Bill Gleason

Bill Gleason is an Associate Professor at the University of Minnesota in the Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology. He's also a fellow at the U's Supercomputer Institute. Read more about Gleason.

Posts about Disasters

Perhaps Now Would Be A Good Time To Re-evaluate Plans for the University of Minnesota's UMore Park?

Posted by: Bill Gleason Updated: May 15, 2011 - 7:33 AM

Mining for sand and gravel, image: Wikimedia Commons

Now that gravel mining has been put off at UMore Park and considerable discussion has occurred recently by the agricultural faculty at the University of Minnesota, perhaps taking a step back and re-evaluating the whole situation would be a good thing to do?  A real economic analysis might also prove useful...


On the Continuing MoreU Park Fiasco Is the University of Minnesota a Land Grant Institution?
MoreU Park The Public be Damned?
An Ag Researcher at the University of Minnesota Questions Priorities for MoreU Park
More on MoreU...
More on MoreU Sunshine is the best disinfectant...
Exactly how long is the UMore Park craziness going to continue?


Part I. Are We A Land Grant Institution or A Gravel Mining and Development Corporation?

Senate Research Committee
Monday, April 25, 2011

"Professor Linn, Head of Animal Science, said that his department has conducted research on land at UMore Park for over 50 years, including with sheep, dairy and beef cows, and swine, and at present it has research facilities for turkey and beef cattle. Their research facilities are on the edge of the area where the proposed gravel mining will start. They have expressed concern all along about the loss of agricultural land and their animal facilities."

"What is key for them, Professor Linn said, is replacement of the facilities. There has been no discussion of the loss or replacement. This is a multi-million-dollar problem. Second, this is a primary turkey-producing state, but they have no idea what the effect of mining will be on the research facilities. They bring in $300,000 – 500,000 per year to support the facilities the research facilities at UMore Park, and the impact of the mining has to be addressed."

"The land is their laboratory, Dr. Braun explained, and UMore Park turns their labs into a gravel mine. The value of the lab far exceeds the value of the gravel mine. They have asked for alternative land but are skeptical that will be provided with the kind of land that is needed."

"The University is abdicating its land-grant mission, and he[Professor Baker] does not know of another land-grant school that does not have land close to its campus to train undergraduates. To sell off an asset to pay for operations is like selling one's kidney to pay for groceries, he said, which is why they are so upset with the plans for UMore Park."

"The land that has been suggested as an alternative is not equal to what they have now, Professor Orf said, nor does it have the millions of dollars of infrastructure (storage sheds, irrigation, and laboratories for threshing and storage of plants, etc.) that currently exists in the land they use. There was great concern about the impact of the light-rail trains on research on the Minneapolis campus; they have the same concerns about the dust and equipment storage and safety of the people working at their sites."

Professor Hutchison, the Head of Entomology, said that his department still has active research at UMore Park and they have not seen enough consultation with faculty members; he thanked the Committee for hearing about their concerns. Their faculty see these recent discussions as re-arranging deck chairs on the "Titanic."

"A number of faculty members (23) in the College of Food, Agricultural, and Natural Resources Sciences (CFANS) wrote to the Board of Regents in July, 2010 to express their concerns. The Regents wrote back to respectfully disagree about the quality of the land and the lack of a farm for the University."

"Dr. Becker also noted that when the University received the land at UMore Park after WW II, University Agronomists and Soil Scientists conducted surveys and determined the agricultural plots needed to be where they are because most of the landscape at UMore Park was disturbed in building the munitions plant. Topsoil and subsoil were mixed or significantly altered, rendering those areas wholly unsuitable for research other than reclamation research. We cannot just move onto other lands impacted by the plant construction. "

They and others have been doing studies for ten years or more and will not be able to continue because of the gravel dust. E.g., photosynthate measurements will be erratic and altered because of widespread gravel dust deposition.

