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Notable and quotable media mentions of 2019

December 17, 2019 By Käri Knutson

UW–Madison faculty, staff and students are frequently quoted by journalists around the city, the state and the world. Whether the topics are “ripped from today’s headlines” or related to new knowledge being generated, the university’s newsmakers make interesting reading with their intriguing discoveries, insightful analysis and major achievements — informing, educating and, sometimes, entertaining. Here’s a look back at some of the UW–Madison media highlights from 2019.


Government shutdown

Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen, professor of history, wrote in The Washington Post about the impact of the shutdown on federally funded archives, museums and research centers. “Some of our nation’s greatest intellectual resources have their lights off and ‘We’re sorry … closed’ signs posted on their locked entrances. These signs communicate to our citizens and the world that the American mind has been deemed a ‘nonessential’ service and thus closed for business.”

Climate change

A loss of sea ice due to a warming climate could trigger instability of the Antarctic Ice Sheet, with dire implications for global sea levels. Research by a team including Stephen Meyers, a professor of geoscience, recapitulated the history of the ice sheet throughout most of the past 34 million years, starting when it first formed. Coverage include National Geographic, CNN, EarthThe Weather Channel, Radio New Zealand, Science Blog, MSN, Live Science and V3.

Sunbathing sloths

Scientists have long known that the guarumo tree is important to the diets of sloths, but a new study by researchers Jonathan Pauli and M. Zachariah Peery showed that sloths with more guarumo trees in their habitat had more babies. In part, it’s due to visibility. “Sloths are often seen sunbathing in the mornings,” Pauli explained to The New York Times, and if they are attracting mates by calling to them or making themselves visible, he said, “being in open trees might actually enhance those reproductive opportunities.”



Experts are concerned about the future of monarch butterflies. Habitat loss, the proliferation of herbicides and insecticides, and increased temperatures due to climate change all pose risks. Karen Oberhauser, director of the UW Arboretum, told The New Yorker, “Monarchs probably don’t have big-picture ecosystem importance. But just the fact that they connect people to nature is reason enough to make us care.”

Black Student Strike

“We wanted to get people to pay attention to us,” Geraldine Hines, a 1971 UW Law graduate and former associate justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, said in an interview with Wisconsin Life about the 1969 Black Student Strike at UW–Madison. “This was all about young people trying to get an education.”


Made in the shade

The shade from a tree can provide respite on a hot summer day. But when that single tree is part of a small forest, it creates a profound cooling effect, according to a new study. Said Carly Ziter, a PhD student, “We’re not saying planting one tree does nothing, but you’re going to have a bigger effect if you plant a tree and your neighbor plants a tree and their neighbor plants a tree.” Coverage included Popular Science, The London Economic, Evening Standard, Mother Nature Network and

Cultural myths

“Miss Saigon” has long prompted criticism over its depiction of Asian people and culture. When the musical played in Madison, several professors from the Asian American Studies Program spoke out. “We had said that education was really important in contextualizing the play so when people go to see it they have a sense of this history and they understand why Asian Americans have organized to protest it in the past,” Lori Lopez, an associate professor of media and cultural studies, told NBC News. Other coverage included The Capital Times, Isthmus and Madison 365.

Fighting poverty

“If we believe in the future of the country and we want people to get out there and work hard and support their families, we have to invest in kids,” Timothy Smeeding, a UW–Madison professor of public affairs and economics, told the Huffington Post. Smeeding and other antipoverty scholars co-authored “A Roadmap to Reducing Child Poverty in the United States.


Pregnancy and commuting

Researchers found that pregnant women who commute long distances to work have an increased risk of babies being born at low birth weights. Said Yang Wang, an assistant professor of public affairs, “Those who are in greater need of prenatal care because of the potential adverse effects of stress triggered by long commutes are underusing prenatal care, which could lead to even worse birth outcomes.” Coverage included The New York Times, MSN, MarketWatch, Fortune, Good Morning America, New York Post and MinnPost.

Smile, if you can

“People these days are constantly rearranging their facial appearance in ways that prevent engaging in facial mimicry, having no idea how much we use our faces to coordinate and manage social interactions,” Paula Niedenthal, a professor of psychology, told The New York Times in an article about how Botox and cosmetic surgery can interfere with recognizing and feeling emotion.


Restoring justice

Jonathan Scharrer, director of the Restorative Justice Project (RJP) at the UW Law School, appeared on “60 Minutes.” “We’re really victim-focused,” Scharrer said. “And we say, ‘How has this person been harmed?’ And then, ‘What can be done to repair that harm?’” RJP was created in 1987 to serve victims and survivors in the aftermath of serious crimes. It was also featured on CNN’s “The Redemption Project with Van Jones.”

Clouding forecasts

The introduction of 5G mobile phone networks could disrupt the instruments meteorologists use to monitor storms. “It’s a bit like a downtown area of a city, getting quite crowded with new buildings and new apartments,” research meteorologist Jordan Gerth told CBC. “We’re trying to cram as much capability into a very small part of the radio frequency spectrum … and that’s just not a compatibility that’s going to work very well.” Other coverage included The Washington Post, Wired, The Guardian, The Wall Street Journal, Nature, The Weather Channel, Mother Nature Network and Axios.

