MySci Daily Round-Up, July 13: Human Error

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At about 8:30 in the evening of this day in 1977, lightning struck two high voltage power lines in Westchester County, NY, triggering a series of events that, in the space of an hour, ultimately plunged most of New York City and neighboring Westchester into darkness. LaGuardia and Kennedy Airports were shut down, automobile tunnels in and out of the city were shut down for lack of ventilation, and 4,000 people had to be rescued from the city’s subway system. An orgy of looting and arson ensued. Con Ed called the outage “an act of God,” but a NY state investigation concluded that something else had happened. A “low probability” accident had struck part of the system, and thanks to a cascading series of blunders by people in charge, what started as a fluke quickly escalated to catastrophic proportions. You’d think we would have learned from this, but the pattern is eerily analogous to what happened in the near-collapse of the global financial system in 2008, and more recently, in the Gulf oil spill disaster. This leads us to wonder whether the real problem is not with technology, but rather some ancient but persistent glitch in the wiring of the anterior cingulate cortex, the part of the human brain that some scientists believe detects rational errors and monitors logical conflicts. And while you’re pondering that, here are the MySci stories of the day.

Human brains develop in pattern similar to monkeys, apes. The regions of the human brain that develop in infancy and childhood mimic the brain development process of other primates.

Mummy convention in Los Angeles. Here’s a slideshow of desiccated corpses from Egypt, Peru and even an accidental case in Hungary. 

NASA video game aims to make science more interesting. Moonbase Alpha looks kinda fun, really.

How familial DNA testing nabbed a serial killer suspect. And you thought this only worked on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Ha.

Euro probe sends back startling close-up pictures of asteroid. It looks like a huge pumice stone from some celestial spa. 

Pentagon scientists develop artificial blood for battlefield use. It’s made from cells from discarded human umbilical cords. Great repurposing.

Scientist crunches numbers to predict futures of various species. 2090 looks like a massive bummer for the Canadian Lynx and the Jaguar.