Let’s start a campaign to require that any computer-generated picture of a real or possibly real event have an indication of its nature clearly displayed on the picture. In the case of the September 2014Physics Today front cover, which depicted a simulation of the inbound Chelyabinsk asteroid, the image’s origins are described in the caption on page 5, so the reader’s misperception is temporary and perhaps stimulating and appropriate for its audience.
My complaint has more to do with anonymous undeclared simulations on television programs such as NOVA. Computer-generated pictures and real space-telescope pictures are now so good that even scientifically literate observers cannot always tell them apart. The taxpayers who are funding the real thing and the youth in whom we want to cultivate interest in science are being deceived. Impressive though simulations may be, the misperception that computer-generated images are the real thing is a poor lesson for students.