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Category: UW Experts in the News

UW Prof. Jordan Ellenberg, “Shape: The Hidden Geometry of Information, Biology, Strategy, Democracy, and Everything Else”


It’s the most wonderful time of the year, time for the Wisconsin Book Festival, 28 events this week alone, both in-person and online, and Stu Levitan welcomes one of the featured presenters, and one of the brightest stars in the firmament that is the University of Wisconsin faculty, Professor Jordan Ellenberg, to discuss his NYTimes best-seller, Shape: The Hidden Geometry of Information, Biology, Strategy, Democracy, and Everything Else.

A World Without Soil


For today’s show, Monday host Patty Peltekos speaks with Jo Handelsman about her new book, A World Without Soil: The Past, Present, and Precarious Future of the Earth Beneath Our Feet.

The Wisconsin Book Festival and the Wisconsin Science Festival are co-presenting a book event with Jo Handelsman this Thursday, October 21 at 6 p.m. in the Discovery Building at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. More information available at the Wisconsin Book Festival website.

Jo Handelsman is the director of the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, a Vilas Research Professor, and Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor. She previously served as a science advisor to President Barack Obama as the Associate Director for Science at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) from 2014 to 2017. She is the author of A World Without Soil: The Past, Present, and Precarious Future of the Earth Beneath Our Feet (Yale University Press, 2021).

Bice: Rebecca Kleefisch was a critic of recall elections when she was the target. Now she champions the Mequon school board recall

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Quoted: Barry Burden, director of the Elections Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said it’s not uncommon for political party leaders to change their views on recall elections.

In 2012, Burden said, conservatives in Wisconsin fought the recall drive by arguing that Walker and Kleefisch had not been in office long enough to be removed and that recall elections were “merely a policy debate about labor unions and not over malfeasance in office.”

Now, he said, conservatives and Republicans can claim they are being consistent by arguing that school board members are violating state law with their public health mandates, such as masks, vaccines and online learning.

“So it is about wrongdoing in office and not just a dispute about local education policy,” Burden said.


Local theater artist Erica Halverson has ideas for how to save the arts in education

Wisconsin State Journal

Performer, educator and author Erica Halverson has a lot to say about how the arts can be used in schools to transform education in a meaningful way in her book “How The Arts Can Save Education.” Halverson, who also is a professor of curriculum and instruction at UW-Madison, will discuss her book during an in-person event at the Wisconsin Book Festival later this month.

‘Now we’re waiting’: Evacuees at Wisconsin’s Fort McCoy face health care issues, confusion over restarting their lives

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Quoted: Erin Barbato, the director of the Immigrant Justice Clinic at the University of Wisconsin- Madison, said that the immigration status of evacuees isn’t tied to remaining at the base, but once they leave, a clock starts on their resettlement benefits, which are only available for eight months after leaving the base.

“Many people are confusing the resettlement process with the immigration process. So, when people are applying for humanitarian parole or for their Special Immigrant Visa or even for asylum, that does not need to be completed on the base,” she said. “The issue is people have now been waiting for a long time at these bases and they don’t want to remain there any longer, but many of them need a resettlement plan in order to get their life started in the United States.”

Fall armyworm population wreaking havoc on Wisconsin crops


Noted: This year in Wisconsin, a fall armyworm population is present unlike anything most entomologists have ever seen. The pests are doing damage to alfalfa, winter wheat and other cover crops around the state. Bryan Jensen, UW-Extension Pest Management Specialist, shares that this warmer fall weather has helped to create a perfect storm for fall armyworms to thrive. Fall armyworms are different from the normal armyworms seen during late spring. The good news, according to Jensen, is they will most definitely not over-winter here in Wisconsin: they are a warm weather species, and will not survive the winter

Why the head of Wisconsin’s sham audit is facing resignation calls


“I do think it’s harmful,” Barry C. Burden, director of the Elections Research Center at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, said of the review. “It’s obviously amateurish and uncoordinated and irresponsible and open-ended and partisan. The people who are leading the effort have already decided they think the election was fraudulent, or they’re distrustful of the outcome. It’s a violation of all the standards you’d use in a usual election audit or review the state might do.”

VendRx sounds convenient. But it could pervert physician incentives.


