Skip to main content

Category: UW Experts in the News

Invasive “jumping” worms are here to stay


The Amynthas species we have in the US (most commonly Amynthas agrestis and Amynthas tokioensis) are primarily from Japan and the Korean peninsula. In their home habitats, they evolved along with the local ecosystems — and the ecosystems along with them. But here, “just like any other invasive species that are displaced into a brand new habitat that might not have controls, they’re able to take advantage of that and go gangbusters,” says Brad Herrick, an ecologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum.

The week’s best parenting advice: May 4, 2021

The Week

“We’re not going to have the loud, raucous dining hall filled with incomprehensible yelling,” says Dr. Dipesh Navsaria, a pediatrician at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health who is helping create coronavirus protocols for camps. [The New York Times]

Is herd immunity attainable? UW Health expert weighs in


“Herd immunity is really when you have a high enough percentage of the population who are immune to a particular infectious disease such that the unvaccinated people are protected as well. Meaning that in this case the virus has a dead end. It doesn’t have the ability to go on and continue propagating itself and so basically the infection rate dies out at that point,” said Dr. Matt Anderson, UW Health’s Senior Medical Director of Primary Care.

The census is months behind schedule. What that means for the fight over Wisconsin’s election maps

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Quoted: The new maps are supposed to be in place for the 2022 elections. But the delays could be so severe that Wisconsin’s existing, Republican-friendly maps will have to be used for those elections, said Barry Burden, director of the Elections Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“It seems unlikely I think that the litigation would be resolved in time for elections to happen in new districts in 2022,” he said.

Keeping the old maps for another cycle “doesn’t feel right,” he said. “But I think courts often view it as the least bad option, as opposed to forcing candidates to make very quick decisions or changing the dates of primaries or something else.”

Majority Of Madeline Island Residents Are Vaccinated. That Doesn’t Mean The Pandemic Is Over For The Community.

Wisconsin Public Radio

Having 80 percent of residents in a community vaccinated is an accomplishment and means virus transmission is less likely to occur there, said Ajay Sethi, an epidemiologist and director of the Master of Public Health Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. But it does not mean Madeline Island has eliminated the threat of COVID-19

U.S. travel industry wants more international visitors

The Washington Post

The key, experts say, will be weighing the risk of new variants against economic benefits and the need to resume normal life. Laura Albert, a professor of industrial and systems engineering at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, said the United States has reached a point where it can start to contemplate how it might reopen more widely, including to more travelers from abroad.

“We’re in a different place than we were a year ago,” said Albert, whose work focuses on analyzing risk in public spaces. “Last year, it was, ‘No, don’t do it.’ It wasn’t clear it was safe to be on a plane. This year, it’s how and where you go, not whether.”

Ajay Sethi, an epidemiologist and associate professor of population health sciences at Wisconsin, said travel always has been linked with the spread of viruses, but as more people are vaccinated, the risk is reduced. The wild card, however, is the possibility of new variants.

Bacteria wars are raging in soil, and it’s keeping ecosystems healthy

Popular Science

“The finding that growth and carbon uptake are higher in bacteria that may have predatory lifestyles than in other bacteria is interesting, and supports the idea that bacterial predators can play meaningful roles in the soil food web,” wrote Thea Whitman, a soil ecologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who was not involved in the study, in an email to Popular Science

‘The Story Of Late-Night’: From Steve Allen & Johnny Carson To Desus & Mero, CNN Docuseries Explores The Changing World Of Talkshows


The show also looks at Faye Emerson (right), widely considered to be the first-lady of late-night television, who paved the way for the likes of Chelsea Handler, Samantha Bee and Lilly Singh. Ealer said that Syracuse professor Robert Thompson led them to Wisconsin to talk to Maureen Mauk, a former Fox exec now at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who helped preserve and digitize her archive. “Our eyes exploded because none of us had heard of her,” said Ealer. “In an era where we’re constantly and appropriately looking to evaluate ourselves and do better with representation, we took very seriously the obligation to do that in late night history. Maybe the first late night imprint on the moon was a woman and that’s pretty amazing.”

FDA wants ‘significant’ amount of extra data on AstraZeneca’s Covid vaccine

NBC News

Dr. William Hartman, principal investigator for the AstraZeneca vaccine trial site at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, said the delays are frustrating to clinical trial teams in the U.S. who “put in a tremendous effort” to study the vaccine.

But he supports FDA’s extra efforts. “They are looking under every stone, making sure that this is the safest product that can be put out there,” Hartman said.

