The Rational Thing To Do

We’re going to go slightly off-topic this time. We’re going to talk about comics, but we’re not going to talk about science fiction. That’s because How To Fake a Moon Landing isn’t a science fiction book.  You could describe it as a book about science, and about fiction— and how to keep the two separate.

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A British science writer and cartoonist, Darryl Cunningham comments on a laundry list of hot-button issues in comic-book format.  Some of the topics he covers are: climate change; fracking; evolution; chiropractic; osteopathy; vaccinations and, as the title suggests, whether the moon landings were fake.  The title is somewhat misleading, though. Cunningham isn’t trying to prove that we haven’t gone to the moon; he takes the points often used by conspiracy theorists and explains what really happened.

(He also uses one of my favorite arguments, for whatever that’s worth: so many people have worked on the Apollo program over the years that someone would’ve broken ranks by now if it were a hoax.)

So, basically, this is a book supporting rational thought and the scientific process.  As Cunningham says in the introduction “This isn’t a book supporting a scientific elite in whom we must all follow sheep-like.  It is the scientific process I’m promoting here, not the scientific establishment.”

There’s even a dissenting opinion on some issues. In his introduction, science writer Andrew Revkin says he thinks Cunningham is too critical of chiropractic and fracking.

What Cunningham is doing is fighting the good fight, as far as I’m concerned.  In a world where national political officials are saying things like women don’t get pregnant when they’re raped, it may even be an important fight.  That said, though, I wished I liked this book better.

Since he’s attempting to cover as many topics as he can in one volume, Cunningham doesn’t cover any of them in detail. Sometimes he focuses on one factor that interests him or can be discussed in the space available. Sometimes, that’s appropriate. For example his section about vaccinations deals primarily with Andrew Wakefield, the British surgeon who started the scare.  His section about climate change however, deals primarily with the “climategate” e-mail scandal and how the news media was lax in reporting that the scandal was a hoax. That’s a legitimate gripe, certainly, but I’m not sure it’s the primary issue here. And the section about the scientific process and scientific denial could probably support a book in its own right.

Cunningham’s artistic style takes some getting used to. Most of the visual variety doesn’t come from page layout or panel size; it comes from whether he’s drawing or using photographs. I don’t know whether it’s an artistic decision or a financial one, but much of the book is printed in shades of blue, green and gray. The upside of this decision is that it makes the occasional burst of red or yellow much more effective.  In addition, there’s a lot of Cunningham’s cartoon avatar just talking to the reader and a lecture’s a lecture, no matter how it’s presented.

Still, after all this talk about the scientific process, I feel like the only rational thing I can say check out Cunningham’s work for yourself. You can look at some sample pages on his blog. It looks like his next topic is about something even more eclectic than some scientific fields: high finance.

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  1. Anyone following my blogs knows that I worked as an engineer on the Apollo Program in Houston (and later, on Space Station) from 1968 through 1984. Even so, several years later my mother called to tell me she’d just watched a TV program that proved that the Moon landings were faked. When I said I was disappointed in her for believing such nonsense, she said “but it must be true, because it was on TV!” Yikes! I’ve given talks about Program Apollo for several years now and this issue invariably comes up. My response is similar to yours, Bill: People on US government projects can’t keep secrets about anything – we even know who “Deep Throat” was now. There were 400,000 people working on Apollo – do folks really believe, in this age of instant celebrity, one of them wouldn’t have broken their silence by now? Seriously? (On the other hand, these true believers are rarely persuaded by facts).

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