UW Research Secrecy, Toll Roads in Wisconsin, Learning To Do Nothing

Air Date:
Heard On Central Time

We all know the feeling of trying to make the most of our time, and not wanting to slow down. Our guest, however, says slowing down and “doing nothing” is good for the body and mind. We discuss the benefits of taking a break. Then, a guest makes the case for implementing toll roads in Wisconsin and we learn about a budget proposal that would allow UW research to remain secret.

Featured in this Show

  • UW Research Could Be Kept Secret Under Provision In Walker's Budget

    The University of Wisconsin would be exempt from revealing the details of its research under a new provision in Gov. Scott Walker’s state budget proposal.

    The UW System has indicated it supports the change, contending it would allow researchers to better protect the university’s intellectual property. But, freedom of information advocates are concerned it would shield the university from revealing conflicts of interest or controversial animal testing.

    According to Milwaukee Journal Sentinel investigative medical reporter John Fauber, the proposal would allow university officials to deny open records requests without explanation.

    “If the university wants to keep records confidential outside the Wisconsin Open Records Law, they have to make a case that doing so would be better than allowing the records to be publicly available,” he said. “This provision essentially says you don’t have to do that. All you have to do is just say that there’s research going on of a scientific or commercial nature, and that’s the end of the story.”

    The proposal in the budget reads as follows:

    19.36 (14) UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN SYSTEM AUTHORITY. Any authority may withhold from access under s. 19.35 (1) information in a record that is produced or collected by or for the faculty or staff employed by the University of Wisconsin System Authority in the conduct of, or as a result of, study or research on a commercial, scientific, or technical subject, whether sponsored by the University of Wisconsin System Authority alone or in conjunction with an authority or a private person, until that information is publicly disseminated or patented.

    Neither the governor’s office nor university officials have been willing to comment on how the proposal ended up in the budget.

    The arguments the university has provided for keeping research details private are threefold: protection of intellectual property, competition for funding with universities that do undisclosed research, and the time burden of responding to open records requests.

    But, Fauber said the university hasn’t been able to point to specific examples of compromised intellectual property or missing out on grant opportunities due to such requests.

    “The university sort of acknowledges that they couldn’t site any examples of where they have been harmed either in getting research grants or being able to eventually develop something into a patentable idea,” said Fauber.

    When it comes to competing with other universities, administrators have said that other states have adopted the provision in Walker’s budget, which puts them at a competitive disadvantage.

    “When commercial entities come along and want to hire faculty at a university to do something for them, they are at a disadvantage because the commercial entity will know that this information could be revealed,” said Fauber.

    On the issue of responding to open records requests, university officials pointed to a request filed by USA Today for all of the minutes from closed and open sessions from its institutional biosafety committee. They said it took an employee more than three months of full time work to comply with the request.

    Fauber disagreed with that piece of the argument.

    “There is a long tradition in Wisconsin that records remain open,” he said. “Just because it may cause a governmental body some time, doesn’t mean that open records laws should be done away with.”

    Critics of the change argue that controversial studies could be shielded from public knowledge, like those involving animals or the current psilocybin study that uses the hallucinogen in psychedelic mushrooms to try to treat the anxiety that accompanies terminal illnesses.

    Fauber himself has uncovered conflicts of interest at the university that might also be shielded if research is allowed to remain secret.

    “If I wanted to request all of the emails that were exchanged between a faculty member and a drug company over some research project that they were being paid to conduct for that company, the university could make the argument that you can’t see them because we have this law that says we don’t have to,” he said.

    Similar provisions to the one in the governor’s budget have been considered by the legislature during the past two years, but failed.

  • Wisconsin Should Consider Toll Roads, Says Government Adviser

    The president of the Wisconsin Technology Council is making the argument that Wisconsin should consider alternatives to borrowing like toll roads to help fund transportation projects.

    As debate over Gov. Scott Walker’s state budget continues, transportation funding continues to be a sticking point. To help cover costs of transportation projects over the next two year, Walker proposed borrowing $1.3 billion. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, however, has said the plan isn’t fiscally responsible and that he’s looking for a more permanent fix.

    In a recent column in the Wisconsin State Journal, WTC President Tom Still wrote that only a handful of states don’t use bonding, and given low-interest rates, the timing might be right. He also suggested that lawmakers consider a combination of alternative options, including a heavy users’ or gas tax, or even the creation of toll roads.

    Still said he thinks toll roads are more of a long-term consideration given their history in the state, as well as some of the federal hurdles that would have to be overcome to implement the tolls.

    “The reason why it may be smart to start thinking about (tolls) now is the fact that there’s a door kind of cracked open through the White House that would allow states to revisit the deal that was cut in the 1950s when the interstate was built,” Still said.

    According to Still, Wisconsin agreed in the 1950s not to charge tolls on its portion of the interstate highway system in return for full federal funding of its construction.

    “In a state that depends on its highways for commerce and tourism, the idea of allowing toll roads — even if limited to a few interstate corridors — cannot be casually dismissed. For starters, tolls might help pay for ‘hot lanes’ planned for (Interstate 39/90) from Beloit to Madison, and eventually to the Wisconsin Dells,” Still wrote in his Wisconsin State Journal column.

  • Walker's Budget Would Allow UW System To Keep Details Of Research Secret

    A provision in Governor Walker’s 2015-2017 budget proposal would allow the UW System to keep the details of its commercial and scientific research secret. It is a provision the System supports, but is controversial for some, including animal rights activists who have protested research on animals.

  • To Pay For Wisconsin Roads, Consider Tolls

    Funding for roads in Wisconsin is still up in the air, with lots of ideas but little enthusiasm for any of them. A guest makes the case that we should explore toll roads as an option for the state’s transportation funding.

  • The Value Of Doing Nothing

    In our rush to make the most of our time, we’ve lost sight of the value of doing nothing, according to a guest author. He makes the case for giving our brains some downtime.

Episode Credits

  • Rob Ferrett Host
  • Veronica Rueckert Host
  • Galen Druke Producer
  • John Fauber Guest
  • Tom Still Guest
  • Oliver Burkeman Guest