Discovered: Data shows Sandy's Internet outage toll; rappers put through MRI; spiders confuse predators with doppelgänger decoys; orangutans may be more thoughtful than we thought.
Internet outages double during Sandy. For John Heidemann—who heads up a team of researchers at USC's Information Sciences Institute—October 29th was a huge day. While the West Coast-based scientist may not have been personally affected by Hurricane Sandy, his data set got a sizable spike that day. Heidemann and his colleagues study Internet outages, and in a new report, they say Internet blackouts in the U.S. doubled during Hurricane Sandy. "This significant increase in outages shows the large impact Sandy had on our national infrastructure," says Heidemann. "We are working to improve the coverage of our techniques to provide a nearly real-time view of outages across the entire Internet. We hope that our approach can help first responders quickly understand the scope of evolving natural disasters." [University of Southern California]
What neuroscience tells us about freestyle rap. What's going through a rapper's mind when they're improvising lines as they go along? The NIH's Siyuan Liu and colleagues found out that when freestyle rappers flow, there's a lot going on in in the medial prefrontal cortex, but not so much in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. That first region seems to play an important role in social thinking (self-perception, moral decision-making, etc.), while the latter has been called the "CEO of the brain," regulating working memory, willful actions, and executive attention. Does this mean spontaneous creativity comes from a more personal than rational source? Neuroscience isn't capable of such broad theories yet, but the researchers can conclude, "Lyrical improvisation appears to be characterized by altered relationships between regions coupling intention and action, in which conventional executive control may be bypassed and motor control directed by cingulate motor mechanisms." [Scientific American]
Devious spider creates fake twin. Deep in the Peruvian Amazon lives a just-discovered spider that can make convincing replicas of itself. Describing this likely new species of the Cyclosa genus—notable for its sculpting abilities—biologist Phil Torres writes: "Considering that spiders can already make really impressive geometric designs with their webs, it’s no surprise that they can take that leap to make an impressive design with debris and other things." Torres, who took the picture to the right, observed this spider building fake versions of itself out of leaves and dead insects, hanging them in its web to fake out predators. [Wired]
Deep thoughts from orangutans. Anthropocentric humans may think that they're the only ones capable of thinking deep, abstract thoughts about their world—but researchers led by Thibaud Gruber of the University of Zurich have found that orangutans capable of rather advanced thought processes. For instance, they found that young orangutans think about using certain tools for specific purposes long before they get a chance to use them. Young orangutans learned how to use sticks for extracting honey from observing other monkeys' behavior. Therefore, they must have thought about using sticks for that purpose before actually testing the tool—such "cultural ideas" may indicate that orangutan and human societies share many commonalities, according to Gruber. [Science Now]