In the years that followed, some patients continued to buy certain drugs from their doctors, and some pharmacists continued to compound medications. But, as regulation increased, the diverse pharmaceutical market began to consolidate. With that transition, said Lucas Richert, a historian of pharmacy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, pharmacists began “moving away from this role of compounders, and moving into a role where they are offering pharmaceutical services in their own shops.”

Wisconsin Assembly proposal to criminalize living on public property draws ire from lawmakers, homelessness support groups

Wisconsin Public Radio

Quoted: Kurt Paulsen, a professor of housing, land use and municipal finance with University of Wisconsin-Madison, said the bill’s provisions contrast with research indicating the expansion of permanent supportive housing is a solution to homelessness.

“Creating a criminal trespass for unsheltered homeless persons is moving in a different direction than expanding availability of permanently supportive housing,” said Paulsen.

Recalibrating COVID Risk Mid-Pandemic


Now nineteen months into pandemic life, many Americans are struggling to recalibrate their COVID risk. How do we balance needed COVID precautions with considerations of mental health and meaningful social interactions? What will it take to reach the “new normal”—and will we even know when we get there?

To help us break this down, Dominique Brossard, professor of life sciences communication, and population health scientist Ajay Sethi join us for a discussion of risk assessment in the post-vaccination stage, how to negotiate a wide range of feelings about the pandemic, and why it’s still okay to not feel okay.

Dominique Brossard is professor and chair in the Department of Life Sciences Communication at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, where her teaching and research focus on science and risk communication.

Ajay Sethi is an epidemiologist and associate professor in the Department of Population Health Sciences at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, where he specializes in the study of infectious diseases.

Student health centers report high demand for services

Inside Higher Ed

Jake Baggott, associate vice chancellor and executive director of University Health Services at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, said there is at least a 20 percent increase in mental health visits this fall compared to last year, building on what was already a 6 percent increase in demand for mental health services from academic year 2019-20 to 2020-21.

HHMI devotes $2 billion to boost diversity in biomedical sciences


“It is a disservice to fund individuals to come into environments that continue to drive them away,” said Angela Byars-Winston, a professor at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health who led a 2019 National Academy of Science study on effective mentoring in STEM fields. “We know there are things institutions can do to change the environment instead of focusing on students who are not broken.”

Wisconsin GOP review of 2020 election beset by blunders from former Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman

The Washington Post

“I do think it’s harmful,” Barry C. Burden, director of the Elections Research Center at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, said of the review. “It’s obviously amateurish and uncoordinated and irresponsible and open-ended and partisan. The people who are leading the effort have already decided they think the election was fraudulent, or they’re distrustful of the outcome. It’s a violation of all the standards you’d use in a usual election audit or review the state might do.”

Why Wisconsin’s Covid Breakthrough Numbers Show the Power of Vaccination

PBS Wisconsin

Quoted: Adjusting disease rates for age is a common practice in epidemiology. The practice is crucial for understanding the impacts that a disease like COVID-19 has on a large and varied population.

“We adjust for factors like age because we identify factors like age as being confounders,” said Ajay Sethi, an epidemiologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Delta ‘opened the door’: Rural deaths from COVID-19 now higher than in urban areas

Wisconsin Public Radio

Noted: COVID-19 vaccination rates tend to be lower in rural communities, and the same goes for rural areas in Wisconsin. The difference between the most and least vaccinated counties in Wisconsin is as much as 40 percent said Dr. Jonathan Temte, an associate dean with the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health who studies vaccine and immunization policy.


Attorney General Josh Kaul blasts GOP-backed election investigation, outlines legal concerns

Wisconsin Public Radio

Quoted: Mike Wagner, professor of journalism and mass communication at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said the conflict between Vos, Gableman and Brandtjen is typical of recent dynamics within the Republican Party and shows a “crash to be as close to President Trump as possible.”

Former President Donald Trump has continued to push false claims of election fraud across the country in the year following the election.

“It’s really striking to see elected officials and appointed officials engaged in a back-and-forth about who can be more skeptical about an election that was clearly shown repeatedly to be extraordinarily fair and very well conducted,” Wagner said.

Wisconsin’s political divide has implications for 2022 and 2024 elections

The Washington Post

Still, Wisconsin, a state whose people enjoy a reputation for embodying the concept of “Midwestern nice,” stands out. Mark Copelovitch, (Ken) Mayer’s University of Wisconsin colleague, argued that everything that has become commonplace at the national level, including the transformation and radicalization of the Republican Party, has been part of Wisconsin’s political experience for the last 10 years. “Wisconsin has been the canary in the coal mine,” he said.

