“planetariums and other foolishness”

Last month, Senator McCain (R-AZ) wildly dissed on Chicago’s Adler Planetarium, characterizing a funding request on its behalf as “planetariums and other foolishness.” During the second Presidential debate, he continued on the same theme:

… 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?

Then, during the third debate last week, he doubled down:

MCCAIN: … including $3 million for an overhead projector in a planetarium in his hometown. That’s not the way we cut — we’ll cut out all the pork.

Okay, people say a lot of damfool things during Presidential campaigns. But as the saying goes, once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, three times is enemy action.

I am an astronomer, and an alumnus of UChicago (which pals around with the Adler), so I feel compelled to point out: the overhead projector that the Planetarium needs is not that one, but rather this one:
Zeiss Universarium Projector

Also, it wasn’t funded:

To clarify, the Adler Planetarium requested federal support – which was not funded – to replace the projector in its historic Sky Theater, the first planetarium theater in the Western Hemisphere. The Adler’s Zeiss Mark VI projector – not an overhead projector – is the instrument that re-creates the night sky in a dome theater, the quintessential planetarium experience. The Adler’s projector is nearly 40 years old and is no longer supported with parts or service by the manufacturer. It is only the second planetarium projector in the Adler’s 78 years of operation.

Why should we care about this glorified overhead projector? As the Adler press release says:

Science literacy is an urgent issue in the United States. To remain competitive and ensure national security, it is vital that we educate and inspire the next generation of explorers to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math.

You betcha.

Update (11/2): natura facit saltus (v455, p1149, 30 Oct 2008)

  1. hlee:

    One does not need to mind technical stuffs abut the projector or other equipments. Visit there, one will know. Alder planetarium was the best planetarium to me so far (I didn’t visit many), and the most educational and scientifically just one. Also, it has history (I remember a metal sphere pin holed to teach navy navigation). I believe McCain never visited there, nor his advisers and speech writers. Without seeing/experiencing, people say too easy. It’s one of must visit places in Chicago.

    10-19-2008, 8:00 pm
  2. Robin Morris:

    There’s an interesting comment about this on the newscientist blog . Their opinion is that this is a coded message to the anti-science elements of the electorate, “the comment suggests an effort to connect with a voting population that is not enamoured with science, and so would find the idea of funding a planetarium outrageous or amusing”

    10-20-2008, 6:24 pm
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