These sites encompass the entire Agronomy farm research areas, and he would not want to be around them, nor would he want his students working on the land near them. Dust, noise, VOCs from the asphalt plant, conveyors transporting rock overhead, and heavy equipment traffic - they cannot co-exist. The take-home message is that the University has to acquire new land in the area. As Dr. Al Levine, Dean of CFANS put it; it is like taking buildings down on campus and making no alternative arrangements for the faculty who were housed in them.

Professor Linn said that the Regents' letter indicates the plans will go forward even though most faculty members on the St. Paul campus oppose them. Dr. Braun reported that the gravel mining has been postponed because of the economic situation (an 80% decline in the demand for gravel), which buys them time to explore alternatives, such as mining on the east side and not disrupting the agricultural land.

Professor Vaughan asked if the Regents made the decision without consulting the faculty. Essentially they did, Professor Baker said. The Board was led to believe there would be additional discussions about what would serve the research needs of the faculty, but those discussions have not taken place.

Professor Linn said that from the time the process started and all along, they have said that what is going on there is not acceptable. There will be mining and a new community; the key issue is the lack of responsibility for agricultural research that has been there for 50 years. They are not looking at the importance of how to replace that land—the focus has been on the mining and the new community.

Dr. Braun reported that it was in March 2010 that agricultural researchers were informed about the plans for UMore Park. Many had no idea anything was being planned, even though UMore Park had been in the works for years.

The implication is that Vice President Mulcahy talked about the cost of relocating the NMR machines because of the light rail trains, which involved a cost in time and expense, including the effect on graduate students. One would have thought they would have had similar relocation costs as part of the UMore Park project, but apparently they did not, which reflects a misunderstanding of the research enterprise.

The argument was that things cannot go on like they have been, Professor Cleary said. What does that mean? That the value of the land and gravel outweighs the value of the research? Professor Orf said that, per Professor Baker, some of this research has a history and it would take 15 years to get back to the same point. Will NSF provide funding for another 15 years? That is not likely. Professor Cleary said he could not understand the negative views about the agricultural research being done on the UMore Park land.



These are merely excerpts.  There is even more horrible stuff available where that came from.



Part II.  Follow the Money

My fellow University of Minnesota alumnus, Michael McNabb comments on the situation:

Recent discussions have confirmed concerns about the UMore Park development.  The gravel pit will be located on land that has been used for agricultural research that has produced hundreds of millions of dollars for the economy of Minnesota.  See the remarks of the professors from the College of Food, Agricultural & Natural Resources Sciences at the April 25, 2011 meeting of the faculty research committee at More On MoreU Park.

In July 2010 the Regents dismissed the concerns expressed by CFANS faculty members about the decision (already made) to transform UMore Park.  At that time the Regents were under the impression that the gravel pit would generate $3 million to $10 million in revenue per year.  That projection by senior administrators was wildly unrealistic.  See Section 1 of University Inc. Part II.  

See UMore Park Craziness for a partial list of the numerous consultants who have received part of the $9.3 million (and counting) that the administration has spent planning the development of UMore Park.  Note that there is not a single consultant from the fields of agriculture or veterinary medicine.  (The Vet School has an entire farm at UMorePark.)  It appears that the senior administrators and the Regents made the decision on UMore Park without consulting either the professors who were engaged in research on the land or any agricultural economists!

The decision of the administration on UMore Park fails to recognize the essential value of agricultural research for a land grant university:

CFANS is a college devoted to solution-driven science; we use critical and innovative thinking plus all the tools of the arts and sciences to make our planet a productive, friendly, and sustainable environment--to solve everyday problems.  We study the health of the land and the health of the living.”

See the message from the Dean on the University of Minnesota web site.



Censorship of Thoughtful Post By University of Minnesota Alum Further Illustrates Pattern of Suppressing Criticism

Posted by: Bill Gleason Updated: May 7, 2011 - 10:00 AM

Added Later: Response from Chris Coughlan-Smith:


Hi, Professor Gleason. I can assure there is no effort to suppress discussion on this community. We have a policy in place on the approval of discussions, filtering commercial and promotional items to the correct area and deleting only profane and offensive material.