Remote Workers Can Live Anywhere. These Cities (and Small Towns) Are Luring Them With Perks.

Wall Street Journal

“I can see where this is going to end up going to people who were going to move to a community anyway,” said Tessa Conroy, an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who studies economic development. “Or maybe you do manage to attract someone. Is that really the ideal resident, someone who was paid?”

A newspaper tries to make ends meet by asking for donations in honor of its reporters

The Washington Post

Kathleen Bartzen Culver, director of the Center for Journalism Ethics at the University of Wisconsin, said she sees no immediate problem with the campaign but generally advocates for news organizations to take every opportunity to “pull back the curtain” and educate their audiences about the role ethics plays in their business decisions.

A look back at the 2011 gerrymander and what it tells us about the redistricting fight to come

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Quoted: Every decade, states have to draw new maps after the census to rebalance the population in each district. For more than 50 years, the courts had the final say in Wisconsin because Democrats and Republicans split control of state government.

Not in 2011, when the GOP controlled both the legislative and executive branches.

“That’s when we got these really gerrymandered districts,” said University of Wisconsin-Madison political science professor David Canon.

Canon believes federal courts may revisit the issue after the science becomes more established.

“If the state courts can get some consensus on a measure or a couple of measures that show a partisan gerrymander, then maybe 10 years from now, this comes up again, and federal courts will say, ‘The states did this pretty well, and we do have accepted measures,’” Canon said.

Noon Wednesday: COVID-19’s Present and Future

Deaths caused by COVID-19 in Wisconsin surpassed 8,000 a year-and-a-half after the pandemic reached the state. As vaccination levels remain plateued, new medical developments to combat the virus and its deadly disease progress. Infectious disease specialist Dr. Nasia Safdar with the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health and UW Health explains.

Nobel Prize in Chemistry Awarded to Scientists for Tool That Builds Better Catalysts

The New York Times

Noted: In 2000, Dr. List and Dr. MacMillan — working independently of each other — developed a new type of catalysis that used organic molecules called asymmetric organocatalysis.

Organic molecules, such as carbohydrates, are called that because they build all living things. The researchers discovered “cheaper, smaller and safer” catalysts that used organic molecules had the same rich chemistry as metal compounds, according to Tehshik Yoon, a chemist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Their technique was also simpler and more environmentally friendly.

Facebook’s whistleblower report confirms what researchers have known for years

The Verge

Quoted: Megan Moreno, principal investigator of the Social Media and Adolescent Health Research Team at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, says Haugen’s interpretation of the internal research squares perfectly with other work done on social media, especially Instagram.

“For a certain population of youth, exposure to this content can be associated with diminished body image, or body image concerns,” Moreno says. “I didn’t feel like it was tremendously surprising.”

These college students want to teach history, but they’re uneasy as lawmakers and parents argue about how to discuss racism, culture

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Quoted: Simone Schweber, a professor of education and Jewish studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said it’s a common misconception that it’s better to avoid talking about painful subjects in history and current events.

“One of the easy pitfalls is that you think sometimes by teaching this stuff that it necessarily replicates,” Schweber said. “That if you teach about the history of racism that you’re necessarily replicating the institutions that are racist. And I understand where that fear comes from, but I think it’s a real disservice to what it means to teach.”

Education Needs the Arts

For her first show as the Tuesday host, Ali Muldrow turns her attention back to the vital need for arts programming in the classroom. Her guest is Erica Halverson, education professor and author of the new book How the Arts Can Save Education.
Erica Halverson is a professor of curriculum & instruction in the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. She is the author of a new book, How the Arts Can Save Education: Transforming Teaching, Learning, and Instruction (Teachers College Press, 2021).

Could COVID-19 infection immunity substitute for vaccine? Don’t count on it, says expert

Wisconsin Examiner

Quoted: “Natural infection does produce an immune response, but not all immune responses will be durable enough and heightened enough to ward off reinfection at some point,” said Ajay Sethi, faculty director for the  Master of Public Health program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine & Public Health. “So the question becomes, which source of immunity will provide more reliable protection — and vaccines afford that.”

