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Press Release: Police Brutality Doesn't Add Up! Mathematicians Speak Out

From Nathan Ilten
Monday November 14, 2011 - 05:58:00 PM

The kind of violence exhibited by police against peaceful protesters at Occupy Oakland and Occupy Cal in the past weeks is unnecessary and intolerable. We (a group of mathematicians at UC Berkeley and SF State) are taking a stand against police brutality by doing what we do best: mathematics! Come to our anti-police-brutality teach in on Wednesday, November 16th from 11am to 5pm. We will be lecturing at Dwinelle Plaza (just north of Sather gate). 

Tentative Schedule of Talks:

Time Topic Speaker Intended Audience
11am Introduction to Tropical Geometry Chris Manon Math Undergraduates
12pm The Mathematics of Altruism and Civil Involvement Andrew Critch General Public
1pm The Mathematics of Voting Systems Charlie Crissman General Public
2pm Introduction to the Riemann Hypothesis Eugenia Rosu Math Undergraduates
3pm The Plank Problem Piotr Achinger General Public
4pm Geometry, the Majority Vote and the Power of Agenda Control Felix Breuer General Public

For more information, contact Nathan Ilten. You can also visit us on Facebook

We are being support by the wonderful folks at the MGSA! They have been so kind as to make us a great poster


  • Introduction to Tropical Geometry: Instead of addition and multiplication, tropical arithmetic uses alternative ways of combining numbers. I will describe some basic features of tropical geometry, which is the study of the solutions to equations in these alternative operations. If time permits, I'll describe how tropical geometry makes an appearance in some interesting places, like mathematical biology.

  • The Mathematics of Altruism and Civil Involvement: Mathematics can, and should, inspire hope! No one person has the power to change everything, but simple order-of-magnitude calculations can often show that altruistic behaviors like voting and civil involvement have a huge expected impact. For example, if the goal is to benefit yourself, voting probably isn't worth the 30 minutes it takes out of your day, but if the goal is to benefit others, then well-informed voting can be a highly effective charity, equivalent to something like turning $1 of your own money into $1000 for your country. We'll also talk about how to represent doing-your-part activities (like half-vegetarianism, carpooling, recycling, and saving water) as "curve moving", which looks and feels a little like moving a mountain all by yourself.

  • Introduction to the Riemann Hypothesis: The aim of the talk is to familiarize the listeners with one of the greatest unsolved problems of the century. In order to be able to formulate the Riemann Hypothesis, I will define the Riemann-Zeta function and present some of its properties. Moreover, I will try to explain the importance of the Riemann Hypothesis in modern mathematics.

  • The Plank Problem: This talk will address a simple question with an obvious yet hard-to-prove answer: Is it possible to cover a disc with a number of planks whose total widths are less than the disc's diameter?

  • Geometry, the Majority Vote and the Power of Agenda Control: Many political choices, such as budget decisions, can be represented as points in space. This has huge consequences for the dynamics of the majority vote: An individual with the power to control the agenda (to decide which bills are up for vote) can lead voters to agree to *anything* of their own free will!


  • Q: What is the nature of the teach in? A: We will be giving introductory lectures on a number of exciting mathematical topics. Each speaker has chosen his or her own topic; some topics were specifically chosen to have more direct societal relevance, while others were chosen because they are just plain cool.

  • Q: How does this do anything about police brutality? A: We could host a debate about exactly when what forms of violence are justified, and if linking arms constitutes nonviolent protest, etc. Instead, we'll leave that to the experts, and do what we are expert at: mathematics. However, throughout the day, we'll be reminding listeners why we are outside instead of cooped up on the top floors of Evans Hall. We do not condone the kind of violence used by police against students at Occupy Cal on Wednesday, November 9th. We hope that our presence at Dwinelle will make this statement loud and clear.

  • Q: What can I do to help? A: Come to the lectures! Invite your friends, students, family, and enemies! Bring snacks for everyone. If it looks like it will be cold, bring tea and blankets to share.

  • Q: Why aren't you doing this on Tuesday during the general strike? A: Firstly, some of our lecturers had other obligations on Tuesday. Secondly, while many of us sympathize with Occupy Cal, we are promoting a distinctly different message, namely, a condemnation of police brutality.

  • Q: What about the Occupy Regents on Wednesday? A: We don't want to discourage anyone from attending the Occupy Regents protest. If you were planning on doing so but now are torn between going there and coming to our teach in, please go there. We believe that there are a large number of people who will be interested in our teach in who weren't planning on going to Occupy Regents.


  • Petition condemning police violence for teachers at UC Berkeley.
  • An open letter for memebers of the UC Berkeley Mathematics Department.