Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History will cut it's budget by 15%. The Field is not only among the top museums in the country but a center of research excellence in the biological sciences. In an article in Nature News Field Museum associate curator and ornithologist Shannon Hackett worries that severe cuts could jeopardize the museum's stature as a leading research center. Hackett comments, "Once you lose your academic stature, it is very difficult to regain". A major problem lies in loses in the museum's endowment dropping from $320 million in the spring to $215 million in November. Museums around the country are experiencing similar problems. Especially hard hit are those institutions that receive state funding in those states with falling tax revenues. The University of Pennsylvania's Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology has cut 18 research positions and the Virginia Museum of Natural History announced in October that the state has ordered a 10% budget cut resulting in job losses and a reduction in hours the museum is available to the public.
Clearly it is as important now as ever to support your local natural history museum. Visit your museum regularly, consider a membership and if you have the means, donate, so that these vital centers of scientific research and education can continue to grow and thrive. The long term economic health of the US is critically linked to a scientifically literate society where discovery and innovation spawns economic opportunity. Natural history museums are key players in building the scientific literacy required in any successful modern economy.