John McCain’s trying to score political points; I understand that. But on more than one occasion, he’s done so by showing that, after all, science doesn’t really matter to him. He’s mocked the bear genetics study and just last week dismissed a planetarium projector as “an overhead projector”. It’s not just a political fib, it’s a destructive lie. Here, take a look at an example of what the candidate called “an overhead projector”.
Planetarium projectors are marvels of engineering and science in themselves, and over their approximately 40-year lifespan they can introduce hundreds of thousands of people to scientific wonders of our cosmos. In our country, slipping as we are in so many areas of education, we need to let children know that something lies over the horizon. And since most of our nation’s children live in brightly-lit urban areas, they may never truly see the night sky in its immensity, any other way.
“Never before was an instrument created which is so instructive as this; never before one so bewitching; and never before did an instrument speak so directly to the beholder. The machine itself is precious and aristocratic… The planetarium is school, theater, and cinema in one classroom under the eternal dome of the sky.”
- Elis Stromgren
Kids won’t be driven to stick to the toughest science and mathematics studies by the prospect of some unimaginable and unimaginably distant job in industry. They need serious inspiration – the kind that lifts the soul above today’s discomfort and tomorrow’s obstacles. They need museums and planetariums and chemistry classes and science programming and nature field trips. And we need them to have those things.
Obama gets it: he has been endorsed by 63 Nobel Prize winners in the sciences. If we’re ever going to dig ourselves out of the economic hole in which we find ourselves, it won’t happen by plodding along with our eyes on the sidewalk. We need to look farther ahead than that.
And there’s something else just as important as innovation and economic development. Bill Clinton put it this way: “People the world over have always been more impressed by the power of our example than by the example of our power.” It’s one thing not to put your light under a bushel, but you need to keep it burning, too.
- Phil Plait at Bad Astronomy describes what a planetarium projector is and does
- Our university has a small planetarium: I’ll try to contact the director tomorrow and see if he’ll let me in to get a picture of the projector for you. It isn’t as fancy as the one linked above but it has the same soul.
- One point in favor of planetarium projectors is that you cannot show PowerPoint presentations on them. They’re only good for showing the universe.
- Humor: Obama’s been practicing that look into the future!
- Vote For Science: An open letter to John McCain regarding planetaria and science education