Science Tales: Lies, Hoaxes and Scams, By Darryl Cunningham

At last! A boffin who can put us in the picture

David Barnett
Saturday 05 May 2012 19:55
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Darryl Cunningham's first book, Psychiatric Tales, was drawn from his experiences working as a health care assistant on an acute psychiatric ward in his native Yorkshire. His deceptively simplistic cartoons married with an easy-read writing style announced him as a new talent on the graphic novel scene.

Like his debut, the follow-up, Science Tales, is not quite a graphic novel, and not really reportage in the style of the cartoonist and war correspondent Joe Sacco, but rather occupies a middle ground that feels comfortably British in outlook and style but never fails to confront the big issues.

Psychiatric Tales was a mix of personal memoir blended with facts and observations from Cunningham's time on the wards. With Science Tales, he takes a step out of the frame himself, but trains his cartoonist's guns on perhaps bigger targets.

Graduating to an autumnal colour palette, from the black-and-white of his first book, Science Tales aims to debunk many of the myths and misinformation surrounding science and health issues. In interlinking but standalone chapters, he takes on electro-convulsive therapy – obviously something that his professional life has given him an insight into – creationism, homeopathy and even the claims that the Moon landing was a hoax.

Cunningham's art is perhaps crude on first glance, but on closer inspection has clean lines and a continuity that is often graceful, charming and endearing. He speaks with quiet authority on his subjects, but is careful to cite a whole range of sources and research papers. Particularly clear and concise is the chapter on Dr Andrew Wakefield and the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccination scare.

Science Tales is, in fact, the perfect accompaniment to the journalism of Simon Singh and Ben Goldacre, turning the spotlight on the "bad science" that becomes received wisdom owing to lazy reporting in the media, a willingness to believe anyone who appears to be an "expert", or – in darker cases – the efforts of those with axes to grind or profits to be made.

With eight topics dealt with in 176 pages, Cunningham's book fits a surprising amount in, and if it feels like a primer then his list of further reading is invaluable. It would be fascinating to see the results, though, if Cunningham were let loose on a long investigation into a single topic into which he could really sink his teeth.

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