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Golden Scholars: Predicting earthquakes and studying the dynamics between police and protesters

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The Golden Scholars series was is here to bring attention to UC Berkeley developments and news. This week, we're going to take a look at Berkeley's intersections with two big news stories.

Beware these guys?
Beware these guys?
Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Quick links

UC Berkeley is one of the top ten schools for business graduates to make the most money.

Speaking of making money, congratulations to Robert Hass, Distinguished Professor in Poetry and Poetics, for winning the Wallace Stevens Award for lifetime achievement in the "mastery in the art of poetry."

Three Berkeley-related academicians were on Forbes's list of 35 Innovators Under 35, all for the Humanitarian category. Congratulations to Kurtis Heimerl, George Ban-Weiss, and Kuang Chen!

Looking at the actual skeletons in the Campanile's closet.

UC Berkeley is considered by the Washington (gross) Monthly as the sixth-best "Affordable Elite" university.

Another ranking by Washington (ugh) Monthly for the schools that best "serve the public interest" places Berkeley in third.

Shake it like a salt shaker

So, it took me less than one week of being in the Bay Area to be hit by an earthquake. Thanks, Obama.

In the wake of the Napa earthquake, UC Berkeley has been in the news for their earthquake detection system, which currently gives a 10-second warning prior to an earthquake striking.

Seisometers can pick up the first wave of non-destructive P waves and send off the signal before the impending and damaging S waves. The system works by taking advantage of the slow speed of soundthe speed at which earthquakes travelrelative to the speed of lightthe speed at which the warning will travel. This gives people in the immediate vicinity of the earthquake about 10 seconds to prepare while giving a 50-second warning to Southern California.

Ten seconds isn't much, but it's better than the current system of nothing and could provide some critical information to certain systems:

[The warning system could give] time for elevators to stop at the next floor and open up, firefighters to open up garage doors, high-speed trains to slow down to avoid derailment and surgeons to take the scalpel out of a patient.

Determining the responsibility of police in protest violence

There will be no bad attempts at witty segues here. In the wake of the madness in Ferguson, MO that stemmed from the shooting death of Michael Brown, UC Berkeley has released a study to analyze how much the police are responsible for violence in protests.

Sociology research fellow Nick Adams studied nearly 200 Occupy protests from back when that was a thing and found that police forces using aggressive tactics will cause crowds of protesters to rile up and act out.

"Everything starts to turn bad when you see a police officer come out of an SUV and he's carrying an AR-15," said Nick Adams, a sociologist and fellow at UC Berkeley's Institute for Data Science who leads the Deciding Force Project. "It just upsets the crowd."

Adams said many law enforcement agencies aren't aware that they set the tone of a protest and end up inflaming it.

While this certainly seems plausible and understandable (like a primal instinct to face such a challenge), there's also a bit of a chicken-or-the-egg component to the issue. While the origins of these protests are always good-natured and focused on the issue at hand, it always attracts a few bad eggs who potentiate the situation's degradation into looting, chaos, and violence, according to former SF police chief Tony Ribera. Of course the police must act to stop these crimes.

Ribera's policy is to "approach with a nonconfrontational stance and ramp up when necessary," which seems perfectly logical and a similar approach was seemingly successful in Ferguson, before everything turned to madness again.

During the Occupy protests, for example, police in some cities deployed officers in small clusters rather than in skirmish lines. Such cities tended to see fewer clashes between demonstrators and police, the researchers said.

"When it's two or three officers, protesters don't get intimidated," Adams said. "They may even talk with the police."

Still, I don't think it's entirely accurate to just pin all the blame on the officers. They're called into action to enter and control a potentially dangerous situation, knowing full well that these gatherings can often devolve into senseless violence that could leave them seriously injured. It's asking them to take quite a leap of faith if we want them to come out without the best means to protect themselves. Adams is still conducting research on other factors that affect the crowd behavior, so let's all hope that brings us considerably closer to understanding these dynamics so we can limit these interactions in the future.