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McCain vs. The Astronomers October 9, 2008

Posted by Sarah in science.
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I think we astronomers are generally a gentle bunch. We fight hard for money from our governments for our pet projects, fully aware that our work ranks somewhere below fighting wars, drilling for oil, trying to prevent global financial meltdown, curing cancer and the like in the list of priorities for the national budgets.

But when a candidate in the US presidential elections, and in probably the most important elections the US has seen in almost half a century, singles out astronomy as a wasteful way to spend money, hey, that really pisses us off. That’s precisely what John McCain has done, not just once, not just twice, but THREE times, including twice on US national television, in the 2nd presidential debate that took place on Tuesday night.

What makes things worse, so much worse, is that he didn’t pick on Obama’s support for some obscure and esoteric observing project, but he criticised Obama’s $3m earmark for a new projector for the world-renowned Adler Planetarium in Chicago. I mean, it’s a planetarium! We all love those, and they play an absolutely fundamental role in getting people excited about science and the Universe. Furthermore, the projection technology used in planetaria (if they can pay for it!) is really state of the art – hardly an “overhead projector” as McCain charmingly called it.

Anyway I’ll stick to this short rant for today, but do follow these jumps to read more from Phil Plait the Bad Astronomer, Jules Siegel on the Huffington Post, Alan Boyle on MSNBC’s Cosmic Log (with lots more links) and Julianne Dalcanton on Cosmic Variance.

UPDATE: The Adler Planetarium has issued a statement in response to Senator McCain’s comments. Read it here! (in PDF format)