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.
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).
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.
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.
Noted: Steve Ackerman and Jonathan Martin, professors in the UW-Madison department of atmospheric and oceanic sciences, are guests on WHA radio (970 AM) at 11:45 a.m. the last Monday of each month.
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.”
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The first session included Pat Setji, general manager of screening at Exact Sciences; Betsy Nugent, chief clinical research officer at UW Health and the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health; and Ayesha Ahmed, general counsel and vice president of human resources at Nexus Pharmaceuticals.
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.
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.
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.
Video: Dairy is a top industry in the Badger State, where more than a million cows produce some of the nation’s best cheese, milk and ice cream products.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
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.”
Stanley Temple is hopeful and nowhere near ready to give up his fight for science-based conservation practices and advocacy.
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.”
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.
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.
Professor Erin Barbato, director of the clinic, and her law students will help the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops with volunteer legal aid, helping refugees with information about their legal status in the country, possible visa applications, and what pathways to citizenship might be open to them.
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.”
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.”
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.
Defamation suits can be difficult to win in the United States, which has more robust freedom-of-speech protections than many other countries. Non-public figures can recover damages if they can prove defamers printed something “without adequately checking on its truth,” according to UW-Madison political science and legal studies professor Howard Schweber.
Interview with Christine Whelan, clinical professor in the Department of Consumer Science
at the School of Human Ecology, about new docuseries from Amazon Prime, detailing the rise and fall of LulaRoe, a multi-level marketing company.
Quoted: “I was surprised at the level of the drop,” said Steve Deller, a UW-Madison professor of applied economics. “I would have thought that the second quarter of this year, we would have seen modest growth.”
Deller noted there was “modest growth” in terms of earnings from work, but that was offset by a drop off in “transfer receipts,” a category of income encompassing earnings from non-work sources.
Noted: For instance, lawmakers needed to make virtually no changes to the 60th Assembly District in Ozaukee County because it was underpopulated by just 10 people. Republican legislators instead decided to move about 17,600 people out of the district and about 18,000 people into the district. The shift moved 719 times as many people as what was needed, University of Wisconsin-Madison political scientist Ken Mayer noted in court testimony at the time.
Mayer described similar changes to districts on Milwaukee’s south side. One district was underpopulated by about 2,800 people, but Republican lawmakers moved about 23,000 people out of the district and about 25,600 into it.
Quoted: “Teachers do not deliberately set out to make students feel bad about themselves. The problem this bill seems to identify, that Wisconsin’s teachers intentionally or otherwise want to make students feel bad, is simply not real,” said Jeremy Stoddard, a University of Wisconsin-Madison curriculum and instruction professor, at an August hearing in the state Capitol.
“What I fear is that if it becomes law, it will have a chilling effect inhibiting teachers from teaching a full account of history,” he said then.
Video: Barry Burden, director of the UW-Madison Elections Research Center, responds to former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman’s statement about investigating the 2020 vote in the state.
Quoted: Jordan Ellenberg is a math professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. When it comes to what constitutes a fair map, Ellenberg said many Wisconsinites might be asking the wrong questions.
“The very word ‘fair,’ there’s some question of philosophy and some question of ethics and some question of law,” Ellenberg said. “There is not really a good answer to what is fair, so then you may say, ‘Well, what are we even doing?’ Like, why am I here talking about it? Because there is a good answer to what is unfair. That’s a different question.”
Quoted: Patrick Remington, a former epidemiologist for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and director of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s preventive medicine residency program, said the opposite is true.
“This has become a pandemic of the unvaccinated, worsened by people taking risks, such as gathering together indoors, without masks,” Remington said. “The vaccine has been very effective in preventing serious illness, and death. The fact that the delta variant is so much more contagious, means that we cannot rely on the vaccine alone, but need to reduce the risks of getting infected and infecting others.”
Quoted: PJ Liesch, a University of Wisconsin-Madison entomologist, said he started getting calls from folks in August. Most were from eastern parts of the state, but he also heard from people in Stevens Point and Wausau.
Some of the worst swarms have been “floodwater” mosquitoes.
“They’re very good at taking advantage of temporary pools of water,” Liesch said. “The eggs are always present in low-lying areas and can sit there for months, even a couple of years, waiting for the rain to come. Once they hatch, those mosquitoes turn into adults very quickly.”
Quoted: “There’s nobody left with the necessary oversight,” said Barry Orton, professor emeritus of telecommunications at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Written by Gregory Nemet, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s La Follette School of Public Affairs. He is a lead author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 6th Assessment Report, which will be released by the United Nations in spring 2022. He is co-chair of the La Follette School’s Climate Policy Forum on Oct. 6.
As the House gears up for debate federal infrastructure spending to fight climate change, signs of a planetary-scale crisis are everywhere. Intense rainfall and floods, searing heat in normally cool locations, and relentless wildfires of enormous scale raging continuously.
Quoted: Barry Burden, the director of the Election Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said Ayyadurai’s claim can’t be taken seriously.
“His statements about Massachusetts seem completely implausible,” Burden said. “These sort of artificial multipliers and things that he latches onto seem completely detached from reality.”
UW-Madison economist Dr. Moses Altsech said the pinch started when upper middle class workers had more money available when they didn’t leave the house.
“You have all of this money sitting around that’s unspent. Then, the government starts sending you stimulus checks out the wazoo, which, for some people, are life-savers. For some people, they are purely disposable income they did not need because they are still getting paid working from home,” Altsech said in an interview with WXPR. “So now you can afford a brand-new car. Now you can afford a brand-new house, a home renovation. There’s money floating around. There’s huge demand. That creates an increase in inflation, of course. Prices are starting to go up.”
