Thursday, October 16, 2008

The $3-million "Overhead" Projector

While occupants of the White House clearly have indirect effects on nearly every aspect of our lives, at least two phrases or topics mentioned in last night's presidential debate directly concern science. 

Senator McCain repeated his charge that Senator Obama engaged in wasteful pork barrell politics when he sponsored a request for three million dollars for "an overhead projector at a planetarium in Chicago, Illinois." This is deeply misleading. The projector in question is Zeiss Mark VI (similar to photo shown at above-left). As PolitiFact put it:
McCain refers to the item as an "overhead projector," conjuring images of those little projectors on carts in public school libraries all over America, but calling this piece of equipment an overhead projector is like calling the space shuttle a bottle rocket. 
In addition, the Adler Planetarium has published this press release to explain its involvement in this funding request. The Planetarium uses the projector to show the position and glow of thousands of stars in the sky to its visitors, including joint programs with the Chicago Public Schools. In other words, the funding for what is perhaps the most inspiring human experience, that of considering the imponderable size of the universe, was turned into a political weapon. Boo.

Disclosure: I will openly admit that my lip quivered with delight when Senator Obama mentioned "basic science research." I bet he meant population genetic and phylogenetically-informed analyses of plant mating system evolution.


Susan Perkins said...

I was very pleased to hear research come up several times in the debate last night - including Obama's response to Palin's gift of "knowing what special needs families are going through" when he stated that one of the most important things we could do in that regard is to fund more research to understand diseases like autism.

Dan Warren said...

I suspected that this is the sort of projector they were talking about. I remember seeing many planetarium shows as a child, and I always left the theater amazed and inspired. Part of my early interest in science was in astronomy, and those trips to the planetarium were a part of that. If this projector helps to inform the public and forge a deeper connection between science and society, it's worth it. If it helps to inspire bright young people to consider science as a career, it's cheap at twice the cost.