After the emotional, highly personal experiences contained within Psychiatric Tales, Darryl Cunningham turns his cartoonist’s eye to the world of science.
In the process he documents the struggles of rigorous scientific method to overcome the lies, hoaxes, and scams perpetuated upon us by the science deniers, the conspiracy theorists, big business, the deluded, the easily led, the scaremongering media, and the just plain wrong.
Cunningham gives a chapter each to electroconvulsive therapy, homeopathy, the MMR controversy, the moon hoax, climate change, evolution, chiropractic, and science denial, with his cartoon self acting as our guide, an ever-present narrator from the comic page, mixing art with manipulated photo reference, talking us through the science, debunking as he goes.
I’ve never had much time for the sorts of people Cunningham details in this book, never been one to suffer the anti-evolutionists, the believers in MMR as a cause of autism, the Climate Change nay-sayers, and all the rest of the Science deniers. So it’s good to see the arguments presented so well, clearly and concisely, with thankfully none of your artificial media balance, no giving the cranks and the frauds a voice, this is Cunningham doing the job I wish more would do.
But there’s a small trade-off involved. Cunningham’s summarising; concise, to the point, with all the simple and effective and rather beautifully done artwork we’ve come to expect can, on occasion, come off a little too lightweight.
This is most noticeable in the chapters dealing with the really big stuff. Given 20-ish pages, it’s relatively easy to effectively cover the Moon Hoax nonsense, or even Andrew Wakefield and the whole MMR farce that threatens to make Measles a disease to be feared once more. Far harder to cover something as vast, important, and often difficult to grasp, as evolution or climate change.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly not saying Cunningham’s got it wrong. Far from it. What Cunningham does here is rather brilliantly presented, and customarily classy. As an artist his work is equally at home in the stark black and white of Psychiatric Tales or the lush and varied colours in Science Tales.
Science Tales does pretty much exactly what it needs to – a pop science response to the vagaries of the modern media, who’re either telling us that this thing or that thing gives/doesn’t give us cancer or being so even handed that they feel the need to bring a creationist to every evolution news story.
It also acts as a worthy addition to the chorus of those of us calling for scientific method to be championed as one of the greatest achievements of humanity thus far, and certainly the only real way to make any sort of judgement of our world and our place in it is a fine thing indeed.
Does it work? No, not completely. There’s an almost inevitable sense of Cunningham preaching to the converted here, there’s that sense occasionally of simple summarising taken almost too far, and it does lack some of the intensity of Psychiatric Tales, where Cunningham delivered real human emotion to the details, allowing us to view his subjects as people, rather than mere conditions.
But despite these small flaws, Science Tales is impressive, Cunningham delivering his message with style, great art, even moments of outright comedy. All in all, we have something else to deliver the message of science and reason, and that’s a good, good thing.
Unless of course, you’re the people who believe this rubbish that Cunningham debunks. In which case, you’ll probably just organise a mass burning of the book at your next Homeopathy meeting to help cure Gladys’ bowel cancer. Good luck with that. I’m going with team science.