Vehicle emissions in Wisconsin declined temporarily during COVID-19 shutdowns

Wisconsin Public Radio

Quoted: Power plant and industry emissions didn’t see a steep drop or any decline during stay-at-home orders. The findings are consistent with what one would expect to see from people traveling less during the pandemic, said Tracey Holloway, professor with the Nelson Institute of Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“They did not see that much of a change in pollution from power plants and some industries, and that also is consistent because we’re still using electricity,” said Holloway. “We’re still running our air conditioners and the kind of things that drive a lot of demand for electricity were still happening.”

Can you get COVID twice? What we know about coronavirus reinfection


In an earlier conversation with CNET about long COVID, Dr. Nasia Safdar, director of infection control at the University of Wisconsin, said, “Vaccination serves two purposes One, of course you want to get it before you have COVID so it protects you from it, but even in the people who have had the infection, anecdotally, it seems that vaccination helps with the symptoms of long COVID.”

UW-Madison School of Business On Teaching Environmental Sustainability

Wisconsin Public Radio

Many businesses are adopting sustainable principles and practices, which is changing the way business and economics are taught in higher education. We talk about how the UW-Madison School of Business is integrating concepts of environmental sustainability into its curriculum, and we learn how this fits within the new framework of capitalism.

Evers announces $4.5M in state tax credits for new, automated cheese plant

Wisconsin Public Radio

Quoted: Steve Deller, professor of agricultural and applied economics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said he thinks the new technology makes the plant a worthwhile investment for state tax credits and will hopefully help the state’s dairy industry move into the future.

“This is a pretty good shot in the arm for the Wisconsin dairy industry,” Deller said. “Any time we see new investment like this is a positive sign because a lot of the growth in the dairy industry has really not been occurring in Wisconsin.”

Flu shot side effect: Are reactions worse this year?


Nasia Safdar, the medical director for infection prevention at the University of Wisconsin Hospital: It really shouldn’t. Quadrivalent vaccines have been available and most of us have been getting those for years. There is a high dose flu vaccine that is recommended for people who are older, and the arm tenderness might be a little bit more and it takes a little bit longer to recover.

Who Was Emma Tenayuca? A Mexican American Champion of Workers’ Rights | Teen Vogue

Teen Vogue

Tenayuca’s drive to lead and organize union workers stemmed from her personal understanding of their plight. “It wasn’t by coincidence,” Marla Ramírez, assistant professor in the Department of History and Chican@ & Latin@ Studies Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, tells Teen Vogue. “She knew the people she was organizing. She grew up with them. She had similar experiences of discrimination, inequality, hunger, and poverty,” Ramírez explains. “She was fighting for herself when she was fighting for others too.”

Alcohol Is the Breast Cancer Risk No One Wants to Talk About


University of Wisconsin oncologist Noelle LoConte has long felt that the link doesn’t get enough attention—even among oncologists. She is the lead author of a 2017 statement on alcohol and cancer from the American Society of Clinical Oncology, which calls on these specialists to take the lead in addressing “excessive exposure to alcohol” through education, advocating for policy changes, and research.

Wisconsin winery American Wine Project makes low-intervention wines

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Nicholas Smith, instructor of wine science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, also said he is not aware of anyone else in this state who is making low-intervention wines on the scale that Rasmussen is.

“I’m happy to see what Erin is doing, drawing customers into the local industry, while being introspective into how we produce products and being transparent about it,” Smith said. “It’s a benefit to everybody.”

360: Voters, lawmakers weigh in on GOP investigations into 2020 Wisconsin presidential election


Quoted: UW-Madison political science professor Barry Burden is the director of a non-partisan elections research center. He’s been following the election investigations closely.

“It’s really unclear what’s happening in each investigation because these things are mostly not being done in a public way,” Burden said.

Burden believes it’s unlikely that the probes will uncover anything problematic or new due to a lack of evidence to support claims of fraud.

“The motivation for what they’re doing is sort of hard to figure out,” he said. “It may be that they’re looking for reasons or justification to make some changes to state law. It might also be a way just to keep this issue on the front burner going into the next election cycle just to keep their voters energized.”

Highly contagious delta variant means more hospitalizations for Wisconsin kids, stress on health system

Wisconsin Public Radio

Quoted: Still, kids’ risk of severe disease is much lower than that of adults, and doesn’t seem to be any higher with delta than it was with earlier iterations of the virus, said Dr. Greg DeMuri, a pediatrician at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“It’s just that there are more cases, so a small percentage of a large number is still a significant number,” he said.