An error appears to have been made over the weekend and our policy has been reiterated with all who moderate the discussions.

I've personally approved Mr. McNabb's comments in the past and will continue to do so. I wish one of you would have asked someone in this office for a clarification. Thank you.

Chris, group founder and owner





Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Recently I learned of yet another attempt to stifle criticism at the University of Minnesota. It is sad, indeed, that the administration and the alumni association are engaging in the tactics of censorship and intimidation. 

I sincerely hope that the next president will not tolerate this kind of activity at our university.
From my friend and fellow alum, Michael McNabb:


The University of Minnesota Alumni Association has a LinkedIn web site for posts submitted by alumni.  I have sent several single sentence posts with links to essays in The Periodic Table, such as:

On The Cost of Administration Part II 


State (and) University

See the attached My Activity section of the UMAA site.

On April 30 the UMAA site blocked the submission of a single sentence post [Administration seeks to stifle criticism of research] with links to these posts:

Freedom Means Restriction? 

Constitutional Law

When I scrolled down to the end of the My Activity section I saw the following question:

Are you sure that you want to permanently remove, block and delete all contributions from this member?

Then I checked the main section of the UMAA site and saw that my previous posts had been deleted.

The mission statement of the Alumni Association states that it is "dedicated to connecting alumni, students and friends in lifelong support of the University of Minnesota and each other." 

See the UMAA web site.

It appears that the Alumni Association considers the current administration and the University to be one and the same for it excludes any perspective that challenges a course of action undertaken by the administration.  (It is far easier to exclude than to allow alumni to hear different perspectives and to engage in an exchange of ideas.)

A "guiding principle" of the Alumni Association is that it "represents the independent voice of the alumni."
  See the UMAA site above.  By excluding different perspectives of alumni the Alumni Association acts as the representative of the administration to silence the independent voices of those alumni.


Is it really the case that we Minnesotans now value college education less than the rest of the country?

Posted by: Bill Gleason Updated: March 29, 2011 - 8:28 AM


Oliver Twist asking for more

Image Credit


In the University of Minnesota's mad scramble to stop the bleeding a provocative op-ed has appeared by my esteemed colleague, history professor Giancarlo Casale.  I urge people to read his important post.

[Prior to the Casale post, I had earlier examined this hypothesis in the post  Subsidy for Education and Related Expenses - 2008 data - for 50 Flagship Universities.  The data is behind a firewall unless one is a paying subscriber so I have transcribed it below.]

In this Star-Tribune op-ed Casale asks a provocative question that I believe has to  be answered in the negative: Minnesota seems to be abandoning its commitment to flagship university. Is it really the case that we Minnesotans now value college education less than the rest of the country?

In order to start a discussion on the matter - in which I will not participate because of the recent intellectual equivalent of drive by shootings - I offer the following:


From the Chronicle of Higher Education:
March 13, 2011

Education Financing for Major Public Universities: Which Ones Get the Most and the Least

