Even across an ocean, people at CERN spend a lot of time talking about the US elections. A lot of us are American, and many non-Americans consider the election vital to their own countries’ well-being. We’ve been watching the debates on youtube, and reading our favorite websites, like Nate Silver’s fivethirtyeight. He explains what he’s doing with the polling data in detail that’s really appealing to geeks like us.
When I had lunch with Ken this week, some friends joined us and we spent a lot of the lunch talking about the election. At some point, Ken said, “OK, OK, I know about all this stuff… tell me more about what’s going on at CERN.” It’s fairly likely that he could have been having the same discussion back at his university in Nebraska, and he came to CERN to get caught up on things here instead. I can’t blame him — sometimes I feel like the election is taking up a lot of my brain.
One detail that I’ve gotten a few emails about this week was the now-famous “$3 million overhead projector” that McCain has referred to in the last two debates. Scientists everywhere are spreading the story that the projector is not a simple one used in a classroom — it’s the projector that creates the night sky at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago. The planetarium is a National Historic Landmark, the first planetarium in the Western hemisphere when it was built. I’ve been there, to see Lisa Randall give a talk when she was touring around for her book “Warped Passages.” It’s an awesome place. You can read more about the debate controversy here.
People are certainly free to disagree whether federal or local or private funds should cover projects like this one, visited by millions of people including schoolchildren from many states and countries. One thing that’s clear to me, though, is that it is *not* a waste of money.