The Science Museum wants his plastic samples. They refused
When a curator at the Science Museum in London asked Deonie and Steve Allen if they wanted their work added to the museum’s permanent collection of artifacts, they jumped at the chance. The Allens are two of the best microplastic hunters in the world. The researchers, who are also married, travel to the most remote places in the world in search of tiny plastic particles. And when they search for microplastics, they almost always find them. The Allens found these tiny particles in Tibetan glaciers, the mountains of the Pyrenees and in the air above the French Atlantic coast.
Saying yes to the Science Museum was a no-brainer. The museum, which dates back to 1857, houses one of the largest collections of scientific artifacts in the world and attracts several million visitors each year. “It’s like being asked to write an editorial for Nature— of course we will,” says Deonie Allen. The Allens chatted with one of the museum’s curators about the kinds of materials they could bring to the collection: the tandem paraglider they were flying when they first noticed plastic particles in the air , the filters they use to collect the microplastic particles and photos of their many expeditions. The researchers, who both work at the University of Strathclyde in Scotland, planned to hand over the materials in November upon their return from France to the UK.
But now scientists are refusing to hand over their materials in protest at a controversial contract the Science Museum signed with Shell, the world’s fourth-largest oil and gas company and the sponsor of a Science Museum exhibit on climate change. The Allens are objecting to a clause in the contract between Shell and the Science Museum Group, the public charity that oversees the museum and four others in the UK. The clause states that the Science Museum Group must take “reasonable care” not to “make any statement or publish any publicity or otherwise become involved in any conduct or matter which may reasonably be expected to discredit or damage goodwill.” or the reputation of the sponsor”. “The existence of the clause was first reported by Channel 4 in July.
“That was the line in the sand for us. You can’t gag science,” says Steve Allen. The Allens emailed a letter to the Science Museum’s curator and board explaining why they had refused to have their work on atmospheric microplastics stored in the museum’s permanent archives. “When we learned that the museum had signed Shell’s gag order, we were completely shocked,” the letter read. “The museum has lost essential credibility that is vital to its raison d’être. Each scientific paper contains a conflict of interest statement that indicates who funded the work to demonstrate that it was unbiased. The Science Museum could not pass this test. A Science Museum spokesperson confirmed that the museum had received the letter.
A third researcher who was in talks with the Science Museum to donate his plastic pollution samples also backed out of the arrangement. In May, Sedat Gündoğdu, an associate professor at Çukurova University in Turkey, was asked by a Science Museum curator to send samples of plastic waste he had collected that had been illegally removed from the UK. dumped near the city of Adana. “I map the locations of these illegal activities to understand the impact and effect on the environment of this illegal dumping of imported waste,” says Gündoğdu. He went so far as to send a packet of samples to the Science Museum at the request of the curator, but they were held up at customs and eventually sent back to Turkey.