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CNN's Misleading Poll on Mars Rover

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When you think of news networks taking aim at science, CNN is not usually the network that comes to mind. But on August 7, CNN.com put up a questionable poll:

"Is the Curiosity rover mission to Mars worth its $2.6 billion price tag?"

Of course the answer to the question is yes. It's a no-brainer. But this poll puts into question CNN's integrity. CNN isn't saying that landing on Mars isn't worth the cost; they are just asking the question, right? Wrong. In this case the question is misleading. We see a large sum of money -- in this case $2.6 billion -- and we think to ourselves, "That's a lot of money; I'll never make that much money."

The $2.6 billion is a misleading figure. According to spacenews.com:

"The price tag, also known as the life cycle cost, includes five years of development, the nine months MSL will spend en route to Mars, and two years of surface operations plus data analysis."

That's $2.6 billion over the course of nearly 8 years. That's about $325 million a year. It is practically nothing compared with other government spending. The amount of money spent on Curiosity's development, flight, and two year mission is the amount of money that the Department of Defense spends every 36 hours. Why hasn't CNN asked if the $670.9 billion a year in defense spending is worth the price tag? How come they didn't ask about the $15 billion a year on the failed war on drugs? They could play this game with nearly any government program but they chose to present a misleading figure and focus their question on the small amount spent on space science rather than on any of the actual wasteful spending that is going on in Washington.

For the price of a little over a week in Afghanistan ($300 million a day), NASA has reignited interest in science, math, engineering, and a host of other disciplines. All practical aspects of Curiosity's mission aside (and there are many), this alone makes the cost well worth it. Just imagine what NASA could do if instead of getting $2.6 billion over the course of eight years, they got an extra $2.6 billion every year or had just a fraction of the Defense budget.

The poll question that CNN posed robs us of our future. By calling into question the cost of science with misleading numbers and without the proper context, CNN is turning the public off to science and science education. CNN is quite literally turning the public against curiosity.

Read more about why space science is important in Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier, by Neil deGrasse Tyson.