What on earth was John McCain referring to during Tuesday’s debate when he kept bringing up that mysterious “$3 million overhead projector” that Barack Obama ostensibly supported in Chicago? Turns out it’s not just an ultra-fancy piece of office equipment, according to an astronomer from Chicago who begs to differ with McCain’s phraseology.

Talking Points Memo:

I am an Associate Professor of Astronomy at the University of Chicago (the University that today has added yet another Nobel Prize winner in the sciences for the US). I would like to comment on Sen. McCain’s statement during the today’s debate that Sen. Obama has earmarked “$3 million for an overhead projector at a planetarium in Chicago, Ill. My friends, do we need to spend that kind of money?”

The way Sen. McCain has phrased it suggests that Sen. Obama approved spending $3 million on an old-fashioned piece of office equipment (overhead projector). The $3 million is actually for an upgrade of the SkyTheater — a full dome projection system, which is probably the main attraction of the Adler Planetarium and is quite sophisticated and impressive piece of equipment.

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Thursday’s Chicago Tribune also mentioned the projector issue:

Chicago Tribune:

But at a news conference Wednesday, Adler President Paul Knappenberger defended the request. The museum wants to spend $10 million to update its original, 78-year-old domed Sky Theater auditorium, including replacement of the huge, 40-year-old Zeiss planetarium projection system, which is falling into disrepair with no replacement parts available.

Knappenberger also took issue with McCain’s use of the phrase “overhead projector.” Knappenberger stood in front of the giant Zeiss projector, while beside him was a much smaller overhead projector used by generations of classroom teachers.

“These cost maybe $300 new,” he said of the classroom projector, “and you can pick them up for 10 bucks on eBay now.”

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