The Chronicle chose one large public research institution per state—often the flagship—and examined its subsidy for education and related expenses per student in 2008, the most recent year for which those data have been reported. This figure is the share of educational spending not covered by tuition. For many but not all flagships, state appropriations finance a significant portion of this subsidy. 
Subsidy for education and related expenses per student, 2008
U. of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
U. of Washington*
U. of California at Berkeley
U. at Buffalo
U. of Nevada at Reno
U. of Texas*
U. of Hawaii—Manoa
U. of Minnesota—Twin Cities
U. of Alaska*
U. of Michigan at Ann Arbor
U. of Wyoming
U. of Tennessee*
U. of Connecticut*
Ohio State U.*
U. of Florida
U. of Utah
U. of Arkansas main campus*
U. of Iowa
U. of North Dakota*
Rutgers U.*
U. of Kansas
U. of Wisconsin at Madison
U. of Arizona
U. of Idaho
U. of Massachusetts*
U. of Delaware
Louisiana State U.
U. of Virginia
U. of South Dakota
U. of Kentucky
U. of Maryland at College Park
U. of Missouri*
U. of Nebraska at Lincoln/Omaha*
U. of Alabama*
U. of New Mexico/New Mexico State U.*
U. of Mississippi*
U. of Oklahoma at Norman
U. of Vermont
U. of Illinois*
Indiana U. at Bloomington
U. of Maine*
U. of Georgia
U. of South Carolina at Columbia
West Virginia U.
U. of Montana*
U. of Oregon
U. of Rhode Island
U. of New Hampshire*
Pennsylvania State U.*
U. of Colorado at Boulder**
There is something very wrong here, although the interpretation of the numbers is complex and this was pointed out in a subsequent article.  But the trend is clear and Minnesota is far from the lowest in state support for higher education.  Even President Bruininks has admitted this. For fiscal year 2011 state monies provided for higher education in Minnesota were: $1,381,065,000. This ranked ~18/50 for all states. The comparable number in Wisconsin is $1,363,029, 136.  [The last I heard UW-Madison is cleaning our clock both in academics and in other less important matters such as football and basketball.  One might ask why but that is a different topic.] Again it is clear that the claim that Minnesota values higher education less than the rest of the country is false. Nitpickers may find fault with any set of numbers I might provide, but the evidence is overwhelming. To argue that Minnesota is worse than any state in the nation has about as much credibility as climate denialism.
In the op-ed we found a disclaimer: "I am not an expert on state finances or budgetary policy." It behooves some of those on the faculty at the University of Minnesota to start asking some serious questions. A history professor  is certainly capable of understanding basic economics.
Whining without justification simply is no longer acceptable. This is one of the main problems of the current university administration.
Playing Oliver Twist and asking for "More?" is a failed strategy. Hard  facts about the cost of education, how unreimbursed research costs are funded, and the outrageous costs for administration need to be provided. Minnesota citizens have a right to expexct that tuition increases are used for educational purposes and not to support unreimbursed research expenses, the cost of new - and unnecessary - buildings, or grandiose schems for the University of Minnesota to become one of the top three public research universities in the world [sic]. Once Minnesotan's are made aware of the actual cost of education and assured that this is, indeed, our first priority, will we be in a position to ask for "More?" Unreimbursed research expenses and the source of funds to pay for them must be made explicit. Since even the current majority party seems to believe in research and development, explicit funding for these activities should be sought at the legislature.   The bloated cost of administration is beyond dispute.
Trying to pin the blame for this situation on Minnesota citizens, because they don't properly value  education, is an unfair and losing proposition. The citizens of the state, some of whom are literally -  not figuratively - hungry, will not be very sympathetic.

On Skyrocketing Administrative Costs at the University of Minnesota

Posted by: Bill Gleason Updated: March 25, 2011 - 5:00 PM


University of Minnesota Institutional Support (Costs of Administration)

  2005 2007 2010
Compensation and
$96.5 M $118.3 M $172.9 M
Supplies and
$12.4 M $31.0 M $61.4 M





$108.9 M



$149.3 M



$234.3 M




see p. 26 and p. 61 of the 2005 annual financial statement at; see p. 19 and p. 62 of the 2007 annual financial statement at ; see p. 12 and p. 73 of the 2010 annual financial statement at
Mr. Michael McNabb's series on the Corporate University has received wide attention within and without the University of Minnesota.  Visitors from universities outside Minnesota - especially Penn State and even from overseas - have been frequent.
Some revisions of the series have occured over time, such as the table above.  For links as well as other material these posts should be consulted.  
They are: 


Image Source: Wikimedia Commons


Dan Markingson's Mother Replies to University of Minnesota VP Mulcahy

Posted by: Bill Gleason Updated: March 3, 2011 - 8:19 AM


Weeping Angel 

Part of mausoleum of canon Guilain Lucas  (1628)

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons


Dr. Mulcahy's original letter appeared in the Minnesota Daily.  I'd encourage interested readers to read it as well as my own comments at the end of the article. With the permission of Mary Weiss, I here reprint her letter. It should receive widespread attention in the community.  Steps should be taken, including an independent investigation, to assure that such incidents do not occur in the future.  To argue that what happened is not illegal is a far cry from the Hippocratic Oath: First do no harm.

