Evolution in our national science museum, thanks to David Koch

Say what you will about the Koch brothers (and there is much to say), but thanks to GOP billionaire David Koch, 8 million people per year are schooled in the reality of evolution at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC.

You see, among other socially liberal causes like PBS, Koch has funded an entire “evolution” exhibit at the federal government’s only national science museum.

ape-kid-large

From the Koch evolution exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC.

Now, the exhibit is not without some controversy even among liberals. ThinkProgress wrote a few years ago about the exhibit, expressing the concern that it glossed, and even misled, on climate change.

That wasn’t really my sense on visiting the exhibit for the second time just last week. I took away an entirely different message: That evolution is real, and that climate change may have in the past forced humans to adapt, while killing off lots of other people and things. I didn’t take that as a particularly cheery message, and in fact, I took it as confirmation that climate change is “real,” not that it’s “survivable.”

our-ape-heritage

I also couldn’t help but feel a bit of glee at the notion that the guy who helped create the Tea Party was responsible for educating 8 million people per year that evolution is real. And doing it in the nation’s premiere federal science museum, no less. The religious right must be incredulous. Comparing people to apes, and suggesting that our common ancestors go back millions of years, rather than 6,000, has got to smart.

humans-are-primates

One of the more interesting parts of the exhibit was a walkthrough of the various ape-ish ancestors we’ve had over the ages — and being able to see how their faces gradually turned more human.

short-ape-humananother-ancestor

I thought the height of the one below was amazing — the reconstructed head is at her actual height.

ancestor-3

Another fun part of the exhibit, which also surely has exploded a few religious right ape-descended heads, is the part where you can become an ape ancestor of your choice.

Here’s the exhibit in action, morphing your photo into an early ape-ish ancestor.

evolution-smithsonian

Perhaps it’s my impending old age (well, impending in a few decades), but in this case I choose to see the Koch glass as half full.


Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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33 Responses to “Evolution in our national science museum, thanks to David Koch”

  1. chicano2nd says:

    You just don’t appreciate the irony!

  2. rmthunter says:

    In spite of the way we’re conditioned to think, the universe is not a black or white proposition — it’s composed of a range of grays.

  3. DudeAbiding says:

    Only fools that fall for far left propaganda that demonizes the Kochs are surprised by this.
    In other words liberals and progressives who are far too gone for rational thought.

  4. kladinvt says:

    While the Koch’s are in the process of buying up and buying off the entire U.S. government and ending our Democracy, this support for evolution (science) is some sort of a counter-balance to all their chicanery? This doesn’t change my opinion about the Kochs or what they are doing to all of us.

  5. dcinsider says:

    Not even for the money?

  6. dcinsider says:

    True that.

  7. Don Chandler says:

    Yeah, you know, I think this proves your ancestry has come full circle ;)

  8. Grey is much more interesting, and, I’m finding as I get older, much closer to the truth as well.

  9. Bingo. I’m glad he supports PBS, and NOVA especially. Doesn’t mean I’m going to marry him.

  10. LOL It took me a second to figure out what you were talking about!

  11. rmthunter says:

    The article is short on analysis, and there are points that can be taken to contradict the conclusions, such as the fact that during the period studied, charitable contributions by the wealthy went up $6.3 billion. Even though that represents a small portion of their income, it’s a huge increase in dollars. And I sense an agenda in the article, not very thinly disguised; a couple of the commenters there noted the same thing. Statistics are pretty neutral; interpretation — including what information is presented — on the other hand. . . .

    As for sitting on stacks of cash, that’s as much something to lay at the door of corporations as the wealthy: they’re businesses and businessmen, and they don’t like risk — they’re the ultimate bourgeois, who want everything comfortable and predictable: they are not entrepreneurs. If the economy’s unstable, they’re not going to throw money around — “What if we lose our shirts?” is always at the back of their minds. We laugh at the “confidence” mantra, but it’s a real concern for them, although I think grossly overstated in recent years.

    One point that I think bears on this: I’ve worked in non-profits, and donations such as the one in John’s post don’t just happen — trust me, David Koch didn’t just appear on the doorstep and say “Here’s $8 million; set up an evolution exhibit.” It may start off with a potential donor saying “I want to do something for the museum.” Or, equally likely, the institution approaches the donor and says “We have this project that we think will interest you, and we’d like your support. We’ll put your name on it.” (That’s a big draw: Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago is a litany of Chicago’s richest families as you walk through the exhibits and buildings; when I was at the MCA, we started naming galleries after major donors, which the Art Institute had been doing for years.)Then you start negotiating — the museum finds a project that appeals to the donor, then you start crunching numbers, and then you present a proposal with specific amounts. Nobody’s going to donate more than you ask for, but they’re not going to accept padded figures, either: they’re funding projects, not just handing out cash, and that proposal had better come with solid financials. (Yes, I’ve written a lot of grant applications in my time.)

