The Science Museum is revising the contents of its new climate science gallery to reflect the wave of scepticism that has engulfed the issue in recent months. The decision by the 100-year-old London museum reveals how deeply scientific institutions have been shaken by the public’s reaction to revelations of malpractice by climate scientists.
The museum is abandoning its previous practice of trying to persuade visitors of the dangers of global warming. It is instead adopting a neutral position, acknowledging that there are legitimate doubts about the impact of man-made emissions on the climate.
Even the title of the £4 million gallery has been changed to reflect the museum’s more circumspect approach. The museum had intended to call it the Climate Change Gallery, but has decided to change this to Climate Science Gallery to avoid being accused of presuming that emissions would change the temperature.
Last October the museum launched a temporary exhibition called “Prove It! All the evidence you need to believe in climate change”. The museum said at the time that the exhibition had been designed to demonstrate “through scientific evidence that climate change is real and requires an urgent solution”.
Chris Rapley, the museum’s director, told The Times that it was taking a different approach after observing how the climate debate had been affected by leaked e-mails and overstatements of the dangers of global warming. He said: “We have come to realise, given the way this subject has become so polarised over the past three to four months, that we need to be respectful and welcoming of all views on it.”
Professor Rapley, a climate scientist and former director of the British Antarctic Survey research centre, said that the museum needed to remain neutral in order to be trusted: “The Science Museum will not state a position on whether or not climate change is real, driven by humans or threatening.”
“The climate science community, by and large, has concluded that humans have intervened in the system in a way that will lead to climate change. But that is their story. It’s not our story, so that can’t be our conclusion. If we take sides we will alienate some of the people who want to be part of the discussion.
“Although there is an extreme faction who very much disagree, there is a much bigger contingent who are not convinced. We want to welcome them into the debate by being as neutral and fairhanded as we can be.”
Professor Rapley said that the gallery, which is to open in November before the climate summit in Cancun, Mexico, would refrain from scaring visitors with apocalyptic predictions of rising sea levels and would be honest about the conflicting views on the scale of possible changes to the climate.
“You can argue about how much effect the carbon in the atmosphere will have on the system and what we should do about it,” he said. “The role of the museum should be to lay out honestly and fairly what the climate science community has found out about the science.
“There are areas of uncertainty which are perfectly reasonable to raise and we will present those. For example, the extent to which the climate is as sensitive to the CO2-loading that humans have put in or not.”
Professor Rapley declined to give his own views on climate change, saying that they were not relevant. However, in 2007 he said: “The more greenhouse gases we add, the warmer we’ll be. It’s not rocket science.”