Mary Weiss writes in today's Daily:

I am Mary Weiss, mother of Dan Markingson, who died while in a University of Minnesota clinical drug study.
In a Feb. 24 letter to the editor published in the Minnesota Daily, “The Markingson case deserves better from the Daily,” R. Timothy Mulcahy, vice president for research at the University, states, among other things, that the University did not profit from the study in which Dan died.
So, this study was revenue neutral? Does the University not profit from their clinical drug research? Who would possibly believe this?
Mulcahy states non-University psychiatrists found no wrongdoing. Of course they found no wrongdoing: These psychiatrists were paid to find no wrongdoing by virtue of the fact that they were “expert witnesses” for the University. Other medial professionals have since disagreed with this

Dr. Harrison G. Pope, Jr., professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, said about the study, “There is virtually no evidence that this vulnerable, severely psychotic and mentally incompetent patient was capable of understanding the study to which he was consenting.”
Or take the statement of James I. Hudson, also a professor of psychiatry at Harvard, who summed up his professional opinion of the doctor who conducted the study, saying, “Dr. [Stephen] Olson’s errors, omissions, improper acts and failures were to a reasonable degree of medical certainty, a substantial contributing factor and a proximate cause of Mr. Markingson’s death.”
Dr. Keith A. Horton, licensed psychiatrist in the state of Minnesota, said in his expert testimony, “It is my opinion that this case represents a violation of biomedical standards upon which there is a widespread consensus for informed consent and human subjects’ protection.”
Mulcahy states also in his article, “The University is steadfast in its commitment to the protection of all research subjects.”
If this had been the case, “Dan’s Law” — which was passed unanimously in both the Minnesota House and Senate in 2009 — would have been entirely unnecessary.
This law now prevents anyone on a stay of civil commitment from entering a psychiatric clinical drug study and also prohibits any doctor from putting his or her own patients into his or her own clinical drug study.
Also, Mulcahy states that “proper care was provided” to Dan. I don’t think many people would consider it “proper care” when on April 9, 2004, Easter Sunday — less than a month before he died — Dan was psychotic, and I, his distraught mother, left voice messages for Olson and also Jeanne Kenney, the study’s coordinator.
I said, “Do we have to wait for him to kill himself or someone else before anyone does anything?” thinking for sure someone would call me  back in the morning and re-hospitalize Dan.
Unbelievably, no one responded — though Kenney did write my message verbatim in her study file. Evidently, the outcome of the study was more important than making a patient well or keeping him alive.
Also, Mulcahy states that no laws were violated by the University. In fact, the University was given immunity by a Hennepin County judge who cited the Minnesota law which states “[Minnesota] and its employees are not liable for … a loss caused by the performance or failure to perform a discretionary duty.”
Horton also said, “It is my opinion that no university or medical center should tolerate or condone the improper, coercive, unethical practices documented in the case of Dan Markingson. Correction measures should be instituted to prevent future injuries to vulnerable patients.”
But no correction measures have been taken. And the University still tolerates and condones improper, coercive, unethical practices.
What is it going to take for them to change? I really don’t know. Hopefully not the death of another parent’s precious child.

No laws have been broken? And the angels wept. 

Why Would an Academic Health Center Support Homeopathy?

Posted by: Bill Gleason Updated: February 2, 2011 - 3:05 PM


Image credit: Wikimedia Commons


Hahnemann, who is usually given the blame for homeopathy, had the idea that if something bad were diluted enough, it might be something good. If you think of cancer therapy, this idea, at first glance, might make sense. Except…

Cancer therapeutic agents are indeed toxic, but in the best case scenario they do more damage to rapidly growing cancer cells than to normal ones. But the therapeutic agents still have to be present in a concentration high enough to interfere with some cancer cell processes at the molecular level.

A digression: Dilution is an interesting process.