Business experts: Rebuilding consumer and employee confidence a joint project

Wisconsin State Journal

“We know that individuals do have different tolerance for the kind of risks-and-benefits trade-off,” said Nancy Wong, a consumer psychology professor at UW-Madison’s School of Human Ecology. “Some people are just naturally risk-takers and some are not.” Evan Polman, an associate professor at the university’s School of Business who researches decision-making and moral psychology, said risk aversion is “probably the most important dimension” for someone deciding when to resume activities outside the home. The community they live in factors into that decision, Wong and Polman said.

State health insurance pool for schools could save money, has bipartisan interest

Wisconsin State Journal

UW-Madison business professor Justin Sydnor, who specializes in risk and insurance, said insuring more school districts through ETF could be beneficial but questioned the need for a separate pool. “The high-level idea of leveraging ETF’s expertise at creating a big pooled plan and getting some competition among insurers makes some sense,” he said. “But why propose an entirely new program? Why not just work on whatever the issues are that are preventing more school districts from taking advantage of it?”

Child care advocates see hope in Biden’s American Families Plan, state budget proposal

Wisconsin State Journal

The upshot is the “market price for licensed child care is wildly high,” said Katherine Magnuson, who studies economically disadvantaged children and their families as a professor of social work at UW-Madison. “How many families can afford to spend between $8,000 and $10,000 a year to pay someone to watch their young child so that they can work outside the home?”

A minor change could bring the state $1.6 billion in federal dollars. Republican legislators are uninterested.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Quoted: Republicans in Wisconsin first took their stance when Scott Walker was governor, contending that the federal government eventually could stop paying as much as promised for the expansion.

“There might be a little bit of Scott Walker legacy in all of this,” said Barry Burden, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Paul Fanlund: Do science advocates share blame for anti-vaccination pushback?

The Capital Times

Professor Dietram Scheufele is an award-winning and nationally recognized expert on science communication at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and someone I’ve written about for years. He recently shared with me five thoughts about what could have been done differently to mitigate this stark divide over vaccine attitudes.

Post-pandemic retail: What’s in, what’s out

Wisconsin State Journal

Since the early days of e-commerce, many big-box retailers saw their brick-and-mortar stores as almost separate businesses from their online operations, said Hart Posen, a professor of management and retail expert at UW-Madison. The pandemic gave them an opportunity to experiment, and they discovered that one is not a substitute for the other. Rather, they complement each other. “Sometimes a customer wants to order online, drive there and pick it up,” Posen said. “Other times that customer wants to come to the store and look around.”

How much sleep is enough? Study says focus on consistency, too.

The Washington Post

The specific mechanism by which sleep timing affects overall mental health is still not completely understood, said Fang, the researcher who studied the medical residents. But the link between inconsistent sleep schedules and mental health outcomes may have to do with sleep quality, said David T. Plante, a psychiatrist and medical director of the Wisconsin Institute for Sleep and Consciousness at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  “If you change the timing of when you’re sleeping, you can really affect the quality of your sleep,” he explained. Over time, “it can have a downstream effect on your overall well-being and mental health as well.”

As participation in youth sports grows, more are winding up on the injured list

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Noted: The prime injury culprits are specialization — which the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health defines as participation in a single sport for more than 8 months of the year — and overtraining.

A groundbreaking 2017 University of Wisconsin study of 1,544 Wisconsin high school athletes found that those who specialized were 70% more likely to sustain a lower extremity injury than athletes who played multiple sports.

“Should we really be asking our young kids to do what we’re asking our collegiate athletes?” asked David Bell, associate professor of kinesiology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and director of the Wisconsin Injury in Sport Laboratory.

“Kids aren’t programmed to do a single sport for 15 to 20 hours a week for the entire year.”

China Approaching ‘Population Crisis’ as Numbers Fall for First Time Since 1960, Economist Predicts


Yi Fuxian, a statistician at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, wrote last year that China had “seriously overestimated the country’s actual birth rate and population size” as of 2019. He also cast some doubt on the “quality” of the census data set to be released in the coming months by Chinese Communist Party officials.

Just 0.03% of fully vaccinated in Wisconsin have gotten COVID-19, state says

Wisconsin State Journal

Dr. James Conway, a UW Health pediatrician and vaccine expert, called the very low rates of breakthrough cases “reassuring” and proof the vaccines are working as well or better than expected. But the cases also serve as a reminder that people should keep taking coronavirus precautions for now even if fully vaccinated, especially given that more contagious variants are circulating, health officials say.

