Category Archives: UW-Madison

Science is Fun Returns to Rotary

–submitted by Ben Hebebrand; photo by Donna Beestman

Bassam3While the denial of climate change has prompted outcries of “Science Is Real,” Madisonians have for the past 48 years primarily embraced the idea that “Science is Fun.” This is a credit due to the work of Dr. Bassam Z. Shakhashiri, who presented at the Rotary Club of Madison’s August 9 meeting which also signifies the Club’s Family Day.

The presentation, which was attended by 85 guests, the vast majority of whom were children or grandchildren of Rotarians, indeed elicited many fun moments around science experiments mixed with some deep educational and social messages.

On the more serious side, Dr. Shakhashiri reminded the audience that the Number One priority of the work of science and scientific experimentation is about sustaining “Earth and its people.” Specifically, Dr. Shakhashiri cited issues such as population growth, availability of finite resources such as water, climate change, malnutrition, the spreading of disease, war, and deadly violence as the kind of issues that scientists embrace and actively work on bringing about solutions. Above all, Dr. Shakhashiri said, the pursuit and knowledge of science is an essential human right. “Everybody has the right to benefit from scientific and technological progress.” In addition to religion, Dr. Shakhashiri counts science as the “strongest force in society.”

Dr. Shakhashiri, who began his career at UW-Madison in 1970, has always made community outreach an integral part of his work. The “Science is Fun” campaign is a commitment to elicit awe, wonder, and curiosity in science among people of all ages with a particular affinity toward enlightening the youngest members of society – our children. Dr. Shakhashiri said that especially among children, science can elicit emotional responses.

This was the case at the Rotary meeting as Dr. Shakhashiri went about some of his delightfully wacky and magical science tricks, whereby liquids changed color by mixing potassium iodine with lead nitrates. He had the children in the audience in stitches as colors of the liquid frequently changed. He appealed to the audience to hone their observation skills.

Above all, Dr. Shakhashiri’s work is rooted in the notion that education is the great equalizer. “Science literacy enlightens and enables people to make informed choices, to be skeptical, and to reject shams, unproven conjecture, and to avoid being bamboozled into making foolish decisions where matters of science and technology are concerned.”

If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch the video here.

Prof. Jonathan Patz Describes Health Risks of Climate Change

–submitted by Jerry Thain; photo by Mike Engelberger

Jonathan Patz 7 12 2017On July 12, Professor Jonathan Patz, Director of the Global Health Institute at UW-Madison and a pioneer in researching global climate change and its consequences (he has been active in national and international programs in this area for more than two decades and received a Paul Harris fellow award at the RI annual meeting in Atlanta last month when he addressed a break-out session on the connection between extreme weather events and the explosion of the Zika virus)  described the health consequences of global climate change and his proposals for addressing these issues.

He began by noting that increasingly high temperatures world-wide have significant health consequences.  Climate disruption causes extreme heat waves, increased air pollution and increases in insect-borne and water borne diseases.  It adversely affects food supply and mental health.  Among many studies cited was one noting that US cities are likely to triple their annual number of 90 degree days by mid-century.  Yet, it is not just hotter temperatures that create havoc; the water cycle is altered and rain will fall in stronger fashion than before due to the increase in hot air.

Professor Patz said climate change should be approached as a health issue and noted its impact on energy and the food supply.  He stated that while moving to reduce carbon emissions has a cost, that can be out-weighed by benefits, citing a cost of $30 per ton of removed carbon dioxide emissions being off-set by a benefit of more than $200 in the reduction of air pollution – pollution which causes 7 million deaths a year now.  Moreover, the costs of wind and solar energy are dropping rapidly.  He also cited studies indicating that simply substituting bike rides for auto trips of 2 and 1/2 miles or less in the summer could save 1300  lives annually as well as 8 billion dollars.  As to employment concerns, he noted that far more people are already employed in energy work not related to fossil fuels than are employed by the oil and gas industries.

Although the United States has stated it will be the only major nation not to continue to adhere to the Paris climate accords, it cannot officially leave the agreement until Nov. 4, 2020, and a huge number of US cities and other jurisdictions are expressing adherence to its principles and lobbying to continue to abide by it.  The new RI president has said response to climate change should be a major cause for the organization.  There is a moral issue here because poorer countries are most gravely harmed by climate change when they have been the least responsible for it.  Historically, the United States has been most responsible for the emissions that are a major cause of climate change although China now surpasses us in pollution  (China, however, is taking major steps to increase its reliance on solar energy.)

Professor Patz concluded by noting that full implementation by every nation of the goals of the Paris accords would be insufficient to resolve the problems created by it.  Individual citizens and non-governmental organizations must move to substitute cleaner energy for fossil fuel reliance and develop a healthier society.

