Tuesday, February 11, 2014

How to Fake a Moon Landing

(This review was originally written for and posted at the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography's site. This book was a Christmas gift and was probably not even intended as review fodder.)

How to Fake a Moon Landing: Exposing the Myths of Science Denial, Darryl Cunningham
7 to 9
February 2014   
3.75 / 5 stars 

Before even reaching the table of contents, writer/illustrator Darryl Cunningham summarizes the spirit of How to Fake a Moon Landing with a quote from author Michael Specter: "Everyone is entitled to their own opinion; however, everyone is not entitled to their own facts." Unfortunately, ours is a world where buzzwords, emotions, money and opinion are wont to warp the integrity of cold, hard facts; fortunately, in a world where "edutainment" is a thing that proves a staggering number of people need to be tricked into learning by being entertained with knowledge, we have folks like Cunningham who present scientific proof in a digestible, accessible graphic-novel format.

Cunningham takes on a smattering of hot-button issues--including the likes of evolution, climate change, and the titular inspiration of long perpetuated moon-landing hoaxes--and sets out to dismantle the fiction surrounding them by elucidating their facts. As Cunningham presents it, most misconceptions arise from both a limited grasp on the truth of a matter and a stubborn assumption that taking the way a thing looks at face value trumps understanding what it is. He attempts to foster a better appreciation of grounded-in-reality facts by offering up several examples of them, simply and helpfully aided by his illustrations. For example, to those who hinge their arguments supporting a lunar-landing hoax upon the "fact" that the American flag on the moon's surface is unarguably waving despite the lack of atmosphere to move it, Cunningham explains that a combination of the flag's construction (a pole running along its top to keep it extended), technical malfunction (trouble getting a horizontal rod to extend all the way) and mere aesthetics (astronauts liking how the unintentional ripple effect looks) created the illusion of what seems to be a fluttering flag from a wholly stationary one; this explanation occupies a mere seven frames between two pages but effectively distinguishes fallacy from reality.

The book continues in the vein of addressing an appearance-gleaned or generally long-help misconception and offering up its fact- or science-based clarification piggy-backed on the graphic-novel format for maximum clarity. The bonus of Cunningham's drawings (which are often diagrams, examples or plays on words--like the influx of ducks he uses to emphasize his point of the mystically entrenched chiropractic's quackery) helps minimize the need for what could become a lengthy, jargon-filled lecture and keeps the focus on the sort of plainly unintimidating enlightenment that staves off any viable accusation of pomposity in his presentation. It's imperative that Cunningham not lose his audience: In the chapters about homeopathy, chiropractic, fracking, vaccination and climate change, it is clearest that Cunningham wants everyone to realize that there are actual, fatal dangers that come with listening to those who refuse to listen to rational thought, and he has no hope of counteracting such dangerous modes of fact-denying thought if he loses his readers' attention in a sea of off-putting inaccessibility.

I couldn't help but feel, however, that the major objective to address as many currently controversial issues as possible made How to Fake a Moon Landing read more like a survey of timely matters than an in-depth debunking of widely disseminated untruths; taking on specific topics demands, for me, a focused battle plan rather than an overview. For those who are coming to this book and experiencing its topics at a more-than-superficial level for the first time, it's a great primer on some of the more prickly, needlessly divisive topics of our time; however, I wish it had been a little more fleshed out.

The upshot to this, though, is one of the book's two biggest successes, which is the need it instills in a curious reader to go forth and learn more about the topics broached in its pages, both to broaden one's breadth of understanding and to nullify in one's own mind the non-scientific, emotionally driven falsities that distract from the truth of each matter. I get the feeling that one of Cunningham's primary aims, along with educating anyone who picks up his book, is to champion the benefits of critical thinking and gaining enough of a knowledgeable basis of comprehension to arrive at a fact-based perspective that allows one to become a vessel of truth for those who could use a little gentle nudging toward a less fiction-based reality.

The book's final chapter, which explores science denial in general, is its other most effective success, as the focused range necessary to devising the best way to tackle a broad topic in a few pages is what this book's design is best suited to. It opens with the oh-so-subtly encapsulating illustration of an ostrich with its head buried in the ground before shedding some light on why science denial is running rampant in society, tossing out brutally honest truths like "The human mind is notable for its ability to cling to its beliefs long past the point where any evidence exists to support those beliefs." Reaching beyond the main topics of the book, it introduces the example of Big Tobacco's pioneering efforts in the '50s to sully the good name of scientific research to discredit the link between smoking and its health risks, and how such efforts have been adopted by other corporations since then to similarly tarnish the validity of the scientific method and its results, such as the oil and gas industries' efforts to downplay and even foster doubt in climate change. It goes on to put some of the blame on the mainstream media, as good journalism presents balanced facts without editorializing but good science, unlike opinion-reliant political ideologies, has only one proven truth.

No comments:

Post a Comment