Ron Johnson disputes scientific consensus on the effectiveness of masks in preventing spread of COVID-19

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Quoted: “People who wear masks in close settings have a lower risk of being infected than people who don’t,” said Patrick Remington, former epidemiologist for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and director of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s preventive medicine residency program.

Invasive garlic mustard hurts native species—but its harmfulness wanes over time

National Geographic

But it may not be necessary to eradicate it to save forests. “In many ways its presence is more of a symptom of a disease rather than the cause,” says Richard Lankau, a researcher at University of Wisconsin. “Things like disturbance, overabundance of white-tailed deer, exotic earthworms—those things often seem to set the stage for bad garlic mustard invasions.”

Experts explain effects of affinity groups


“It’s especially used among people who are basically all on the same basic side, but they still have different specific interests and so it’s helpful to be in a smaller group, where you can articulate and share your own experiences,” explained University of Wisconsin- Madison professor emerita of sociology Pamela Oliver.

Wisconsin not saying how many fully vaccinated residents have acquired COVID-19

Wisconsin State Journal

Still, the relatively low tally of reported infections among those fully immunized should be taken as encouraging news, said Dr. James Conway, a UW Health pediatrician and vaccine expert. “I think this is reassuring. Four months into this, these vaccines are working as good, if not better, than we hoped they would,” Conway said. “It should be more incentive for those who are on the fence or wondering whether they should get these vaccines. … These things work.”

9 Free Meditation Apps Experts Love

The Healthy

The Healthy Minds Program is free and offers meditation practices aimed at enhancing awareness, connection, insight, and purpose, says Cortland Dahl, chief contemplative officer at Healthy Minds Innovations and a research scientist at the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Another boon from vaccinating millions of Americans: Jobs

CBS News

“A massive vaccine rollout certainly creates new jobs — from clinic clerks and managers to nurses, medical assistants/techs and pharmacists,” said Dr. Christine B. Whelan, a clinical professor in the School of Human Ecology at the University of Wisconsin. “There are the truck drivers to transport the vaccines and the computer folks to create the sign-up portals.”

Opinion | After Covid, Your Health May Depend on Living With Germs

The New York Times

This idea is controversial. “I’ve always felt that people don’t do enough to prevent cold and flu, and so in a sense many of these changes have been healthy,” says Jo Handelsman, an infectious-disease researcher and professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She says it’s unclear whether shaking hands or spending time in crowded places meaningfully contributes to microbiome health, and so avoiding such risky practices may be all upside — a view that many infectious disease experts share.

After Derek Chauvin verdict, will police prosecutions change?

The Washington Post

“It’s one case out of thousands of cases involving police use of force, so we shouldn’t read too much into it,” said Keith A. Findley, a law professor at the University of Wisconsin. “But it’s nonetheless very important, because it is one in which, with the whole world watching, the justice system stepped up and acted to hold the police officer responsible for an unlawful use of deadly force.

5 Things You Should Do First Thing In The Morning To Be Happier All Day

HuffPost Life

But research suggests that even if you don’t actually meet up with someone or send them an email or text, it can be enough to simply send good thoughts their way. “You can start with a simple appreciation practice,” Cortland Dahl, a research scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Center for Healthy Minds, previously told HuffPost. Just bring a friend or loved one into your mind, then consciously focusing on the things you really cherish about them.

Biden progress on school reopening uneven

The Washington Post

Advocates for reopening have pointed to data showing significant learning losses during the pandemic, particularly for students of color. But parents of color are far more concerned with loss of life, said John B. Diamond, an education professor at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

The Years We’ve Lost to Covid

The New York Times

There’s good reason to use it, Dr. Murray and others said. “We’ve had clear difficulties figuring out what works best, when, and in what contexts,” said Adeline Lo, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin who was an author on the international study. “This at least puts another fact on the table that may be helpful.”

After a Century of Dispossession, Black Farmers Are Fighting to Get Back to the Land

Mother Jones

And yet, despite violent backlash from Southern planters, Black growers managed to gain a toehold. The key was collective action, University of Wisconsin sociologist Monica White explains in her book Freedom Farmers: Agricultural Resistance and the Black Freedom Movement, 1880–2010. Launched in 1886 to organize landless Black farmers and to pool money to buy land and tools, the Colored Farmers’ National Alliance and Cooperative Union boasted 1.2 million members at its peak. At the Tuskegee Institute, the Alabama land-grant college founded by Booker T. Washington and other formerly enslaved people, agricultural scientist George Washington Carver pushed crop diversification, composting, and other proto-­organic methods to help sharecroppers “make enough profit to purchase their land, feed their families, and achieve economic autonomy,” White writes. Carver toured Alabama in an “agricultural wagon,” delivering lectures and demonstrations of his techniques.

