The Sciences

That Darn Overhead Projector!

Cosmic VarianceBy Julianne DalcantonOct 8, 2008 3:55 PM

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Regular CV readers already know of John McCain's past griping about planetariums. Well, apparently that planetarium is really stuck in his craw, because he brought it up again in the most recent debate:

(Obama) voted for nearly a billion dollars in pork barrel earmark projects, including, by the way, $3 million for an overhead projector at a planetarium in Chicago, Illinois. My friends, do we need to spend that kind of money?

If you've ever had the pleasure of visiting the AlderAdler Planetarium, you'd probably guess that the "overhead projector" he's talking about is the spectacular "Sky Theater" -- one of the most engrossing, gorgeous venues for displaying visuals about space. University of Chicago professor Andrey Kravstov has a wonderful defense of the theater in a comment on the New York Times website (h/t Deoliver47):

I am an Associate Professor of Astronomy at the University of Chicago (the University that today has added yet another Nobel Prize winner in the sciences for the US). I would like to comment on Sen. McCain's statement during the today's debate that Sen. Obama has earmarked "$3 million for an overhead projector at a planetarium in Chicago, Ill. My friends, do we need to spend that kind of money?" The way Sen. McCain has phrased it suggests that Sen. Obama approved spending $3 million on an old-fashioned piece of office equipment (overhead projector). The 3 million is actually for an upgrade of the SkyTheater - a full dome projection system, which is probably the main attraction of the Adler Planetarium and is quite sophisticated and impressive piece of equipment. I find it appalling that Sen. McCain would call a science education tool for public (largely children) for a historic planetarium with millions of visitors a year a wasteful earmark. The planetarium's focus, as stated on their website (http://adlerplanetarium.org) is "on inspiring young people, particularly women and minorities, to pursue careers in science." Is an investment in such public facility at the time when US competitiveness in math and sciences is a constant source of alarm a waste? "American's ability to compete in a 21st Century economy rests on our continued investments in math and science education," said Rep. Brian Baird, Chairman of the Research and Science Education Subcommittee in Congress, after the passage of The 21st Century Competitiveness Act of 2007. Considering such investments "wasteful earmarks" today, even in the face of the financial crisis, will severely cripple US economic competitiveness in the increasingly high-tech world down the road. — Andrey Kravtsov, Chicago, IL

Aside from arguing about the "wastefulness" this particular facility, politically I'm actually surprised that McCain is going after planetariums. People like planetariums. And the AlderAdler Planetarium is a place that millions of people go to -- it's not as if the earmark funded some high-tech facility in an obscure place that would serve only a few thousand people. If he was going to attack earmarks for science, he'd be better off going back to the bear DNA.

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