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Philly medical museum under fire for pulling online content for cultural review


Race is ‘one of many factors under consideration,’ public relations representative said

A museum’s temporary removal of its online content, including videos on disease transmission, embryology, black American history, the history of sex ed and many other topics, has sparked criticism from various interest groups.

The decision by the Mütter Museum of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia has drawn negative comment for promoting cancel culture from a conservative nonprofit run by the former chair of the physicians organization. A group concerned about how the removal could bar access for people with disabilities has also levied criticism.

The College of Physicians works to preserve the history of medicine and “[p]rovide information for the development of health policy.”

A museum representative told The College Fix on Wednesday that online content was “removed for review,” and the removal was “temporary.”

Of the roughly 450 online items taken offline for review in January, approximately 100 have been restored and are available to view on the museum’s YouTube channel, according to public relations representative Kevin Feeley.

However, some may never return.

“If you’re part of a museum that holds human remains, the last three or four years have seen more change in standards for ethical representation than we’ve seen in the last 100 years,” Feeley said.

The online items are under reviewed by a panel of “experts from a range of different fields…including disability advocates…to determine whether they serve the mission of the [museum],” according to Feeley.

The review will conclude by Labor Day.

“Race is one of many factors that are under consideration,” Feeley said, in response to a question from The Fix regarding the topic.

Review prompted by media coverage, changing ethical standards since 2020

ProPublica, a left-leaning news outlet, has an ongoing project called The Repatriation Database on the progress of American museums in returning Native American remains to Indigenous communities as may be required by law.

The database was last updated in April. It noted the Mütter Museum “still [has] the remains of at least 49 Native Americans.”

While the ongoing Mütter review was prompted in part by the ProPublica article, no remains have ben removed since it began, according to Feeley. The Native American collections are “a different issue” the museum is handling separately.

Dr. Stanley Goldfarb, founder of conservative medical nonprofit Do No Harm, was invited to submit a review to the panel following an op-ed he published June 14 in The Wall Street Journal, Feeley said.

The op-ed was titled “Cancel Culture Comes for Philly’s Weirdest Museum.” Goldfarb is former president of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia and a former associate dean of the University of Pennsylvania medical school.

“A small number of activists tar [the Mütter] as insufficiently progressive,” Goldfarb wrote. “For years they’ve accused the museum of reflecting ‘colonialist’ and ‘racist’ views.” He continued:

In January media outlets such as ProPublica and The Philadelphia Inquirer accused the Mütter of failing to return the remains of Native Americans to their tribes. ..

This year, in a blatant overreaction to the media reports, [Executive Director Kate] Quinn ordered the museum to remove all images of human remains from its online collections, including almost all its YouTube videos and large sections of its online exhibits. … If trustees listen to staff and the public, they will let the museum continue to inspire people with medical knowledge and unique exhibits. The alternative is to cleanse the institution of anything uncomfortable or incompatible with the exclusionary demands of the woke elite.

The Fix reached out to Do No Harm to ask for confirmation of the allegations and updated comment. Do No Harm’s media relations firm told The Fix on Wednesday it would send comments.

More recently, an online petition signed by more than 32,000 people as of Wednesday alleged museum mismanagement.

“Love the Mütter? Help us protect it,” according to a Tuesday tweet from the organization Protect the Mutter, which wrote the petition.

The museum leadership’s “recent decisions” are “reactive and fear-based as well as predicated on a lack of understanding and outright disdain of the Museum,” according to the petition.

The petition issued six demands, including the board “reinstate all online content,” “commit to inclusive and diverse representation on Museum review committees,” and immediately fire Executive Director Quinn and CEO Dr. Mira Irons.

Protect the Mütter alleged the removal of online content denies some people with disabilities access to the museum’s collections.

The organization also offered a differing explanation than Goldfarb for the collections’ cancellation.

“While we appreciate Dr. Goldfarb’s concern regarding the issues at the Mütter, he is way off the mark,” according to an unsigned email the organization sent Aug. 23 to The Fix.

“‘What’s going on there has nothing to do with ‘cancel culture’ or anything remotely ‘woke’,” the email stated.

“Over a quarter of the staff has left due to the leadership. We at Protect the Mütter support an impartial ethical review and repatriation of ill-gotten remains,” it continued.

The Fix asked Feeley, the museum spokesman, to respond to the allegation regarding staff.

“What’s true is that there have been some departures, for a variety of reasons, and while it’s possible that some left because they have differences with the leadership…it’s not true that all of them left ‘due to the leadership,'” Feeley told The Fix.

The New York Times reported on the controversy on Aug. 13.

Executive Director Quinn, hired last September, posted a response to the controversy in May, according to the paper.

‘The [removed] clips, which had amassed more than 13 million views, were being re-evaluated, she wrote, ‘to improve the visitor experience,'” according to the NY Times.

“The purpose of what [Quinn, pictured] called the Mütter’s ‘post-mortem’… was to ensure that the online presence of the museum was appropriate and that its 6,500 specimens of human remains on display were being treated respectfully,” the newspaper reported. 

MORE: British museum organization doubles down on ‘antiracism’

IMAGES: @ProtectMutter/Twitter; TedX Talks/YouTube

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