If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch the video here.  Our thanks to WisconsinEye for videotaping our meeting this week.

The U.S. Supreme Court and Its History

Submitted by Rich Leffler; photo by Valerie Johnson

Ryan Owens 4 26 2017Professor Ryan Owens, a member of the UW Department of Political Science and an Affiliate Faculty of the Law School (and who is developing the Tommy Thompson Center on Public Leadership) spoke to the Club about “The Past, Present, and Future of the U.S. Supreme Court.” He began with an interesting “Thought Experiment.” With the addition of Neil Gorsuch to the Court, Justice Anthony Kennedy continues to be the middle or the median justice, often called the swing vote. But what happens if he retires, and if President Trump appoints a solid conservative such as Paul Clement, who is perhaps more conservative than Samuel Alito? In that case, the new median justice becomes Chief Justice John Roberts, who would then become the most powerful [influential?] Chief Justice since John Marshall. [Though he would be a very distant second.] If Ruth Bader Ginsburg were then to retire, Justice Alito would become the median justice. On the other hand, if Hillary Clinton had been elected, Justice Stephen Breyer might be the swing vote, etc. Very easily, a 6-3 conservative court under Trump might have been a 6-3 liberal court under Clinton. The presidential election of 2016 was, then, a very consequential election.

Professor Owens then wondered whether this was not a time for reforms to the Court. Two that he suggested were age limits on the justices, and perhaps requiring them to “ride the circuit,” as was once the case. The U.S. is the only common-law country without some limits on judicial tenure.

An age limit would remove the incentive for judges to retire “strategically,” so as to assure a like-minded jurist were appointed. It would also reduce the likelihood of justices serving while suffering from dementia. Attending circuit courts would let the justices see the consequences of their decisions and let the people see them in action close-up. It might also encourage the justices to retire earlier. [But would it also discourage people from taking an appointment?]

In answer to a question, Professor Owens said that he and a colleague were doing research on the age issue by studying oral arguments over the years to see if there is any evidence of dementia in sitting justices. He also questioned whether the Senate’s refusal to consider Merrick Garland’s nomination would not lead to further retaliation beyond the recent filibuster. He expects the Trinity Lutheran case, probably Justice Gorsuch’s first major opinion, to be an important decision.

If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch the video here.

Pevehouse: International Order is Costly But Necessary

–submitted by Valerie Johnson

Jon Pevehouse 4 5 17Jon Pevehouse, UW Political Science Professor, asked and answered the question, “How should the Trump administration balance power with constraint to maximize our legitimacy and prosperity?” at the April 5 Rotary meeting.

With graduate student Ryan Powers and Carnegie Foundation grant-funded opinion polls, Pevehouse has a wealth of information on what Americans want in international trade policy:

  • The last 5-6 years have found more people interested in trade barriers
  • Older, non-college educated people are more interested in trade barriers (these tend to be Trump supporters)
  • People want to keep jobs in the US, a platform Bernie Sanders also ran on as evidenced by the many “NO TPP” signs seen at the Democratic convention
  • Most American still want free trade (12% margin) even with job losses
  • Both political parties are pro-free trade; Hillary Clinton ran on this and Bill Clinton began NAFTA
  • Interest in trade barriers follows the economy; people like trade better than trade agreements.

Trump has indicated an interest in re-negotiating NAFTA.  Wisconsin has a positive balance of trade with Mexico, even though US does not.  The rules of origin Trump complains about were already re-negotiated by Obama as part of the TPP, but Trump threw that out; it would increase the percent of product manufactured/labeled required to be created in Mexico (for example) from 65% to perhaps 85%, decreasing what can come from China.

The concern is the Trump administration likes the power of the US economy, but not the traditional constraints we have used with other countries, such as the foreign ad Bush quietly used or the traditional tools such as the World Bank, WTO, etc.

“But without constraint,” Pevehouse said, “the fear is our power endangers our foreign policy.  International order is costly, but gives us legitimacy, as we have had with the last 60 years of prosperity.

Professor Pevehouse’s research in the areas of international relations, international political economy, American foreign policy, international organizations, and political methodology. Topics on which he has recently published include regional trade agreements, human rights institutions, exchange rate politics, and international organizations. He is the author, with Joshua Goldstein, of International Relations, the leading textbook on international politics. He is currently the editor of International Organization, the leading journal in the field of international relations.

Pevehouse has a Ph.D. in Political Science from Ohio State University and a B.A. in Political Science from University of Kansas.

If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch the video here.

