Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Skimming the cream -- a history lesson from Charles Pierce

This could be the starting point for all sorts of interesting discussions, from the role of government sponsored research to the profound and ubiquitous technological advances that clustered around the end of the Nineteenth and the beginning of the Twentieth Century.

For liberal political blogger, Charles Pierce (the source of the following passage), it's another reason to object to Scott Walker's approach to higher education.
Up until the 1890's, dairy farming was a sucker's game. Milk was sold to the factories by volume; farmers could cheat by skimming the cream, or by watering down the product. Honest dairy farmers producing good milk got cheated pretty badly in this system. In 1890, however, a man named Stephen Babcock developed a simple test by which, through the use of sulfuric acid and a centrifuge, any farmer could measure the butterfat content of his milk. This caused such a boom in the dairy industry that Wisconsin did indeed become America's Dairyland. In collaboration with another scientist, Babcock also developed a method for cold-curing cheese that helped the state become so prolific at producing cheesy comestibles that people now wear mock-ups on their heads at football games. He also did some revolutionary work with cattle feed that became the basis for the development of the concept of vitamins.

Babcock did all of this because he worked for the Wisconsin Agricultural Experiment Station, which had been founded in 1883 as part of the University of Wisconsin's land-grant mission under the Morrill Act. This was a precursor to the agricultural extension services that were developed at other land-grant institutions after the passage of the Smith-Lever Act in 1914. The land-grant mission, which was to provide an education that would be useful to the public at large, dovetailed perfectly with what became known as The Wisconsin Idea -- that the boundaries of the university are the boundaries of the state, an idea that Scott Walker has dedicated himself to tossing into the wood chipper. And thus it is that butterfat undermines the very raison d'etre of Scott Walker's entire political career and the very basis of his political philosophy. QED.

Also, moo.

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