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Science for Everyone

Adler Planetarium Oct 15, 2008 SCIENCE FOR EVERYONE By Veronica Arreola, Director of the Women in Science and Engineering program at the University of Illinois-Chicago

"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?" –John McCain

The first project I worked on after I graduated with my bachelor's degree in biological sciences was called "Women & Scientific Literacy." Its goal, put simply, was to infuse humanities and social science courses with science and "warm" the cold lab projects in introductory science courses. While the project had an eye on bringing more women to science, we also kept a sharp eye on how these changes might bring more underrepresented men and women to science. Look in your bag and you most likely will find many examples of technology that permeates our world without much thought on our part - Your MP3 player, mobile phone, smart phone/PDA, age-defying lotion, lip-plumping gloss, SPF 35 sun block, and a smudge-proof pen. This was part of the underlying message of our project, that to be a true democracy, we as citizens needed to be literate in science because so many decisions were being made and we all needed to lend our voices and opinions. The current Presidential campaigns of Barack Obama and John McCain highlight the need for scientific literacy. Well, their campaigns don't say it too loud, but look at some of their campaign promises and you see discussion about stem-cell research, space exploration, and global warming. How can voters decide who represents their views if they don't understand the science or even the basic need for, say, space exploration? This is why it struck me as odd that McCain, who touts space exploration on his campaign site, decided to use the Adler Planetarium's need for updated technology as an example of earmarks gone bad. (You can read about the space program here on McCain's campaign site.) For the past 50 years, space activities have contributed greatly to US scientific discovery, national security, economic development, and national innovation, not to mention pride and power (the ultimate example of which was the U.S. victory over the Soviets in the race to the moon). From the debate: "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?" I am the director of the Women in Science and Engineering program at the University of Illinois-Chicago and we have an outreach program which includes taking pre-college girls from Chicago Public Schools to places like the Adler Planetarium to meet women who work in science and experience the wonders of that dreaded "over head projector" sullied in the debate. What the projector really is is a theater system that displays the constellations in a huge rounded theater. It invokes wonder about the stars and what might be beyond them. We take girls there and other Chicago area science attractions with the hope that such a presentation will spark a lifetime interest in science. It not only rubs me the wrong way that one of the Presidential candidates (ok, his staff members) doesn't understand this but that much of the country didn't understand the hoopla. And let's not even go into the grizzly bear research earmark… Ah, but that's the subject of another post. Tonight, I'll be watching the debate and waiting for one of the candidates to outline how we will return our country to a place where being smart, an intellectual, is not a smear, but something to be proud of. I will be listening closely to hear their plan to let science lead the way to solutions to many of the crises we face today. Crossposted at Girl with Pen


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