As someone who has much appreciated the Adler Planitarium, both when I went on field trips as a child and when I took my own children to visit, I suspected that what McCain said in the debate about an overhead projector being "pork" was likely a terrible miscalculation on his part. McCain, of course, views all "ear mark" spending as being for unworthy projects. For him the idea of funding any of the world-renowned great science museums in Chicago would, no doubt, be an extravagant waste of money on those children and adults who visit them and might not only learn something new but get excited about science.
Well, here's what someone who knows about that projector has to say about it:
Reprinted at Daily Kos.
I am an Associate Professor of Astronomy at the University of Chicago (the University that today has added yet another Nobel Prize winner in the sciences for the US). I would like to comment on Sen. McCain's statement during the today's debate that Sen. Obama has earmarked "$3 million for an overhead projector at a planetarium in Chicago, Ill. My friends, do we need to spend that kind of money?"
The way Sen. McCain has phrased it suggests that Sen. Obama approved spending $3 million on an old-fashioned piece of office equipment (overhead projector). The 3 million is actually for an upgrade of the SkyTheater - a full dome projection system, which is probably the main attraction of the Adler Planetarium and is quite sophisticated and impressive piece of equipment.
I find it appalling that Sen. McCain would call a science education tool for public (largely children) for a historic planetarium with millions of visitors a year a wasteful earmark. The planetarium's focus, as stated on their website (http://adlerplanetarium.org) is "on inspiring young people, particularly women and minorities, to pursue careers in science." Is an investment in such public facility at the time when US competitiveness in math and sciences is a constant source of alarm a waste?
"American's ability to compete in a 21st Century economy rests on our continued investments in math and science education," said Rep. Brian Baird, Chairman of the Research and Science Education Subcommittee in Congress, after the passage of The 21st Century Competitiveness Act of 2007.
Considering such investments "wasteful earmarks" today, even in the face of the financial crisis, will severely cripple US economic competitiveness in the increasingly high-tech world down the road.
— Andrey Kravtsov, Chicago, IL
UPDATE - The Planetarium has released this statement:
Last night, during the presidential debate in Nashville, Tennessee, Senator John McCain made the following statement:
McCain: “While we were working to eliminate these pork barrel earmarks he (Senator Obama) voted for nearly $1 billion in pork barrel earmark projects. Including $3 million for an overhead projector at a planetarium in Chicago, Illinois. My friends, do we need to spend that kind of money?”
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 organizations.
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.