Educating the Next Generation of Entrepreneurs at UW-Madison

–submitted by Mary Borland

olszewski_danielEntrepreneurship is one of the most important drivers of economic and job growth in our state and across the globe. It is also a topic that is of growing interest to today’s college students. On February 15, Dan Olszewski, the Director of the Weinert Center for Entrepreneurship at UW-Madison School of Business, spoke with us about how UW-Madison is one of the leaders in teaching and inspiring students interested in entrepreneurship as a potential career.

Today, people under the age of 30 will have held eight different employment positions! The entire economy has become very dynamic and large and small companies in all industries are looking for employees with an entrepreneurial skill set to drive innovation in their companies. Whether a future student starts up their own company or goes to work for another company, entrepreneurship is important to society for job and wealth creation which leads to a more robust economy and innovation for consumers.

Anyone can become an entrepreneur, though the average age to begin is 40 years old.

The ways entrepreneurship is taught at UW-Madison includes classes, student start-ups (experimental things to sell) and via a link to alumni and practitioners.  For students, it is about action and doing.

Other activities enrolled students participate in include:

  1. Wisconsin Entrepreneurship Showcase – where stories can be shared and inspiration given
  2. Distinguished Entrepreneurs Lunch – where question and answers of an entrepreneur happen
  3. Wisconsin Entrepreneurship Bootcamp – five, 12 hour days for a specific subset of students
  4. WSB Business Plan Competition – students pitch ideas; winner moves on to Governor’s contest

Enrollment in these classes is coming from sections of campus and most from outside the business school. Several graduates locally have gone on to obtain over $50M in venture capital. In approximately 10 years, we will really see the fruits of this teaching with people making this world a better place by solving problems with high energy and optimism!

Rotarians can support these UW students by being event sponsors, providing student scholarships and by encouraging students they know to take these entrepreneurial courses.

 If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch the video here.

What’s So Exciting About the First Folio?

–submitted by Dave Mollenhoff; photo by Mike Engelberger

calhoun-joshua-11-16-16
“It’s the book that gave us Shakespeare,” explained Joshua Calhoun in a spirited talk to the club.  “Just imagine,” continued Calhoun, an assistant professor of English at the UW Madison, “When Shakespeare died 400 years ago, only half of his 36 plays had been printed.”  Without the First Folio we would never have known the Comedy of Errors, As You Like It, the Taming of the Shrew, Julius Caesar, MacBeth, and Antony and Cleopatra.  Happily, all of these and several more were published in 1623 in one of the most famous books ever printed.  And what a book it was!  Four pounds, 900 pages, 2 inches thick and about 13 inches high and 9 inches wide.  And expensive!  In today’s dollars, it would have cost at least $250.  Only 750 were printed and about 250 survive.

This rare book is the centerpiece of an exhibit at the Chazen and will be on display until December 11.  Accompanying the book is a thoughtfully-curated exhibit entitled “The Globe’s Global in Shakespeare’s time.”  The exhibit has triggered a great surge of interest throughout Wisconsin.

Calhoun delights in getting his students to contrast today’s media and technology with Shakespeare’s.  “It’s about the power of words,” concluded Calhoun.  “It’s about what makes us human.”

Did you miss our meeting this week?  Watch the video here.

The Nature of Autumnal Storms in the Great Lakes States

–submitted by Larry Larrabee; photo by Loretta Himmelsbach

martin-jon-11-2-16With the enthusiasm of Jim Cantore of The Weather Channel, Professor Jonathan Martin informed and entertained us regarding the unusually severe nature of November storms in the Great Lake States region.  He is a member of the faculty of the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences at the University of Wisconsin and nationally recognized for his studies of mid-latitude atmospheric dynamics.

As Professor Martin informed us, UW is the birthplace of satellite meteorology and he was able to share with us numerous satellite images of past storms as they progressed through the Midwestern States.

He began his presentation by providing the physics behind hurricanes and cyclones as they travel across the world, divided north and south by the tropical weather pattern that flows in the opposite direction, east to west.

In his individual description of five specific November storms between 1911 and 2010 he illustrated the uniqueness of these weather phenomena and how the extremes of temperature differences and low barometric pressures contribute most significantly to the relatively high winds associated with these particular inland storms.

For instance, the November 11, 1911 storm contributed that day to Janesville, WI experiencing a daytime high of 70 followed with an overnight low of 20 with a 35-degree drop in just one-hour.  The community also experienced that day an F4 tornado and six inches of snow that evening.

The other storms described had their extremes as well.  In 1975, the Edmund Fitzgerald was sunk in Lake Superior as it succumbed to 80-foot waves and on October 26, 2010 the lowest barometric pressure ever recorded on Earth was recorded in Northern Wisconsin.

Professor Martin’s enthusiastic delivery and our in-born fascination with weather and it’s extremes made for an informative and enjoyable program.

If you missed our meeting this week, click to watch the video.