Suppose you had a twenty-gallon fish tank with one gold fish in it. Take out a gallon and dilute it to twenty gallons in another tank. What is the probability that the fish is in the second tank? 1 in 20 or .05.

Now if you repeat this process again, what is the probability of the fish in a third tank?

1 in 400 (.05 x .05 or .0025).

Rinse and repeat and the answer is 1 in 8000.

The point is that even with modest dilution factors the concentration of a molecular species gets very small, very fast. So much so that in multiple serial dilutions, the probability of having even one molecule in a solution is very small. One more dilution of the type described will bring the probability to 1 in 160,000! End digression.

An example relevant to homeopathy is that of UCL pharmacology professor David Colquhoun who wrote in Chest:

“It surprises me that CHEST would publish an article (March 2005) on the effect of a therapeutic agent when in fact the patients received none of the agent mentioned in the title of the article.

It is not mentioned in the title, but reading the article reveals that the ‘potassium dichromate’ was a homeopathic C30 dilution. That is a dilution by a factor of 10^60 [ten raised to the sixtieth power], and for those of us who believe in the Avogadro number, that means there would be one molecule in a sphere with a diameter of approximately 1.46 × 10^11 m. That is close to the distance from the earth to the sun. To describe this as “diluted and well shaken,” as the authors do, is the understatement of the century. The fact of the matter is that the medicine contained no medicine.”

“The authors will doubtless claim some magic effect of shaking that causes the water to remember for years that it once had some dichromate in it. The memory of water has been studied quite a lot. The estimate of the duration of this memory has been revised downwards from a few picoseconds to approximately 50 femtoseconds. That is not a very good shelf life.”

“It is one thing to tolerate homeopathy as a harmless 19th century eccentricity for its placebo effect in minor self-limiting conditions like colds. It is quite another to have it recommended for seriously ill patients.”

That is downright dangerous.

David Colquhoun, FRS
University College of London

David Colquhoun, FRS (Fellow of the Royal Society)
doi: 10.1378/chest.06-2402 CHEST February 2007 vol. 131 no. 2 635-636

Now unfortunately, at our Academic Health Center, in addition to having an evidence based medical school (supposedly) we have a Center for Spirituality and Healing, directed by a self described nurse scientist who is apparently an advocate for homeopathy and in fact cited the above use of  dichromate as an effective  homeopathic remedy:

As a scientist  and nurse, I read with great interest an article that appeared in the medical journal Chest (Frass et al. 2005 ). This is a peer-reviewed scientific journal read by many physicians and surgeons. It is published by the American College of Chest Surgeons (no slouch of a group). The article describes a study (a prospective, randomized, placebo-controlled trial) comparing critically-ill patients on mechanical ventilators in Intensive Care Units who received a substance called potassium dichromate with those who did not.

It was found that the patients who received potassium dichromate had less thick, stringy tracheal secretions and were able to get off the ventilator more quickly and out of the ICU. Clinical outcomes like that are important.

Potassium dichromate is a homeopathic remedy.

Minnesota Daily, Evidence for Alternative Medicine, February 14, 2010

Now it is generally accepted, cranks aside, that homeopathy is witchcraft. So why would an Academic Health Center put up with homeopathy and even give advice on its own website about how to select a homeopath?

Money—specifically NIH support of so-called alternative medicine.

Is this a good enough reason in the case of an Academic Health Center with an evidence-based medical school? Why are we wasting resources on junk science while cutting corners on real medicine?

From the University of Minnesota web-site:

What is Homeopathy?

Homeopathy is a complete system of medicine that works with the body’s innate ability to heal. It uses very dilute doses of substances that stimulate the body’s own defense mechanism and healing powers and return it to a state of balance—physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

This egregious baloney has recently been pulled and replaced with a link to an NIH site for alternative medicine.  I guess that makes it ok?

This sleight of hand is ironic.

In a 2010 report, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, a division of the National Institutes of Health, said that the key concepts of homeopathy "are not consistent with the established laws of science."

An edited version of this post has previously appeared on the Brainstorm Blog at the Chronicle of Higher Education.


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