Rebecca Kleefisch won’t mandate vaccines or masks but has yet to release plan to navigate COVID-19 as governor

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Quoted: Patrick Remington, a former epidemiologist for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and director of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s preventive medicine residency program, said leaning on the Wisconsin Emergency Response Plan is important to coordinate different entities but ideally, state officials would adopt an additional statewide plan that focuses on preventing and controlling the spread of the virus to combat the outbreak.

“That’s appropriate in the middle of an emergency, you need to have command and control and have top-down response. … It’s only part of the approach. You need to have a prevention and control plan that accompanies an emergency response plan,” Remington said.

Wisconsin House Dems highlight split on approach to infrastructure, social spending bills

Ellie Powell, a political science professor at UW-Madison, said it was more likely than not Democrats would reach a deal on both bills. That’s because the stakes are too high; Powell said with their slim majority in both houses ahead of a mid-term election that traditionally punishes a party with unified power, this was Democrats’ best chance to pass legislation that could resonate next year with voters.

The South Pole just had its most severe cold season on record

The Washington Post

Matthew Lazzara, an expert on the meteorology of Antarctica and scientist at the University of Wisconsin, monitored the South Pole temperatures in recent months from his office in Madison with awe. In an interview, he said it was around minus-100 degrees on numerous occasions. Over the years, he’s traveled to Antarctica many times to support his research.

Federal Financial Aid Applications From High School Students Drop Significantly During Pandemic

Wisconsin Public Radio

Quoted: Heidi Johnson is the advising and training manager at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Office of Student Financial Aid and president of the statewide Wisconsin Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators. She told WPR the coronavirus pandemic and the year of online classes it brought to the state meant in-person meetings about FAFSA applications between students and high school counselors were halted.

As a result, Johnson said it wasn’t as easy for counselors to offer “friendly nudges” to encourage students to fill out the applications when mulling whether to attend college.

“So, I think certainly the timing of it, especially for that particular senior class, played a part,” said Johnson. “And just the fact that things stayed virtual, I think much longer than any of us planned for in the beginning.”

Johnson and Senate GOP’s Debt Ceiling Vote Could Spell Trouble for US, World Economy

Up North News

Quoted: Although Congress has come to this precipice many times before, the perception is that the two parties are more “locked-in” than before, and that has people worried, said Menzie Chinn, a professor of  economics at the University of Wisconsin’s La Follette School of Public Affairs and expert on fiscal and monetary policy.

“This is the first time where it may not just be [political theater] but it is actually a case where they very well may not [pass an increase to the debt ceiling], and the consequences are big,” Chinn said. “When you shut down the government, essential services still continue, but if you hit the debt limit, you have to stop payments.”

Wisconsin Cranberry Research Station Offers New Opportunities To ‘Move The Industry Forward’

Wisconsin Public Radio

Quoted: Amaya Atucha, fruit crop specialist for UW-Madison, said she and other researchers are grateful to the cranberry growers that let them host projects on their marshes. She said worrying about the crops was a common issue that held back progress.

“When we want to study things related to an invasive insect or a disease in which you really have to let that disease take over your marsh or your production bed, you’re not going to do that in a grower’s commercial marsh, because the grower makes their living out of the fruit,” Atucha said.

Few Influenza Cases Last Year Could Have Implications For This Season

Wisconsin Public Radio

Public safety precautions put in place last year to help stem the spread of COVID-19 also caused influenza cases to nosedive.

But that could backfire during this year’s flu season, said Dr. James Conway, associate director for health sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Global Health Institute.

“Obviously, we don’t have a lot to go on because the social lockdown and mitigation programs on both sides of the globe have really shut down influenza across the board,” Conway said. “And so, it’s really been sort of an educated guess.”

Judge delays selecting a special prosecutor for the 2016 shooting of Jay Anderson Jr. to October

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Noted: Keith Findley, a professor of law at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said that person will then review all the evidence in the case. They could ask the police for more reports or issue subpoenas, as well.

They’ll then evaluate the evidence and determine whether they want to prosecute Mensah.

Yamahiro found probable cause that Mensah committed homicide by the negligent handling of a dangerous weapon. The special prosecutor will not be required to file that specific charge, but they could, Findley said. They could also file additional charges, different charges or no charges at all.