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Over the past decade, the 40 researchers at the Natural History Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen have published more than 100 papers in Nature and Science, putting it among the world’s top research museums. But budget pressures are forcing a reorganization that will split museum research from curation and outreach. The museum’s scientists are dismayed, and several of the most prominent group leaders say they may leave.
Previously, the museum was its own department within the University of Copenhagen. But last month, the university announced that, as of 1 January 2019, the museum will be downsized, becoming a unit within the biology department. Roughly half of the 40 researchers will remain part of that unit; they will give up some of their research to focus on curation and outreach. The other half will become full faculty within the biology department—including the geologists and astrophysicists. These scientists will lose their affiliation with the museum and replace their curatorial roles with increased teaching duties.
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Divorcing the scientists’ dual roles will curtail the fruitful ways that curation pollinates research, and vice versa, says Carsten Rahbek, who heads the museum’s Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate and who is slated to become a biology professor. (The center will move with him.) “The curation is driven by the research,” he says. “It’s not like a library where you go borrow a book and then go do cutting-edge research. If you don’t have a say in how [the collection] develops, in 2 or 3 years you won’t be able to use it anymore.”
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The museum grew out of a 2001 merger of the university’s Botanical Garden, Botanical Museum and Library, Geological Museum, and Zoological Museum. The vision, says Eske Willerslev, who studies ancient DNA and...
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