Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Campaign Against Science?

First McCain wouldn't answer Nature's questions. Now, McCain's debate criticism of science pork - "$3 million for an overhead projector at a planetarium in Chicago, Illinois. My friends, do we need to spend that kind of money?" - has elicited an outburst from the scientific community and a response from the planetarium in question (see below). I don't think Adler Planetarium will be endorsing McCain. Making science the enemy would seem a dubious strategy, but then I thought Sarah Palin was a strange choice for Vice President.
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.

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.
Full text of their statement here. I've been to the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan many times. I've taken my son there. It's an amazing place, a planetarium really is a unique venue for science education and inspiration. It's fair to debate whether federal money should pay for a planetarium update, but it's sad (and telling) that, among all pork, a planetarium has become the McCain campaign's line for wasted money and irresponsible projects.

(image credit: (C) AMHN/Denis Finnin, amhn.org)