Geneva, Thursday 26 March 2020
This is a still from the computer generated video that serves as the backdrop to the BBC’s “special report” on the COVID-19 pandemic. I guess it’s meant to lend credibility to the report. What are the other subliminal messages passed by hundreds of spinning-spikey red coronaviruses behind the presenter and experts? Maybe an asteroid-alien life form from somewhere out there that could collide with earth and attack the whole human population? Or how about viruses drifting menacingly through our body fluids? I am, for once, being serious. Sublims are very powerful and are specifically built into such images. Ask anyone in advertising.
We are visually bombarded by a variety of images of this little pest that are, in reality, false. Is this important? Does propagating these images help or hinder our response to this monumental global emergency? Whatever, our decisions and actions now are major determinants of how our lives will eventually unfold; they should be driven by rational thought rather than fear. This means believing in the science. Scary subliminal messages apart, do we need false images amplifying the non-truths and barmy theories circulating about (and with!) this virus? Having a little time on my hands, I’ve dug into the provenance of these microbiological fakeries.
This is an image of four coronaviruses generated by transmission electron microscopy (TEM.) It shows the viral case (the virion) and the viral spikes (the peplomers) that form the crown or halo (the corona.) This is the only possible scientific image of the coronavirus. Thanks, Dr Fred! Note that TEM cannot generate 3D images. There is no colour. Here’s some techy stuff. Transmitted electron energy has a wavelength of one nanometre. The coronavirus has a diameter of about 120 nanometres. Visual light has a wavelength of 400 to 700 nanometers depending on its colour. These figures explain why the virus cannot be detected by visual light and therefore cannot have colour. So there!
The New Scientist….. A coloured-in version of Dr Fred’s viruses! Can you believe it? I fear a bring-the-kids-to-work day resulted in a sub-editor’s little Meghan taking felt-tip pens to some paper plucked from the recycling bin. “Look, Daddy!” Meghan cries. “Ooh! That’s lovely, Darling! Well done!” he gushes. “Actually, that’s pretty cool. Give it to Daddy. He’s just going to nip out and show it to his best friend.”
It looks like a similar incident happened at the Royal College of Pathologists although the colouring-in is a tad more sophisticated.
But where do the 3D images come from?
Ms Eckert and Mr Higgins built this model for educational purposes. It extrapolates from the TEM 2D image of the virus with its corona to its likely morphology including spikey peplomers covering the entire surface of the virion. Eckert and Higgins have, independent of little Meghan, unwittingly spawned a number of monsters that have been hand-reared by the fertile imagination of graphic designers. Let’s take a look at some of these monsters and the subliminal messages that might be lurking within.
What about this Star Trek inspired scene in which the viruses float over the surface of a distant world? But… that could be human skin about to be attacked. O. M. G.!
I’m fascinated by this gloopy bug floating in the void. The pemploners are now protruding suction pads ready to clamp onto us and suck away our life blood. Oh! Yuch! That’s disgusting!
The green hues and the double helix DNA together give the notion that this virus is a natural phenomenon. Fair enough! But the coronavirus is a single strand RNA virus; it does not contain DNA. Mistake? No, that is our DNA. Note viruses sitting on it. Eek! The virus targets the very core of our being! Call an ambulance!
If we’re going to bash the scientific drum, let’s do so in all aspects of communication about the coronavirus. I’d really like to know if I’m the only person bothered by these misleading images.
Putting competition: Robin wins 2 and 1. That makes it 6 to 4 for the ten days in lockdown.
Coronavirus husband comes home late, drunk and amorous yet again. “Yup! You’d better believe it, Babes, I am the lowest form of life!”