The Schiensh of Bond: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

Bye bye legend who walked like a panther, hello weird looking Milk Tray man. This month on BlogalongaBond I deal with On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Blofeld has escaped his volcano lair and has been missing for two years. Bond picks up a lead and through a weird set of circumstances, finds himself engaged, in a kilt, and on top of a swiss mountain. Oddly, he doesn’t recognise Blofeld (presumably because he’s cut off his earlobes) and Ernst Stavro doesn’t recognise him (as 007 has regenerated into someone younger and more Australian).

Once you get past the fact that Bond sits around “reading” porn while his photocopier opens a safe and Blofeld’s ridiculous declaration “I was born without earlobes”, you reach the absurdity of Blofeld’s plan.

*ahem*

In his clinic in Switzerland, Blofeld has been treating girls from all over the world. They all have allergies of some sort, e.g. chicken, and he has been hypnotising them. He intends to send them out into the world with deadly perfume bottles containing a virus, virus omega, which will cause infertility in all plants and animals in the world.

Seriously.

So there are three key points in this plan:

  1. Hypnosis of ditzy girls with food allergies
  2. Viral transmission from the ditzy girls to enough agricultural plants and animals to dent world food production
  3. Effectiveness of a virus that can cause infertility in all plants and animals

Hypnotism

First and foremost, hypnotism is weird and interesting. If you throw “hypnotism” into google, you get hits for everything from stage hypnosis and scientific papers assessing brain function using MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) to people claiming it as the ultimate cure-all. A hypnotised subject is conscious, but relaxed, and becomes highly focussed on one task while being being much less aware of everything else around – much like driving, or being engrosed in a movie. They are also more receptive to suggestions.  Scientists believe that during hypnosis that there are alterations in cognitive processes.

As anyone who has stage hypnosis will observe, the effects can be quite striking. However, Derren Brown, famous for his use of hypnosis (among other things), is very skeptical on the subject. Like the scientists, Brown dismisses the concept of the hypnotic trance, and suggests that stage hypnosis is down to the suggestability and compliance of the volunteer in the spot light. Perhaps the volunteer yearns for the spot light, or perhaps they would feel bad not playing along. In some cases, the subject does apparently believe that hypnosis works.

Interestingly, Richard Feynman recounts his experiences of hypnosis in his memoir Surely You’re Joking, Mr Feynman. Feynman was a good subject. When told he could not open his eyes, he thought:

“I bet I could open my eyes, but I don’t want to disturb the situation: Let’s see how much further it goes.” It was an interesting situation: You’re only slightly fogged out, and although you’ve lost a little bit, you’re pretty sure you could open your eyes. But of course, you’re not opening your eyes, so in a sense you can’t do it.

Perhaps this is what Brown alludes to when he talks about subject compliance.

When it comes to the use of hypnosis in hypnotherapy, it’s not very successful in helping people give up smoking, but it does appear of some use in treating irritable bowel syndrome. So, if nothing else, maybe Blofeld is helping his young ladies eat their chicken after all.

As for the post-hypnotic suggestion that the ladies check their compact/radio every day at 6pm, he’d better be careful. Although post-hypnotic suggestion is effective in the more susceptible subjects, it does fade with time. But as a method of spreading the virus omega, it may be effective, given a bunch of suggestible young ladies.

Transmission of the virus

Epidemiology is the science of how diseases spread. The spread of a virus depends on a few factors. First, how is it spread? Is it, like the common cold, a ‘droplet’ infection – spread by coughs and sneezes. Is it passed on by physical contact (direct or indirect)? Or is it airborne?

I can’t help thinking that if you were genetically engineering a virus to cause worldwide devastation, you’d engineer one that can be transmitted by direct contact (especially as Blofeld’s virus omega probably wouldn’t cause much sneezing). Secondly, there must be enough people coming into contact with Blofeld’s ditzy bints, i.e. they need to be well positioned within a social network. Not that kind of social network, the kind with real people.

But say we use twitter as an example of how a virus, or hashtag, can spread. I happen to have a nice example I have borrowed from the Cambridge Science Festival.

At a talk, we were instructed to tweet a hashtag. All the re-tweets and replies formed the network – much like meeting people in real life. The longer the hashtag/virus is around, the more people will interact and pick it up. The pic below shows how our hashtag spread:

If you are an infected individual in the middle of the network, the virus will spread much faster than if you are at the periphery of the network.

Right, let’s switch to a real world example of viral spread. Take, for example, the spread of the Spanish flu following World War I. It infected a third of the world’s population between 1918 and early 1920. Because of the travel undertaken by soldiers around the end of the war and trade routes, the spread of the virus was devastating. While some stories suggest that the virus started in fort Riley, Kansas, and spread from a cook to 522 people in 2 days, Anton Erkoreka proposes that the likely origin is a WWI British Military base in nothern France, with a high population density of soldiers and animals. The virus then emerged in disparate locations across the world.

If Blofeld has picked women who are sociable and hang around farmers enough, and if the virus is spread easily (ideally by direct contact), then potentially, given a few years, the virus could spread across the world and seriously impact on food production.

Virus Omega

Blofeld describes this as a virus that causes infertility in all plants and animals. There are a load of viruses that can cause infertility in humans and other mammals. And because the reproductive system is complex, different viruses can affect reproduction in different ways. For example an adeno-associated virus causes infertility in some men by making the immune system attack your nads and killing sperm.

Aside from damage caused by STDs, there is limited information on viruses that cause infertility in women. Experimental work in mice and rabbits has come up with viruses that, following infection, cause the immune system to attack a protein (zona pellucida binding protein) in the outer coating of egg cells destroying them. The presence of this protein is also important in male fertility and is found in a variety of animals apart from mammals, including fish, marsupials, lizards, amphibians and birds. The difficulty would be in having a virus that can infect all of these. A more effective method in causing infertility in a wide range of animals would be to use toxins that upset endocrine balance – chemicals that make boy animals turn into girl animals.

Then there’s causing infertility in plants. While animals could easily infect plants with the virus, plant reproduction is completely different to that of animals, so a virus would have to work differently. I’m rubbish at plants, but it does strike me that there are easier ways of wiping out plant life on Earth. Like just using a regular virus that kill plants. Job done.

WTF?

In conclusion, Blofeld’s plan is stupid in its overly elaborate complexity. Does anyone know why Blofeld is planning to kill off our food supply and making us infertile? Clearly, he should just be releasing endocrine disruptors into the food chain and watching everyone grow breasts while all our plants wither and die with disease. Idiot.

It’s a good job I’m not an evil scientist…

Next month, we’ll see if Blofeld’s plan in Diamonds are Forever is any less moronic.

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