Small Talk

The following statements are from Secretary Larry Small:

Upon taking the position as secretary, Small pointed out the absurdity of having him as secretary by explaining that having a non-scholar at the helm of the Smithsonian is like having a non-lawyer as head of the Supreme Court.

On History museum scholarship:
Small mandated that the history museum provide a large feature exhibit on the American Presidency, and that it be completed in record time of 6 months. Curators complained that to check facts and prepare a scholarly exhibit would take longer, and Small retorted that "all the information you need to know is in Microsoft Encarta." Small has solicited multi-million dollar gifts from a group associated with the "Hall of Achievement" virtual museum ( This cartel has now taken over control of the content of the National Museum of American History, to convert it into a bricks and mortar "Hall of Achievement." Donors in this group include Dorothy Lemelson, Kenneth Behring and Catherine Reynolds ( for the board of directors and p5.htm for large donors). Small portrays his interest in exhibits at the Smithsonian as an attempt to make them speak for all Americans, taking them away from out-of-touch scholars and giving them to the ordinary American, when in fact he is turning over control of the nation's history museum to a small, elite clique of "achievers," so they can memorialize themselves and their friends at the nation's museum on the national mall. The National Museum of American History is a public institution, not the personal gallery of an elite clique.

Ignorance about science:
According to Small (town hall meeting National Zoo, April 24th, 2000): the first thing Small did was "…appoint Dennis O'Connor as Under Secretary, and tell him, 'your job is to figure out what is the 2, 4, or 6 disciplines in science…and how to phase out other areas over time in a dignified, humane, and reasonable way." Small states that he wishes to reduce the number of science programs at the Smithsonian, so they will be easier to sell to donors. He does not provide any other justification for reducing the number of science programs at the SI. Most major universities do not confine themselves to 2, 4, or 6 programs, and are quite successful at supporting a range of research even more broad than the Smithsonian's. The research staff of the Smithsonian want to know what the justification is for the decision to reduce the number of science programs at the Smithsonian. Small has failed to respond to their repeated requests for an explanation and justification for reducing science at the Institution.

Regarding the biodiversity crisis:
(In front of several CRC scientists, and repeated at the National Museum of Natural History…) Small doubted the impact of habitat loss on biodiversity in places like the Amazon because he had personally flown over the Amazon and seen trees for as far as his eyes could see. We are concerned that his lack of understanding of the scientific concepts of biodiversity underpins his decision-making. He needs to listen to scholars who understand the science he is managing.

Regarding Small's "21 Century Priorities:"
In an April 24th, 2000 "Town Hall Meeting," Small said that the National Zoo should become a "modern zoo" that emphasizes "mega-charismatic vertebrate species" (i.e., giant pandas, lions, tigers and bears etc.). (As this idea of a zoo became outdated before the mid-1980s, it became obvious that the fate of the "Nations Zoo" rested squarely in the hands of a man who has no idea what a modern zoo is.)

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