Cunningham’s first book, Psychiatric Tales, was about his time working on psychiatric in-patient wards: the experiences he had and the people he met. The tales are arranged as black and white strips, with a striking and unembellished drawing style. Words accompany the pictures only sparingly, but are thoughtful and often quite wise.
Science Tales adopts much the same approach. Cunningham’s artistic technique is recognizably similar, although here strips are in colour and Cunningham liberally uses photographs alongside his line drawings. The focus is upon scientific ‘lies, hoaxes and scams’ – a broad remit – in one chapter Cunningham patient debunks moon landing conspiracies, another addresses climate change deniers. The claims of homeopaths, chiropractors and champions of intelligent design are also patiently dismantled. The chapter about Andrew Wakefield and MMR is particularly good.
‘Science denial’ – the book’s final chapter - is about some people’s willingness to dismiss scientific theory. This can be a dangerous position, as Thabo Mbeki demonstrated when his denial that HIV causes AIDS prevented thousands of HIV-positive mothers receiving anti-retroviral drugs. I have a sense that Cunningham really doesn’t get such people; I don’t either, although I’m rather more sympathetic. I suspect that Cunningham is more of a positivist than me.
From looking at Cunningham’s blog, he’s moving onto history for his next ‘Tales’ book. I hope he’ll return to science in the future. Having now dispatched some of the most prominent science hoaxes, I’d like to see where a more esoteric selection might take him.