Caster Semenya

Caster Semenya lost a landmark legal case against the International Association of Athletics Federations over testosterone levels. Madeleine Pape, a PhD candidate in sociology who competed in the 800m for Australia at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and the World Championships in 2009, wrote in The Guardian, “I was sore about losing to Caster Semenya. But this decision against her is wrong.” She was also quoted in The New York Times, Business Insider, NPR and PBS.


More than equal pay

While the World Cup has raised the issue of how women are paid a fraction of what men receive, there’s an important issue that is often ignored, Traci Snedden, an assistant professor of nursing, said in USA Today. “The rate of concussion among female soccer players has been called an unpublicized epidemic. Perhaps it’s because we (are) still stuck on the outdated belief that most concussions happen in football or men’s ice hockey.”

Heat wave

July was the hottest month on record. “The climate system right now is like a batter on steroids,” Jack Williams, director of the Center for Climatic Research at UW–Madison, told NBC News. “Heat waves of today are going to be the normal events of tomorrow.” More experts weighed in with coverage including The New York Times, The New York Post, The Sun, Mic and Wired

The rise of Rose

Before Rose Lavelle was a Women’s World Cup winner with the U.S. Women’s National Soccer team, she was a student at UW–Madison. Lavelle received massive media attention, including The Washington Post, USA Today, Deadspin, ESPN, CBS Sports, CNN, NBC Sports, Sports Illustrated and People.


MIA ‘angels’

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported on the UW MIA Recovery and Identification Project. “We’re interested in every Wisconsinite who is missing. No matter the conflict, they’ve been missing for too long,” said Samantha Zinnen a recent UW graduate and MIA project volunteer. The project was also featured in On Wisconsin.

The bright side

A new study found men and women with the highest levels of optimism had an 11 percent to 15 percent longer life span on average than those who practiced little positive thinking. “Optimism is one important psychological dimension that has emerged as showing some really interesting associations with health,” neuroscientist Richard Davidson, a professor of psychiatry and the founder and director of the Center for Healthy Minds, told CNN.


Pure genius

Cartoonist and author Lynda Barry and geologist Andrea Dutton, both UW–Madison professors, were awarded 2019 MacArthur Fellowships. The fellowships, also known as genius grants, provide $625,000 stipends to be used as the fellows see fit. Coverage included Inside Higher Education, The New York Times, National Public Radio, Forbes, The Chicago Tribune, The Nation, PBS, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal.

Goodbye to baldness?

Reversing baldness could someday be as easy as wearing a hat, thanks to a noninvasive, low-cost hair-growth-stimulating technology developed by engineers at UW–Madison. Coverage included The Next Web, India Times, Science Times, The New York Post, Good News Network, CNET, CEO Magazine, The Sun and The Mirror.


Pleasure activism

When Sami Schalk, an assistant professor of gender and women’s studies, “twerked” with Lizzo, it made a statement of not just joy but of pleasure activism. “Our society tells us that pleasure is bad and sinful, when in fact pleasure is healing and sustaining …” Schalk wrote in Vox. “Yet we deny pleasure to most marginalized groups: women, people of color, queer people, trans people, disabled people, poor people, and fat people. Pleasure activism pushes back on these norms …” Coverage included TMJ4, The Capital Times, Channel 3000 and NBC15.


“There’s an innate survival system in humans,” Professor Emerita Joanne Cantor said in an interview with CNN about why some people are drawn to scary experiences, especially during Halloween, and some run away. “It’s sort of like driving by a car wreck — you don’t want to see it, but you can’t help looking at it. Then there are others who like to play with those emotions and take risks.”


Toilets for health

Toilets don’t often make headlines, but they do when they’re “smart” toilets. A team of metabolism scientists at UW–Madison and the Morgridge Institute for Research are working to put the tremendous range of important health information contained in urine to work for personalized medicine. Coverage included MSN, Mashable, The Week, Yahoo News, Gadgets Now, Engineering & Technology, Asia News International, Engineering 360, Digital Trends and Inverse.

Don’t stop the presses

“When I look at local news and see what’s happening, I’m pessimistic,” Kathleen Culver, director of The Center for Journalism Ethics, said about the future of journalism in an Associated Press story . “When I look at 18- and 20-year-olds and see what they want to do, I’m optimistic.”


Found in the footnotes

Research cited in the Mueller report was done by graduate students at UW–Madison. It showed that media outlets used tweets from Russian accounts pretending to be American citizens as part of their 2016 election coverage. “With the 2020 presidential election underway, it is likely that the IRA (Internet Research Agency) will target U.S. social media, if they are not already active,” wrote Josephine Lukito, a doctoral candidate in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, in Quartz.

Warming up to ‘hygge’

Need help getting through the long, cold winter? Try hygge, a Danish concept that implies a sense of warmth and wellbeing. It’s the ability to slow down and enjoy a cozy moment, especially with loved ones. “You can choose to go two ways,” Nete Schmidt, a Scandinavian studies profess, told Channel 3000. “You can ignore the weather, or you can embrace the weather, and I think that in Denmark, I just chose to ignore the weather.  What we do very much is, OK, light a lot of candles, stay inside, get into tribal mode,” Schmidt said.