John McCain snickered during the presidential debate and called it a “$3 million overhead projector”. McCain said that Barack Obama funneled millions of dollars to some place in Chicago in order to pay for just an overhead projector. That sounds crazy. It sounds corrupt.
If you only pay attention to what it sounds like at first, as McCain talked about it during the presidential debate, you’d come away concluding that Barack Obama has a history of corruption and wasteful government spending in order to support his cronies back in Chicago. That’s what the McCain campaign is counting on – that you won’t be curious enough to look any deeper at the actual facts of the case.
The facts of the case are this: Barack Obama didn’t seek those 3 million dollars for corrupt cronies. He sought those 3 million dollars to support science education. The recipient of the money was to be the Adler Planetarium. Planetariums are not really known as centers of power and corruption. No one talks about politicians being “in the pocket of Big Planetarium”.
What about the so-called “overhead projector”? Well, the equipment does project, and it does project overhead, but that doesn’t make it an “overhead projector”. The equipment Barack Obama sought funding for is a planetarium projection system, integrated with computer technology. It’s ten feet long. It weighs a ton. It’s integrated with computers in order to ensure that planetarium displays are accurate and up to date.
This equipment is used to give children and adults information about the latest astronomical research. It would a valuable tool for scientific education for the millions of people living in the Chicago metropolitan area. Is it pork barrel? Only if you regard science education as a waste.
Apparently, John McCain does think science education is a waste. That’s a shame, because if John McCain were elected President, he would follow eight years of George W. Bush, who also has demonstrated a disdain for science and science education. President Bush has used his power to distort and suppress research by government scientists. Bush has supported a radical right wing agenda to insert religious dogma into children’s science education, and has decimated public school education by increasing mandates without providing the funding needed to meet those mandates.
John McCain hasn’t done a thing to stand up to Bush’s anti-science agenda. While Bush has been attacking science education, McCain has been giving Bush big hugs.
The current planetarium projection system at the Adler Planetarium was installed in 1969. The equipment itself is already 40 years old. John McCain seems to think it’s okay for kids in the American midwest to receive science education using equipment that was created back when the big space technology was Tang breakfast drink. He seems to think that innovation and discoveries since the 1960s aren’t important.
The scientists and technicians at the Adler Planetarium beg to differ. They have issued a statement in response to John McCain’s insult of their work. It reads, in part,
“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.”
This issue is about a lot more than just science education in Chicago. It’s about a choice we’re presented with in the 2008 presidential election. John McCain has put himself on the side of ignorance. Like the medieval church leaders who forced Galileo to recant his astronomical discoveries, McCain is resisting efforts to pass on the latest discoveries in astronomy and physics to the next generation.
Now is not a time for America to shrink back into the ignorance. For thousands of years, knowledge of the stars has been humanity’s door into discovery. We lose sight of them at our peril.