As the World Trade Center towers collapsed, Diana Hess wondered if she should cancel class.
It was Sept. 11, 2001.
Hess, then an assistant professor in the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s School of Education, started hearing whispers that the entire campus would shut down. She had been preparing for an evening class for social studies student teachers, who were working in area middle schools and high schools.
But now, the world was changing before her eyes — and so was the social studies curriculum.
Quoted: National studies show people have been consuming more alcohol, especially women with young children, during the pandemic, said Julia Sherman, coordinator for the Wisconsin Alcohol Policy Project at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Law School. She said other research has found that people who increased alcohol consumption to cope with natural disasters, like Hurricane Katrina, didn’t slow their drinking afterward.
“And that is the big question,” said Sherman. “Will the drinking subside as this crisis fades? As we are able to get back to normal or the new normal? Will we all go back to the previous level of alcohol consumption? And based on this other reporting, it’s not as likely as we might hope.”
Today, we welcome back Wednesday host Ali Muldrow (and her adorable new co-pilot, Frida Hallelujah) for a conversation about the importance of the arts with UW’s new arts director, Chris Walker.
Quoted: Barry Burden, director of the Election Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said at Wednesday’s news conference that the partisan efforts would hurt the public perception of a well-run election.
“They are decreasing confidence in the election system, rather than increasing it, regardless of what they find,” Burden said. “The fact that questions and suspicions and allegations are being launched and there are multiple tracks of reviews happening simultaneously all coming in at different times with different conclusions is likely to undermine the trust that people have in the system.”
Quoted: The racial wealth gap began with slavery, but even after the institution was abolished, the gap persisted, said University of Wisconsin-Madison history professor Steve Kantrowitz.
Many Black Americans could not qualify for Social Security, as jobs typically held by Black workers, such as agricultural and domestic positions, were excluded from the program. Black residents also were blocked from getting some home loans and from living in the types of neighborhoods where home values were steady or rising. Such barriers made it nearly impossible for Black people to acquire and accumulate wealth at the rate of white Americans, Kantrowitz said.
“So the end of slavery didn’t mean that Black and white people were suddenly on an equal economic, political, civil footing,” Kantrowitz said. “It meant instead that the institution of slavery had been formally abolished, and disabilities that followed from slavery were supposed to be abolished.”
Despite supply chain and hiring woes, experts say retailers in Wisconsin have had a successful back-to-school shopping season.
Jerry O’Brien, the executive director of the Kohl’s Center for Retailing at University of Wisconsin-Madison, said “it’s actually been a pretty good season in spite of lots of problems.”
“Retailers are pretty happy with the sales,” said O’Brien. “They just wish some of the other issues were better.”
A new exhibit open in the Ruth Davis Design Gallery on UW-Madison’s campus explores how everyday objects of the home represent the political discourse of the time.
Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison studying the use of psychedelic drugs to treat PTSD, substance abuse and depression are coordinating efforts through a new Transdisciplinary Center for Research in Psychoactive Substances.
Andrew Kydd, a new assistant professor, tries to get The New York Times web page to load in his Harvard office — a stark, unlived-in place with a scattering of books.
Tommy Thompson, the U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary, views television coverage from his office in Washington, D.C., and knows the day’s meeting — a discussion of pandemic flu preparations — is history.
“At the end of the ’90s some intellectuals thought, ‘History is going to be kind of boring for a while,'” says Kydd, now a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
“My memory is that 9/11 was unlike anything I’d ever seen before and potentially disastrous in terms of the follow-up. A lot of us were thinking about chemical plants, oil refineries, nuclear power plants. It struck me, if they could do this, they could probably do more. I thought this could be the precursor to a lot more high-casualty attacks.”
“While it is still relatively early, these results suggest that the announcement and actual expiration of expanded unemployment benefits were accompanied by a substantial decline in continued unemployment claims,” UW-Madison economics professor Noah Williams wrote in the report.
Claudio Gratton wants people to slow down and smell the flowers — or at least spend a few minutes watching them. The UW-Madison entomologist hopes people will discover the abundant wildlife that eludes the casual glance, but he’s also interested in using crowdsourced data to study the state’s native bees.
Tracey Holloway has her eyes to the future. As a 2017-2021 Gaylord Nelson Distinguished Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and its Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, Holloway’s work intersects air quality, climate, energy, and public health.
More jobs, but not a full recovery. Better wages, but fewer unions — and, as a consequence, weaker protections for workers. And gaping inequalities by race and ethnicity.
That’s the picture painted in the 2021 edition of the State of Working Wisconsin, an annual assessment that COWS, a University of Wisconsin research and policy center, has been producing for more than two decades.
COWS Associate Director Laura Dresser acknowledges a widespread urge to get “back to normal” under those conditions.
“But ‘normal’ for low-wage workers has long been unsustainable, leaving too many families struggling to get by,” she writes. “Adding jobs is important, but ensuring strong job quality and supports for low-wage workers is equally important.”
The making of the racial wealth gap starts with slavery, but University of Wisconsin-Madison history professor Steve Kantrowitz said after the institution was formally abolished, it manifested in other ways.
Many Black Americans could not qualify for Social Security, as jobs typically held by Black workers, such as agricultural and domestic positions, were excludedfrom the program. Black residents also were blocked from getting some home loans and from living in the types of neighborhoods where home values were steady or rising. Such barriers made it nearly impossible for Black people to acquire and accumulate wealth at the rate of white Americans, Kantrowitz said.
“So the end of slavery didn’t mean that, that Black and white people were suddenly on an equal economic, political, civil footing,” Kantrowitz said. “It meant instead that the institution of slavery had been formally abolished, and disabilities that followed from slavery were supposed to be abolished.”