words and deeds cloud our understanding of climate change, one of this era’s most critical issues, and compromise the Museum’s neutrality. Being allied with the Science Museum gives sponsors an aura of normality which gives them a cultural licence to operate. But the vested interests of oil companies do not belong in such a relationship. If allowed to remain they can only contaminate and undermine the Museum.’

Andrew Simms, author and co-director of the New Weather Institute

Dr Jeremy I Skipper, Associate Professor, Experimental Psychology, University College London

Hannah Smith, Co-director: research and campaigns, People & Planet

Dr Geoffrey Supran, Post Doctoral Fellow at Harvard University & Post Doctoral Affiliate at Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Lazarus Tamana, Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People

Hugh Warwick, naturalist and author

Professor Dave Webb, Emeritus Professor, Peace Research, Leeds Beckett University

Dr Philip Webber, Chair, Scientists for Global Responsibility

Dr Stephen Webster, Director, Imperial College Science Communication Unit

Benny Wenda, West Papua independence leader and Chair of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua

‘BP is operating in the middle of a genocide. Since 1963, hundreds of thousands of West Papuans have been killed by the Indonesian occupation, either directly by government forces or through the loss of their homes, their lands and their livelihoods. The money that BP pays to the Indonesian government helps them to buy weapons and ammunition that are used to harass, intimidate and kill my people.’

Benny Wenda, Chair of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua