On science blogs: Eyes right

AN AMUSING PARTICLE PHYSICS TALE FROM YESTERYEAR. There are always treasures to be had in Jennfier Ouellette's Physics Week in Review at her blog Cocktail Party Physics.

Felicia the ferret in happier times (1971).  Credit: Fermilab

Among this week's selections is the sad tale of Felicia, the noble, hard-working ferret who was essential in 1971 construction at Fermilab, the Department of Energy's high-energy physics lab. Energy is now low at Fermilab because its Tevatron accelerator was shut down in 2011 owing to defunct funding. But when it was new and shiny, Felicia journeyed through Fermilab's narrow tubes and tunnels, dragging cleaning equipment and other essentials behind her. Then she became another unemployed victim of technology, losing her job to a robot. She died a few months later. The announced cause was a ruptured intestinal abscess, but I suspect that's just a cover for depression and a broken heart.

HOW TO FIND FOSSILS. Shaena Montanari is one of the Integrative Paleontologists at PLoS Blogs, and here provides an explainer about fossil finding. She says most people think you just show up some place and start digging. Turns out that's not terribly far from the truth.

HOW DO SEALS BREATHE UNDER THE SEA ICE? They make holes in it. In Nunavet, the largest and most northern of the Canadian Territories, 24-hour days melt the ice, which drains into the seal-made breathing holes to create marvelous patterns. At Elfshot Sticks and Stones, Tim Rast shares several of his photos of these patterns. Given the poor photo quality on our site, you may not be able to see the black dot at the lower left in the accompanying photo. That's a seal enjoying the sun next to a breathing hole.

The black dot (lower left), if you can see it, is a sunbathing seal near its breathing hole. Credit: Tim Rast.

THE SUPREMES CONTINUE THEIR STRING OF DECISIONS INVOLVING SCIENCE AND MEDICINE. One of this week's US Supreme Court decisions has practical implications for patients: Pharmas can now be sued for running a kind of reverse protection racket: paying off manufacturers of generic drugs for not producing a generic (presumably cheaper) version of a a brand-name drug.

At the PLoS blog Work in Progress, Jessica Wapner says this is "evergreening, the term given to the many ways in which brand-name drug makers exploit legal loopholes to extend patents of profitable medications." She's not a fan. At In the Pipeline, Derek Lowe forecasts: "I suspect that we're going to see fewer of these deals now - perhaps none at all - because I doubt many of them would hold up."

I wonder if another of its decisions will get interpreted in some quarters as the US Supreme Court coming out in favor of prostitution. Dina Fine Maron reports at SciAm's Observations that the Court has "struck down a federal requirement that forced private health organizations to denounce prostitution in order to get funding for programs aimed at preventing or treating HIV/AIDS." That was, of course, at the insistence of Congress, whose members are well-known for their moral behavior.

Since prostitutes are among the most vulnerable to HIV infection, and since they can function as important means of preventing its spread, the requirement is also really stupid. Annalee Newitz of io9 was among those who cheered, declaring ". . . any government that forces health workers to condemn certain people is undermining its own healthcare system. Luckily, the Supreme Court has recognized this, and stopped this anti-science law from doing more damage."

Would that it were so. But in fact these public health arguments interested the Court not at all. Incidental Economist Kevin Outterson pointed out that the decision did not circumscribe the rules Congress can make when it hands out taxpayer money. It means only that--on First Amendment grounds--Congress may not make rules for how its grantees may spend money from other sources. He viewed the decision somewhat gloomily, seeing it as a success for the longtime conservative goal of limiting Congress's power to spend at all.

The decision against Myriad Genetics disallowing its patents on the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, discussed here last week, is still being probed for implications. For example, at Patent Docs Kevin Noonan argues that the ruling says nothing about the myriad Myriad patents on methodologies for studying BRCA1 and 2.

The "egg" (NGC 2937) is actually tearing its mom (NGC 2936) apart. CREDIT: NASA, ESA and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

WHAT DO YOU GET WHEN YOU SMASH TWO GALAXIES TOGETHER? If your job is to promote the splendid work of the Hubble Space Telescope, you get a penguin guarding its egg. Miriam Kramer explains at Space.com. There's also a video about the Hubble's view of colliding galaxies.

Speaking of Space.com, it's summer solstice today. Joe Rao explains.

SHORTER THAN USUAL THIS WEEK. I had eye surgery on Wednesday. It went well, but I'm having some (temporary!!!) difficulty with close-up (i.e. reading) vision, and I also need new reading glasses. A constraint, it turns out, on research and writing. So I'm off to the drugstore.