Looking to portray his Democratic rival as financially irresponsible, Sen. John McCain recently claimed, during the Oct 7 presidential debate (and again last night in the third and final debate), that Sen. Barack Obama had “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?”
It’s not often that an aspect of the attractions industry makes its way into a presidential campaign debate, but there it is. McCain was referring to the prestigious Adler Planetarium and his mistake was in confusing a highly sophisticated and complex star projection system used by planetariums with an overhead projector (below right). Within the planetarium and science community, the reaction to this gaffe was swift, with the Adler issuing an official statement the following day confirming that they had in fact sought (and did not receive) Federal support to replace their 40-year-old Zeiss Mark VI planetarium projector (see above) with a newer model.
More news from the science education front: The Creation Museum in Kentucky (which promotes a literal interpretation of the Bible) recently announced that it has exceeded its expectations in terms of visitor numbers. Meanwhile, the new California Academy of Sciences (which does not promote a literal interpretation of the Bible) has opened in San Francisco to thundering critical acclaim and overflow first-day attendance (some 17, 000 had to be turned away). These are challenging times for the public understanding of science and the Adler’s statement perhaps has its finger on the pulse: “Science literacy is an urgent issue in the United States, ” it reads. “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.”
Image at top: courtesy of Adler Planetarium