    As for the Kochs — I don’t like the idea that they are able to influence elections through “dark money” (to put it mildly), but we can thank the Supreme Court, LLC, for that — Citizens United opened the door, aided and abetted by repeated chipping away at McCain-Finegold. I’ve been aware for some time that the Kochs also fund “socially conscious” causes, but you have to remember that the first question they’re going to ask is “What’s in it for me?” For some, simple recognition is enough — think Bill Gates or Warren Buffet. For others, particularly the heavy political donors, influence comes into the equation in a big way — Sheldon Adelson. (Even in “good” causes, a major donation is likely to result in a seat on the board.) For the Kochs, I’d guess the thinking is “This one’s for my name on a plaque; this one’s for getting the stooge I want into Congress.” (Maybe Congressmen and Senators should come with donor plaques.)

    I think focusing on the percentages is following a will-o-the-wisp: to read a story like this and bitch because they’re not giving more, or are giving to things you don’t like, I think, misses the point. Not even the Kochs are purely evil; most people, even the ones we love to hate, aren’t.

    A footnote on that last point: for a number of years, I worked closely with a woman who was very active in various charities; her focus was mostly the arts — board of the MCA (where she also served as president for a number of years), her husband was on an acquisitions committee at the Art Institute, she was president of Performing Arts Chicago — but she also served on the board of the AIDS Foundation and gave generously to various other causes. Interestingly enough, she does not consider herself wealthy, although she is well within the 1%. And yes, she and her husband are active politically — happily, they are staunch Democrats. I guess my point here is, we shouldn’t be so quick to demonize the wealthy; they’re as much a mixed bag as the rest of us.

  12. rmthunter says:

    Or fighting civil rights for gays and lesbians.

  13. Haviva says:

    The BAD those a-holes do, outweighs any good!

  14. Don Chandler says:

    John, you kind of look like a hipster on the right.

  15. Houndentenor says:

    That is a fair point. It also depends on the particular church as some churches spend a lot of their donations on things like food pantries and disaster relief where others spend a great deal of it on upgrading the recreational facilities.

  16. dcinsider says:

    That article, I believe, also reflects “charitable” as religious organizations, so it skews giving in the South higher than the North, when all y’all are just buying a ticket to heaven.

  17. 2karmanot says:

    Oh yes!

  18. Naja pallida says:

    The Kochs are only for the kind of science that allows them to enrich themselves, claim huge tax breaks, or help themselves in the case of their support for specific cancer research. If it costs them anything for no direct benefit for themselves, forget it. It is only by pure coincidence that there is also modicum of public benefit.

  19. Naja pallida says:

    They should have used all the George W. Bush vs Chimp pictures in those exhibits.

  20. Houndentenor says:

    If the same money were divided out among 1,000,000 Americans a lot more of it would be going to charity.

    http://philanthropy.com/article/As-Wealthy-Give-Smaller-Share/149191/

  21. Houndentenor says:

    The Koch brothers have no actual concern about the country at large except to hand out what to them is chump change to a few charities (and get their names plastered everywhere in exchange). They can claim to be social liberals but they are major financiers of the Teavangelical nightmare.

  22. Houndentenor says:

    There’s a recent report from a Philanthropy journal that claims that the wealthiest actually give a far lower percentage of their income to charity than do the middle class. While large gifts from folks like the Koch brothers look impressive, they are a pittance compared to what comes from everyone else and we should stop acting like people like this are so incredibly generous because they are mostly sitting on large stacks of money rather than reinvesting it back into our economy either through charity or business investment which is hurting the country severely.

    http://philanthropy.com/article/As-Wealthy-Give-Smaller-Share/149191/

  23. Indigo says:

    Plato would have agreed. So to speak.

  24. 2karmanot says:

    There is no good side to the Kochs. They are merely making a case for social Darwinism and the supreme survival of the fittest Koch.

  25. 2karmanot says:

    But John, I swear that Paranthropus Boisei Texacanus Moronicus looked more like George Bush.

  26. UncleBucky says:

    Koch and Evolution: Liberal bait…

  27. nicho says:

    So — benevolent dictators. I guess that’s “the lesser of two evils.” We should be happy. Yay!

  28. Indigo says:

    You’re a good looking Austropithecus afarensis, John!

  29. Max_1 says:

    Don’t drink the Koch…
    It rots teeth and causes weight gain.

    It is not healthy…

  30. Max_1 says:

    Don’t drink the Koch…
    It rots teeth and causes weight gain.

    It is not healthy…

  31. cambridgemac says:

    Great article, John. I had no idea and, in the midst of a decades-long war on science, it is important to hear about contradictions in the Republican ranks. Also, I appreciate your taking the time to illuminate a minor good side of the Koch brothers. Human beings are complex. The urge to simplify and dehumanize is to be resisted. Hitler, after all, was a vegetarian.

  32. dcinsider says:

    Like most things, it’s complicated. Koch can do much good with his money, and he has, while also doing much bad with his money, and he has.

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