Why government-funded duck penis research is a good thing

Apparently, some segments of the media are just catching up to The Great Duck Penis Meme of 2007 and the video-enhanced version from 2009. If you've somehow managed to erase this from your memory (and lucky you), it turns out that duck penises are pretty freaky looking and can teach us a lot about how evolution works. Like a lot of basic research — the stuff that isn't directly about creating new products — duck penis studies have been funded by federal science grants. And this has put science writer Carl Zimmer in the awkward position of sticking up for duck erections. In a great piece at The Loom, he explains why silly-sounding research matters and why duck penises are not a waste of your tax dollars.

Let's play a game: Guess what's being patented!

Reader iainmclean works in research and development, which means iainmclean reads a lot of patent-ese. Via the new, awesomer Submitterator, iainmclean sent us an excellent example of how the language used in a patent application can make it very difficult to tell what, exactly, is being patented.

Here's how the game is played. First, read the paragraph below:

An apparatus, comprising: a flexible elongate member that defines at least one lumen and is configured to be inserted within a body passageway of a patient, wherein the flexible elongate member includes a proximal portion, a distal portion, and a medial portion disposed between the proximal portion and the distal portion, and wherein the distal portion is movable between a substantially linear configuration and a curved configuration; and a stiffening member coupled to the flexible elongate member, the stiffening member being movable to a selected location along a length of the flexible elongate member to modify the flexibility of the selected location of the flexible elongate member, and wherein the stiffening member includes a first portion and a second portion, the first portion having a first stiffness and the second portion having a second stiffness different than the first stiffness.

Next, check out the attached image and see if it matches up with what you imagined. Hint: The image is much more safe for work than I guessed it would be.