There’s a large plaque at the front of the Science Museum thanking their sponsors. Most museums have them. It’s as normal as a gift shop or a cafe. I took a photograph it about 18 months ago because I wanted to invite people to see such signs not just as a vote of thanks but as a sort of declaration of conflict of interest. That bit of the museum is currently closed for refurbishment so you can’t see the plaque right now. I hope they’re giving it a bit of a polish; visitors should be encouraged to notice it when when we arrive.
As well as this sign at the entrance, many of the individual galleries also have signs about their specific sponsors too. Visiting the museum a couple of weekends ago, I realised their energy futures gallery didn’t have a sign saying it was sponsored by BP. It did have a sort of list of credits (photo below if you’re interested - some good names on there), but there was no reference to BP.
I thought I was going crazy. I started to wonder if BP had really sponsored it after all. Was I just making it up? I double checked again on Tuesday. Still no sign, or if it’s there it’s hiding in very small print. The museum’s website isn’t very helpful. They tell you about why you might want to become a sponsor and what the current opportunities are, but not who currently sponsors them. I googled it and found a museum press release about the gallery winning a design award which mentions sponsors as it’s first four notes to editors. I also found a BP publication (pdf) which stated the gallery was partfunded with a £1.65 million investment from BP spread over five years. That’s good to know, especially considering the museum hasn’t been exactly forthcoming about this.
In fact, that whole BP piece makes for interesting reading in terms of understanding the relationship between the two institutions and history of that gallery:
The Science Museum and BP were talking about a possible partnership several years before a commitment was made. Gradually the discussion moved to a shared concern over the public lack of awareness of energy-related issues, and how to best teach them [...] For the Science Museum, having a sponsor like BP that is also a world leader in their subject was an exciting experience. “We always ask our sponsors for help but we are not always able to mine them for information”
I’m not sure if the reference to “mining” was a deliberate joke or not, though I did spend way too much of my lunchbreak yesterday failing to work out an adaption of the pun to specifically reference surface mining and a friend mused whether we can “frack” someone for information too these days? More seriously, the document also boasts that at £1.65 million, it was the largest corporate sponsorship the museum had ever received. I wonder if they’ve had more from anyone since? Nintendo had a £1million deal in 2006. Shell say they sponsor, but not how much (this 3min Science Museum video is also worth a watch).
Maybe there’s a good reason for the absence of a “sponsored by BP” sign. Maybe it’s just temporary; off being refurbished. Or maybe it’s because BP’s five year investment would have ended in 2009. If the latter, I can see the logic but they really did have such an early input, “able to mine them for information”, I personally think it should be declared. It doesn’t seem like it was just advertising space they were paying for.
Compare the Science Museum, with it’s energy and climate science content supported by BP and Shell, with the mass exodus from Scienceblogs a couple of years back after the site took sponsorship from Pepsi for a nutrition blog. Or the notes about travel costs under these Guardian pieces on West African fishing and carbon capture in Norway. Maybe it’s unfair to compare museums to science writers. There are differences. Still, science museums are a bit more like news media than art galleries, telling stories and reporting topical issues and new research. Indeed, I noticed a specific reference to the explicitly news-based Antenna Gallery in their list of corporate sponsorship opportunities. I’m inclined to say if science museum staff want to play journalist, they’re going to have to take on the ethical code of one. Maybe you disagree though.