Berkeley in the News

Berkeley in the News is a daily selection of articles and commentaries in the news media that mention UC Berkeley. The views and opinions expressed in these articles do not necessarily reflect the official policies or positions of the campus.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

1. Berkeley in the News is taking a break around the Memorial Day holiday. Publication will resume on Wednesday, May 31.

2. Meet the Most Nimble-Fingered Robot Yet
MIT Technology Review

A robot called DexNet 2.0, co-developed by robotics professor Ken Goldberg and postdoc Jeff Mahler, has reached an unprecedented level of dexterity through a deep-learning system that helps the robot quickly figure out what kind of grasp to use. In a test, it managed to lift and shake unfamiliar items without dropping them 98 percent of the time. When the robot was unsure of an object, it would poke it in order to come up with a better grasp, and then it succeeded 99 percent of the time. According to this reporter: "The work shows how new approaches to robot learning, combined with the ability for robots to access information through the cloud, could advance the capabilities of robots in factories and warehouses, and might even enable these machines to do useful work in new settings like hospitals and homes." A paper on the research will be published at a major robotics conference in July. Another story on this topic appeared in IEEE Spectrum.
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3. Op-Ed: Why science denial isn't necessarily ideological
Washington Post

Two new books -- The Knowledge Illusion by Steven Sloman and Philip Fernbach, and Scienceblind by Andrew Shtulman -- claim that scientific ignorance stems more from certain cognitive features we all share than it does from ideology, and both cite research by psychology and education professor Michael Ranney. According to Sloman and Fernbach, Professor Ranney "approached a couple of hundred people in parks in San Diego and asked a series of questions to gauge their understanding of the climate change mechanism. Only 12 percent of respondents were even partially correct, mentioning atmospheric gases trapping heat. Essentially no one could give a complete, accurate account of the mechanism." Afterwards, Professor Ranney gave the respondents a short text (or, in later studies, showed them a video) explaining how climate change operates, and the two-step process "dramatically increased their understanding and their acceptance of human-caused climate change."
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4. Tesla had worse safety records than slaughterhouses and sawmills, but says it's improving
Los Angeles Times

According to government safety records released Wednesday, Tesla Motors' safety record was significantly worse than the industry average in 2015, and even worse than the average of industries known for risk, such as sawmills and slaughterhouses. The numbers "are indicative, but they're not conclusive," says labor professor Harley Shaiken. "Under the best of circumstances, an automobile assembly plant is a very hard place to work." As a "start-up company doing all this work for the first time under real pressure," the company doesn't have the extensive safety experience of more established automakers, he says. "You've had [Tesla co-founder and CEO Elon] Musk cracking the whip to meet deadlines and stock market expectations, and you clearly in the first four years had a lot of [injury] problems."
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5. Sunday Review: The Assault on Colleges -- and the American Dream
New York Times (*requires registration)

Speaking of the decline of economic diversity at the nation's top public colleges, this author writes: "The story in California is a bit more nuanced, but still disappointing, particularly given the state university's history. Since its founding, during a burst of national investment during and just after Abraham Lincoln's presidency, no other university in the world has combined academic excellence and broad access so well. ... John Aubrey Douglass, an education scholar [at Berkeley's Center for Studies in Higher Education], describes that combination as 'the California idea.' The top five colleges in this year's College Access Index ranking are still University of California campuses: Irvine, Santa Barbara, Davis, San Diego and Los Angeles. Berkeley ranks ninth, while the private colleges in the top 10 are Amherst, Pomona and Harvard. ... Yet even as California remains a leader, it is also inching away from its legacy."
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6. UC-Berkeley Fires Professor Accused of Harassing Students
Chronicle of Higher Education (*requires registration)

Assistant South and Southeast Asian studies professor Blake Wentworth has been fired for violating Berkeley's faculty code of conduct and sexual harassment policy. "The committee found by clear and convincing evidence that Wentworth had engaged in the misconduct and recommended his dismissal," campus officials said in a statement. "These actions are part of the university's continuing effort to eradicate sexual misconduct from our campus. The harassment of students by faculty represents an unacceptable breach of the teacher-student relationship and carries the potential for enormous harm." Stories on this topic have appeared in dozens of sources, including the San Francisco Chronicle, Mercury News, Berkeleyside, and U.S. News & World Report (AP).
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7. Cal rugby player moves toward recovery after life-changing spinal injury
Mercury News

Rugby player Robert Paylor, a sophomore severely injured in the Bear's championship game earlier this month, is showing his characteristic determination in recovery work. "I think that that spirit and that grit to really get through this and reach his potential is going to serve him well," says Stephen McKenna, chief of the Rehabilitation Trauma Center at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center. Paylor was paralyzed from the chest down in the injury, but his doctors are optimistic that he will eventually recover some feeling in his body. "Each person who has that injury has their own journey to recover and that journey is going to be a long one," McKenna says. "I know that the effort that he's going to bring to that process of recovery is going to be extraordinary." A GoFundMe page set up to raise money for his rehab has brought in more than $600K, and according to his father, "We've literally heard from people all over the world. There's been an outpouring of love and support."
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8. Children's author explores pain of ALS in graphic novel for grown-ups
Mercury News (*requires registration)

Children's author Marissa Moss has published a new graphic novel Last Things, telling the distinctly mature story of her husband Harvey Stahl's diagnosis and death from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease. Stahl was a professor of medieval art at Berkeley, and he died in 2002, a year after his diagnosis. "We all think we know how to live good lives," Moss says. What's trickier, she says, "is how to be with the dying and hold their pain and fear in our hearts. And then let them go."
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