Merchants of Doubt

Merchants of Doubt

DVD - 2015 | 2014 documentary film production
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Follows several for-hire scientific experts that are regularly featured in the media speaking about threats to the public from various environmental and man-made events.
Publisher: Culver City, California : Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, [2015]
Edition: 2014 documentary film production
Branch Call Number: 501 O86ma
Language Note: In English with optional subtitles in English, Chinese (simplified and traditional), French, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish and Thai; optionally subtitled in English for the hearing impaired (SDH); optionally described in English for the visually impaired (DVS)
Characteristics: 1 videodisc (approximately 93 min.) : sound, color with black and white sequences ; 4 3/4 in

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m
MichelleinBallard
Feb 29, 2020

This is an ultimately disappointing documentary. Are people being manipulated by spinmeisters who have a vested interested in denying or downplaying the human role in climate change and any number of other issues? Yes.

However, policy is made by politicians, a group of human that is well known to bend, twist, eviscerate, obscure, deny, or ignore truth when it fits their personal or political agenda—that goes for climate change deniers and affirmers. Perhaps the best illustration of this is in the segment of the film where Dr. David Heimbach lies to legislators and persuades them not to repeal fire retardant regulations. He is later exposed by *Chicago Tribune* reporters Sam Roe and Patricia Callahan. His defense is that he wasn't testifying under oath.

The point is there is no logical reason why the legislators Heimbach duped couldn't require witnesses to substantiate their claims, have their staff verify key claims, and require all witnesses to testify under oath. Politicians don't do this because truth is hardly their highest priority. It seems to me most members of the public understand this intuitively and it, quite logically and reasonably, feeds public distrust of public policy on critical issues.

The scientific community isn't so hot, either, at finding and telling the truth. Have a look at the results of an internet search on the terms "replication crisis". You can start with the now classic, "Why Most Published Research Findings Are False" by John P. A. Ioannidis in *PLoS Medicine* (2005 Aug; 2(8)). Consider also the 2016 claim made by Makary and Daniel in the peer-reviewed medical journal *BMJ* that medical errors are "the third leading cause of death in the US". Take a look at *Fraud in the Lab: The High Stakes of Scientific Research* by Nicolas Chevassus-au-Louis (Harvard UP, 2019).

The solution to harmful, unwarranted skepticism of science is to respect and embrace people's well-founded skepticism of scientists and politicians and concerns about adverse policy impacts. Acknowledge that science and public policy are human enterprises subject to human foibles and vices and there are usually real winners and losers in any major policy fight.

Then focus on the methods of science and scientific self-criticism and use them to pierce the veils of human fallibility and deceit and to address and ameliorate the legitimate concerns about negative policy impacts on real people. Instead, in this film Oreskes and Conway seem more interested in mainly taking the unproductive you're-all-dupes-or-fools tack. This undoubtedly plays well to smug liberals and their ilk but it's ultimately counterproductive. To their credit Oreskes and Conway bring Republican climate change convert Rep. Bob Inglis into the film at the end but it almost seems like an afterthought and an opportunity to showcase the so-called rubes with whom the enlightened have to contend.

P.S. In the 1990s I worked with Dr. Stanton Glantz who is featured in the film and I'm proud of that work.

w
wyllow
Jan 16, 2019

Doubters, take heed. This is an anatomy of how to create distrust in evidence-based research and decision-making, and turning the tide of public opinion.

s
seanlee
Aug 23, 2018

Definitely a must watch, especially in today's political climate and era of fake news and distortion of science and truth.

h
hesselugano
Feb 20, 2018

I'd have more respect for this documentary if it presented a rebuttal of a book such as "The Great Global Warming Blunder" by Dr Roy Spencer. Spencer is a climate scientist who works for the NOAA, he is not a propagandist in my opinion; he presents his evidence calmly and rationally and points out that computer models of climate change, however sophisticated, are nevertheless only as accurate as the assumptions of those who programmed them. Spencer backs his case with compelling evidence collected over many years of intense, specialized, scientific work. It is a credit to the NOAA that they have not muzzled Dr Spencer or forced him out. Anthropogenic climate change is a theory. A good theory, as Stephen Hawking said in "A Brief History of Time" is a theory that not only explains all the observed phenomena with zero contradictions, but one that makes accurate predictions. Anthropogenic global warming theories have not explained the mini ice age nor the medieval warming period - shifts in earth's climate that occurred during an epoch when carbon emissions were a tiny fraction of the levels we emit today. Even conscientious scientists like James Lovelock were eventually forced to admit that their predictions of runaway climate catastrophe were "alarmist and wrong". There is a false dichotomy at work here, if you don't buy into the Al Gore version of reality you automatically become a "climate change denier" (note the subtle tie-in to "holocaust denier". I believe that many of us would be better described as "climate change skeptics". We want more evidence. Not enough people have protested president Trump's decision to shut down the climate budget observations of the Deep Space Climate Observation (DSCVR) satellite, relegating this important source of data to merely an early warning system for detecting coronal mass ejections from the sun and protecting our communications satellites and electricity grid from damage.

m
ms_mustard
Oct 21, 2017

the end result of this directed deception is playing out before our very eyes, in North America and elsewhere in the world.
this is a must watch but it's very depressing....

