Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login

I thought it was cells that had a bi-lipid membrane and that viruses had a capsid instead (made of proteins).

Wikipedia says "Some viruses are enveloped, meaning that the capsid is coated with a lipid membrane" - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capsid

I find the article confusing:

1. Why does removing the lipid layer destroy the virus if most viruses don't have one in the first place?

2. How can soap be effective against "most viruses" (as the article claims) if only "some viruses" (as wikipedia claims) have a lipid layer?

3. Why doesn't TFA mention the capsid at all? I would have thought it should be on the diagram at least.

Edit: A simpler explanation that doesn't have these problems and agrees with all the facts I know is that soap destroys proteins, which is what viruses are made out of. See https://www.quora.com/How-do-detergents-denature-proteins




1. Viruses that don't have an envelope have evolved to survive without the envelope. Viruses that do have an envelope haven't. Are you confused that removing a crab's exoskeleton kills it, given that there are lots of animals that don't have exoskeletons?

2. This is probably just sloppy usage of "some" and "most". That said, i think enveloped viruses are overrepresented amongst viruses that cause serious disease in humans, because the envelope helps them evade the immune system.

3. Some viruses don't have a capsid [1]! Coronaviruses do, though, so that's just missing from that diagram.

4. Surfactants like soaps do disrupt protein, but typically not as effectively as they disrupt lipid bilayers. There are numerous techniques in biochemistry and cell biology that depend on this fact - permeabilising cells for immunocytochemistry, or preparing membrane proteins for crystallisation, for example. You have to boil proteins in powerful detergents to be sure of denaturing them.

[1] http://www.virology.ws/2010/09/23/a-new-type-of-enveloped-vi...


The article is about "most" viruses, and according to him, "most" viruses don't have a lipid layer, so I think it's a fair criticism, unless what he said is factually incorrect.


You're reasoning from first principles in contradiction of statements of scientific fact that are being communicated to you, however imperfectly. Resolving the contradictions in your own understanding does not constitute a proof. The simplest explanation is that you do not yet correctly understand and that you need further information.


The point of science communication isn't stamp collecting random disconnected facts. It's to give people mental models that they can use to answer questions. If this information is so half-baked and imperfect that you can't make a basic inference from it, then it's not good science communication.


You sound well reasoned, but are not countering or answering his questions with anything of substance.


He is taking his current understanding and coming to the conclusion that the mechanism by which soap renders viruses inactive is 'actually' because it destroys proteins. I am pointing out that this exercise is futile and does not result in useful knowledge.

If a domain expert says something that does not make sense to you, there is a small chance that the domain expert is wrong, but it is more likely that what the domain expert is saying is correct and your own knowledge is incomplete.


Maybe lay people might also share this person's misconceptions/concerns, so it's in the interest of the common person for a subject matter expert to provide them with some citations or supplementary reading (where to go to learn more on your own time).

Critical thinking and asking questions should be welcome and reinforced in the public sphere to improve our collective intelligence and buy-in for hand washing, proper respiratory etiquette, etc. towards containing and eradicating this pandemic, among a multitude of many other greater societal good reasons.


Sure. You will notice that I was not criticizing anyone for thinking critically or asking questions. I was pointing out something that I still believe to be a failure of critical thinking, and that we could know a priori that this was a bad way of reasoning about things without reference to prior knowledge.

I notice that my opinion is unpopular with people interested in this topic, and I'm certainly familiar with being wrong about things, but in my opinion going from "an expert told me that envelope viruses are deactivated when soap destroys the envelope" to "the real reason that soap deactivates viruses is because it destroys proteins" on the basis of the semantics of a line from a Wikipedia entry is categorically problematic on the face of it.

Most of us here are in the habit of relying on our ability to discover knowledge by reasoning about limited information. It is how one solves puzzles. It is not how one learns things about the world. Believing that we know something which we don't know is dangerous in this situation. Convincing others that we know something we don't know is also dangerous.

What I am doing right here is exactly attempting to improve our collective intelligence. I am certainly not dissuading anyone from washing their hands. I am encouraging people to second-guess themselves before they second-guess others.




Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact

Search: