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That Overhead Projector

October 16, 2008 Leave a comment Go to comments

In last night’s McCain-Obama debate, Senator McCain referred yet again to the earmark for a $3 million overhead projector that Senator Obama supported:

MCCAIN: … But I would fight for a line-item veto, and I would certainly veto every earmark pork-barrel bill. Senator Obama has asked for nearly $1 billion in pork-barrel earmark projects…

SCHIEFFER: Time’s up.

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.

The morning after the first McCain-Obama debate, I wrote about McCain’s other pet earmark peeve, the $3 million allocated for a study of bear DNA in Montana, noting that I was troubled about “his continued use of this expenditure as an example of self-evident waste, without making any effort to educate the audience (or perhaps himself) on why it’s a waste.” The same remark applies here, as does my suggestion that underlying this is an appeal to traditional anti-intellectual, anti-science currents in this country.

There is near-unanimous agreement among politicians that this country is doing a poor job in math and science education and that steps must be taken to improve the situation. Recently, as part of Science Debate 2008, McCain and Obama responded in writing to a series of questions science policy. With regard to science education, they were asked, “What role do you think the federal government should play in preparing K-12 students for the science and technology driven 21st Century?” McCain wrote:

… Less than 20 percent of our undergraduate students obtaining degrees in math or science, and the number of computer science majors have [sic] fallen by half over the last eight years. America must address these trends in education and training if it hopes to compete successfully.

… The diminishing number of science, technology, engineering and math graduates at the college level poses a fundamental and immediate threat to American competitiveness.

We must fill the pipeline to our colleges and universities with students prepared for the rigors of advanced engineering, math, science and technology degrees.

We must move aggressively to provide opportunities from elementary school on, for students to explore the sciences through laboratory experimentation, science fairs and competitions. [Italics mine]

Our museums of science, technology, and natural history, and our planetariums, provide unsurpassed opportunities to explore the sciences. Chicago is a world leader in access to great science museums: The Field Museum, the Museum of Science and Industry, the Shedd Aquarium, and, yes, the Adler Planetarium & Astronomy Museum, whose tagline is “Inspiring the Next Generation of Explorers.”

That overhead projector McCain loves to ridicule (or rather the old one that needs replacing) is the centerpiece of the planetarium’s Sky Theater. It looks like this:

Sky Theater, Adler Planetarium

Sky Theater, Adler Planetarium

Following the second McCain-Obama debate, the Adler Planetarium released a statement of clarification:

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.

Senator McCain’s statements about the Adler Planetarium’s request for federal support do
not accurately reflect the museum’s legislative history or relationship with Senator Obama.

The Adler has approached the Illinois Congressional delegation the last few years for federal
assistance with various initiatives. These have included museum exhibitions, equipment and
educational programs we offer to area schools, including the Chicago Public Schools.

We have made requests to Senators Durbin and Obama, as well as to 6 area Congressmen
from both political parties. We are grateful that all of the Members we have approached,
including Senator Obama, have deemed our activities worthy of their support, and have
made appropriations requests on our behalf, as they have for many worthy Illinois nonprofit

As a result of the hard work of our bipartisan congressional delegation, the Adler has been
fortunate to receive a few federal appropriations the past couple of years.

However, the Adler has never received an earmark as a result of Senator Obama’s efforts.
This is clearly evidenced by recent transparency laws implemented by the Congress, which
have resulted in the names of all requesting Members being listed next to every earmark in
the reports that accompany appropriations bills.

Categories: Politics, Science, Today's News
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