After Derek Chauvin verdict, will police prosecutions change?

The Washington Post

“It’s one case out of thousands of cases involving police use of force, so we shouldn’t read too much into it,” said Keith A. Findley, a law professor at the University of Wisconsin. “But it’s nonetheless very important, because it is one in which, with the whole world watching, the justice system stepped up and acted to hold the police officer responsible for an unlawful use of deadly force.

COVID vaccines and kids: five questions as trials begin


Children rarely develop severe forms of COVID-19, and deaths from the disease are rarer still. On rare occasions — one estimate1 puts it at around one case in 1,000, although it could be even lower — kids who’ve experienced even mild infections can later develop a sometimes deadly condition called multi-system inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C). “I’m tired of seeing sick kids. I want to see them protected,” says James Conway, a paediatric infectious-disease specialist and vaccine researcher at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

Herd immunity in US likely impossible, but vaccines can control COVID

USA Today

More people may yet decide to get vaccinated as it becomes clear how much protection it provides, said Ajay Sethi, a professor of population health studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“I try to be an optimist,” he said. “I don’t want to write off rural areas saying they’re forever going to be the communities refusing vaccination. Over time, that will change.”

Best vaccine: How Pfizer became the “status” choice.


As the vaccines have rolled out, many experts have strenuously rejected the idea that there’s any “best” vaccine. “The best vaccine is the one that goes in your arm,” said Mary Hayney, a professor at the University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Pharmacy who researches vaccination. “I truly believe that there is not a big difference among the vaccines, or a discernable difference. Whatever one is offered to you, take it.” (Again, Hayney spoke to Slate before the latest J&J news.)

Plant a Love of Nature in Your Kids

The New York Times

“Miss Carson” was Rachel Carson, who would later make history with her book “Silent Spring,” about the dangers of the pesticide DDT. Stanley Temple would become Dr. Temple, a well-known bird conservationist and a professor of wildlife ecology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Experts say mass shootings take emotional toll but political action unlikely


The shooting in Indianapolis is just one of 45 mass shootings across the country in just over four weeks. UW-Madison communication arts professor Joanne Cantor said people are feeling the emotional impact. “There’s a potential with one after the other after the other to be desensitized,” Cantor said, adding, “On the other hand, it can make you feel worse and worse and worse.”

Ed. Leaders: Discuss Race, Call Out White Supremacy

Education Week

Written by John B. Diamond, the Kellner Family Distinguished Chair in Urban Education and a professor in the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s education school, and Jennifer Cheatham, a senior lecturer on education and the co-chair of the Public Education Leadership Project at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and former superintendent of the Madison school district in Wisconsin.

Book review of Assignment Russia: Becoming a Foreign Correspondent in the Crucible of the Cold War by Marvin Kalb

The Washington Post

In 1957, when Marvin Kalb joined CBS Radio in New York to write local news, television was called “electronic journalism,” and the backdrop for the “CBS Morning News” was a cardboard sign hanging above a desk on the fifth floor of the Grand Central Terminal building. The United States had yet to recognize what it referred to as “Red China” diplomatically, and Edward R. Murrow still worked for CBS

-Kathryn J. McGarr is an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and the author of “The Whole Damn Deal: Robert Strauss and the Art of Politics.” Her forthcoming book is about Washington foreign policy reporters in the early Cold War.

I’ve always wondered: Should there even be billionaires?


But visualizing or trying to understand “how many” a billion dollars is doesn’t really help us understand any better how much money a billionaire has. Jordan Ellenberg, professor of mathematics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and author of “Shape: The Hidden Geometry of Information, Biology, Strategy, Democracy, and Everything Else,” said thinking about “how much” a billion dollars is is more useful. Basically, how rich is a billionaire?

American Universities Are Buried Under a Mountain of Debt

The Nation

Joe Biden’s election gave some a glimmer of hope that the current $1.8 trillion mountain of student debt might finally be eliminated. Pressure from social movement groups, including the Movement for Black Lives and the Debt Collective, alongside progressive politicians such as Senator Bernie Sanders and Representatives Pramila Jayapal, Jamaal Bowman, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, have made the once-utopian demand for full student debt cancellation into a distinct political possibility.