Wednesday, July 18, 2007

I hope The Capital Times decides to print the letter to the editor that I just sent off this morning:

As both a Wisconsin taxpayer and a tenured UW-Madison faculty member, I was saddened and disgusted to read that the lastest attack on our flagship research university by State Representative Steve Nass came in the form of ridiculing the important new media and education investigations of fellow faculty members Erica and Rich Halverson (Anita Weier, "Fantasy baseball researachers to pol: It's not all fun and games," The Capital Times, Tuesday July 17 2007). I'm glad the Capital Times gave the Halversons a chance to reply to Nass's irresponsible press release (timed just as the state legislature is working on the next UW budget) and to explain their research to the public. As a faculty member who teaches and researches on mass communication and information studies himself, I can verify for your readers that online education and gaming are both crucial fields of study in our evolving "informational society" -- and that the students and alumni who I have talked to about these topics feel the same way. But what really distresses me is not the fear of an open, civil debate over which fields of study might be valuable to our students, our state, and our society -- we faculty and staff at the UW have that debate among ourselves all the time, I assure you. What bothers me is that Nass would issue a press release attacking my friends and colleagues for their hard work, apparently on the basis of his own personal prejudice against the title of a research project and not on the basis of _any research of his own_. In about three seconds, using the online new media technology of Google, I was able to pull up pages of original research reports detailing the theory, method, and social impact of the Halversons' work. With a single phone call Nass might have discovered that Erica Halverson actually spent a week of this very summer traveling by bus around the state of Wisconsin, apart from her family, as part of the venerable "Wisconsin Idea" road trip to improve university service toward the public. And with a single email I could have found out what Nass apparently could not, that the Halversons' current research is funded not by taxpayers but by an outside grant (bringing money directly into our state economy, above and beyond the knowledge generated by their research). With the state having reduced its proportion of support for the UW-Madison budget to around 20% over the last decade, my tax dollars contribute much more to Steve Nass's salary than they do to the salaries of any UW-Madison professors. Thus I would like to demand some research accountability and integrity from Representative Nass, and from all of the other State Representatives and Senators who have yet to repudiate his ridiculous attacks.

Greg Downey

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