Thirty-five years ago, when the Coronavirus didn’t scare anyone…

The epidemic of the Coronavirus Covid-19 and the « infodemic » it causes, with its (sometimes true as well as often false) information, reminds me of a book I co-wrote in 1984, a chapter of which was devoted to Coronaviridae, at a time when these viruses had not yet been much talked about and were of no concern to anyone.

This book is now 35 years old, so one would think that, on such a subject, it should be completely out of date. In fact, it is not, it is still cited and reprint requests are still coming in, with an understandable increase in recent weeks. Since it’s publication, much work has been done on the molecular regulation of the replication of these viruses, especially with the epidemics of SARS in 2002 and MERS in 2012, caused by viruses of the same family. However, the viral assembly process described in our book, an important step as target for antiviral action, is still relevant and the accompanying scheme that I drew is still perfectly valid.

In an attempt to respond to the potential readers’ requests, I have inquired about the book’s current availability. Springer sells it in electronic form for € 71.68. Google play makes it available as an e-book for € 64.55. It can also be found on, but for the staggering sum of € 111. It’s no longer available for download there (this is recent, it was still available last week, which is strange because in a virtual world, it’s not clear what « out of print » means. To be precise, we’re not talking about « out of stock » but « currently unavailable », which is even more suspicious). Let’s put ourselves in the shoes of a researcher eager for information on this virus and who was told that it is still valid today. He or she would like to be able to verify what it contains. Paying such a sum of money just to try to find out whether a 35-year-old scientific book is still of any interest is really not possible for most researchers who must check a large number of articles, chapters and books. And that is how information, however interesting it may be, does not circulate.

Irritated to know that in this period of epi/info-demics, access to scientific information that may be important, or even simply useful, is still, after 35 years, behind a tollgate, at an undeniably excessive rate, I decided to deposit it in the archive of my university, in the institutional ORBi – ULiège repository so that everyone can have free access to it (thank you, Dominique Chalono, for the help). As good scientists, neither my co-authors (Kathryn V. Holmes, from the University of Colorado at Denver, then at the Uniformed Service University, Bethesda, Maryland, and the late Monique Dubois-Dalcq, from the NIH, Bethesda, Maryland) nor I, do benefit from copyright on any of this, so it is without hesitation that I have made available to the public (who invested in this work), the chapter devoted to the Coronavirus.

In the meantime, very recently, Springer Nature has made this chapter openly available (without asking the authors for their opinion, and without even informing them, it goes without saying!) as they have decided to open online all the scientific literature they publish or have published on Coronaviruses. I note that the same applies to Retroviridæ, a decision that probably preceded, linked to the spread of HIV/AIDS and that I was unaware of as well.
When will they release the chapter on Orthomyxoviridæ (including the influenza virus that causes the flu)? And why don’t they release all the other chapters (Rhabdoviridae and rabies, Paramyxoviridae and measles or mumps, Bunyaviridae and hantavirus or Rift Valley virus, Arenaviridae and haemorrhagic fever viruses, Togaviridae and rubella or arthropod-borne viruses, Rotaviridae and the rotavirus) after 35 years of seclusion ? (They are not really secluded, you can download each of them electronically for € 30.19 !

One day humankind will wonder how it has been possible to authorise the sequestration of knowledge against payment for decades and why it was only released under the pressure of collective and global anxiety about a virus perceived as threatening, while several others, in the above list, are also wreaking havoc but, of course, only in tropical-equatorial countries.

The bibliography at the end of the book contains all the references of all the chapters so it had to be appended in a separate document. I also apologize to the reader for the inability to re-use text or photos, our PDF file being not searchable, as our original manuscript is nowhere to be found. The publishers post print is also not searchable. What a pity…


2 commentaires sur “Thirty-five years ago, when the Coronavirus didn’t scare anyone…

  1. Tonet Jean-Pol

    Je souscrits entièrement aux inquiétudes de l’auteur. Comment est-il possible de séquestrer la connaissance scientifique pour de basses questions du fric des éditeurs et de leurs actionnaires (dont nous faisons peut-être partie … via nos petites économies placées sur un fond commun ou autre…) Alors que les recherches et salaires des chercheurs ont été payés, au moins en partie avec des deniers publiques ou para–publiques


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