There are few sectors of society that are virtually defined by their blatant willingness to manipulate literature and images for their personal gain; among them, totalitarian regimes, self-righteous celebrities, sensationalist journalists, and, perhaps most surprisingly, scientists.
The photo above is an image of dust, taken under a Scanning Electron Microscope. For as amazing as these instruments are (sometimes capable of magnifying images 500,000 times), they are unable to render images in color. That only happens when we humans go in and artificially add color to them, à la Photoshop.
To be fair, this particular image doesn’t come from a site that proclaims any photographic verisimilitude, and it especially does not consider itself an authority on science. It’s one of those ad-cluttered tabloid wannabes that would have bombarded you with a deluge of pop-ups a few years ago . But it’s not as if they’re unique in their deception–ever since they figured out how to print biology books in color, they’ve been doing this–just Google “microbiology textbooks” for a generous selection of schoolbooks with motley amoeba and microphages unapologetically plastered on their covers. Some are more self-conscious, it seems: they’ll write “colored image” in small print, as if that alone excuses it.
Call me persnickety if you must, but when we as a society have come to regard photographs as having some sort of inherent truth to them, as being able to testify impartially to those things that would otherwise elude our observation, there is some sort of ethics to be observed when publishing them. Some would say that this sort of image doctoring does not compare to the likes of Stalin, since its intent does is not to deceive, but rather to entertain. But that sort of argument presents us with a sort of philosophical: is a lie not a lie if it’s not meant to be a lie? And is this colored dust a lie in the first place?