I Thought it was a Place to Learn about Astronomy
To quote my friend Phil Plait,
“The stupid–it burns!!!”
I really don’t like to discuss politics on here, but sometimes something really stupid comes down the pike out of the mouth of a political contender and it begs for correction.
So, here goes: apparently John McCain’s presidential campaign advisors don’t know the difference between an overhead projector and a planetarium projection system. And apparently, neither does John McCain, since he pretty much appears to have bought whatever they told him to say in his most recent debate. So, he ranted about an overhead projector at Adler Planetarium.
Most people who have been to a planetarium (and there are at least 110 million people who go each year) DO know the difference between the two, which makes them immediately much more experienced than both John McCain and his feckless vice-presidential partner. And don’t forget that the younger generation lives and breathes technology. I figure a lot of them are laughing at this McCain technology gaffe right about now… along with the rest of us.
So, in the interests of schooling yet another clueless politician about reality, here are some pictures to help McCain’s crack team of researchers understand the magnitude of their ignorance. An overhead projector is a piece of 20th century technology used in a classroom. It’s pretty old-fashioned, but it gets the job done in a pinch. It’s sort of the predecessor to PowerPoint. A planetarium instrument (or projection system) is used in a dark dome-shaped room to teach about astronomy and space science. The two systems are not the same thing. Period.
There are various forms of planetarium systems, including computer-and-digital-video projector-based products from Sky-Skan, Inc., (based in Nashua, New Hampshire), Evans & Sutherland (based in Salt Lake City), Spitz, Inc., in Pennsylvania, Konica-Minolta (Japan), Global Immersion (UK), Digitalis Education Systems, e-planetarium, and the Elumenati. Of course there are also the beautiful opto-mechanical systems built by Zeiss (in Germany), and Konica Minolta and GOTO (based in Japan).
All planetarium projection systems are sophisticated instruments. Some, including one at Adler Planetarium in Chicago, are computer-based visualization systems quite far removed from the simplicity of the overhead projectors that are apparently Mr. McCain’s (and his handlers) perception of a planetarium instrument. I figure they either misunderstood what was purchased by the Adler Planetarium for one of its domes (and didn’t check it out before letting their guy make a fool of himself on stage) or they didn’t care as long as they had a weapon to brandish.
Let’s talk about what these systems do, shall we?
Sure, these systems cost a few bucks but they are worth it for what they can do to help kids learn about astronomy (which is a gateway science to other sciences). I would suggest that $3 million spent at Adler Planetarium is far more likely to benefit the education of millions of people over time, and that it will pay itself back faster than a bridge to nowhere or tax cuts for those who don’t need them.
And, $3 million is a drop in the bucket compared to what each American is going to pay (and future Americans will have to pay) to for the financial system bailout. At least with a planetarium, we will see a very big intellectual and educational return on our relatively small financial investment at Adler (and other science centers and institutions of higher learning that ALSO get grants (and no doubt some earmarks) to build science educational facilities, including some in Mr. McCain’s home state of Arizona).
Compared to bailouts, money given to such endeavors is well-spent in the long run. How so?
Planetariums and science centers are where students, parents, teachers, and members of the public go to learn about science. It may have slipped the attention of Mr. McCain and his handlers in their fumbling fervor to find “facts” to fling at his opponent, but many scientists (including astronauts, astronomers, physicists, doctors and so on) got their interest in science when they went to a planetarium. Many others, including writers, teachers, actors, and even some enlightened politicians, also got interested in science when they went to a planetarium.
In case the McCain campaign has missed it, the U.S. has been a technological leader for decades based on its dedication to science education and technology as a way to create jobs and get ahead. And traditionally planetariums in schools and colleges, as well as those in museums and science centers, have given people the basics about science and nourished their interest in the subject.
I’m just sayin’…
So, Mr. McCain and handlers, here are a couple of pieces of advice from a regular American citizen and voter: 1) an overhead projector isn’t a planetarium, so you might want to learn the difference before you show your technological ignorance in public again, and 2) slagging planetariums is pretty much slagging science education and the American voters who trust that science education is important (which comprises a huge number of us). And, by slagging Adler in your quest to attack your opponent, you’re slagging some good, hardworking people, the citizens of Illinois, and some high-tech companies that made science education a priority around the world as well as in the U.S. On top of that, those companies and the Adler are providing JOBS and technology. So, good going on the insults and ignorance, McCainites.
And finally, here’s a question for you: if you and your handlers got this one wrong, what else are you getting wrong?
(Note: U.S. citizens — have you registered to vote?)