s
ScienceMommy
Jun 30, 2017

Superb documentary! The emphasis here is on the supposed, "debate" about climate change -- but they also tangentially address some other interesting denialist stories. Fast moving, entertaining and clearly organized to tell a story and what a shocking story it is. They interweave scenes and interviews with master illusionists, and with the history of big tobacco's denial of the health dangers of smoking, and then present an impressive series of interviews and clips to show how history is now repeating with denialism of climate change and so much more. Some pretty impressive clips and interviews in this too -- even has footage of Rex Tillerson!
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The attention to detail, careful documentation and phenomenal sleuthing that this documentary highlights make it extraordinary.
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One especially interesting idea that I got from this movie is that often, people tend to support perspectives that they believe are consistent with the social group that they see themselves a part of (their tribe so to speak) to such an extreme, that when they encounter data that contradicts their view -- they will work hard to discredit it and cherry pick out data that says what they want.

n
Nooksack20
May 31, 2017

This is an eco-nut brainwashing session in favor of man-made climate change (called Global Warming until that was debunked). A pseudo-doc drawing conclusions from strawmen unassociated with the question at hand.

s
ShasCho
May 07, 2017

Remember those doctors and scientists
we used to see on the evening news
telling us that tobacco-caused cancer was a lie?
The "experts" we see these days
telling us that human-caused climate change is a hoax
are not merely in the same business,
they are often the very same individuals!
It amazes me that intelligent people
are willing to sell their integrity for money,
even when the costs to their own grandchildren are catastrophic.
Meticulously researched and courageously presented,
this is a must-see for everyone
who cares about humanity and the health of the earth.

j
jimg2000
Apr 22, 2017

Though most if not all material and people in this documentary have been covered by main stream news organizations over the years, wonderful to see the faces and succinct narratives in one place. A must watch in the era of fake news, alternative facts and pseudo experts, with their roots from long ago that "Smoking does not cause cancer," "Luckys make you healthy," "Virginia Slim," "Kool, Lady be Cool," " Where a man belongs," "More Doctors Smoke Camels than any other Cigarette," "L&M. Just what the doctor ordered," ... to current hot "debate" on climate change. Highly quotable script as reflected by the 5 pages of quotes from the book in goodreads.

smc01 Feb 13, 2017

A valuable documentary in this age of "alternative facts," with lessons about how to judge "facts" by looking at who is behind them.

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Quotes

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j
jimg2000
Apr 22, 2017

I make an honest living, right. Therefore, it offends me when someone takes the skills of my honest living, if you will, and uses it to twist and distort and manipulate people and their sense of reality and how the world works.
===

Do you accept the basic premise that smoking kills?
-No, I think that the scientists who make statements like that are making political statements, not scientific statements.
===

We spent a long time banging our heads up against the wall because these guys are rich, they're politically powerful and they're mean.
===
When the Cold War ends, they begin systematically attacking all these other issues. There's a bit of a mystery. What do these things all have in common? All of these issues are issues that involve the need for government action. That's when the penny dropped.

j
jimg2000
Apr 22, 2017

The playbook that big tobacco developed to attack science worked for them for 50 years. Because every day that they can delay effective policy action is one more day that they can make more money. They can be out there selling a product that's killing a half-a-million Americans a year and get away with it. And so other businesses that were faced with regulatory challenges had to look at this and say, "Boy, if this works for tobacco, we ought to be able to use that playbook too."
===
Nobody ever won at Three-Card Monte in history. They've been playing it for 150 years, and nobody's won.
===

The question was, how many of these papers disagree that most of the observed warming is due to the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations? So I certainly thought we would get some that disagreed. And when we found nothing then I thought, "Oh, this is a result that needs to be published."

j
jimg2000
Apr 22, 2017

I began to realize, none of this is about the science. This is a political debate about the role of government. So in a number of places, we found these people saying they see environmentalists as creeping communists. They're Reds under the bed, they call them watermelons, Green on the outside, Red inside, and they worry that environmental regulation is a slippery slope to socialism. Socialism will not be buried under the ruins of the Berlin Wall… But the beginning of a new threat to free enterprise and to liberal democracies. By any other name, government control of the economy is still government control of the economy.
===
When I go into these debates, it feels like I'm going into a Twilight Zone episode. You know, where black is white, up is down and everything is just the opposite of what you think it is. Two parallel worlds that exist side by side. And each of us has a counterpart in this world.

j
jimg2000
Apr 22, 2017

When you look at climate scientists, we know who they are, they work in science labs. On the other side, people are not scientists. Global warming... Or if they are scientists, they're not climate scientists. They're a political, ideological group that just mines the data that somebody else gets and cherry-picks data that fits what they already want to be true.
===

The Oregon Petition claims to be signed by climate scientists who disagree with the mainstream view of the scientific community. If you actually look at it, what you find is in many cases, they aren't scientists at all. Somebody put on there the Spice Girls. Somebody else put on there Michael J. Fox. Even Charles Darwin made the list.
===
They give the impression that it's a very big network with lots of scientists. But if you look closely, you see it's a small number of people, really just a handful.

j
jimg2000
Apr 22, 2017

I said, "Those kids you talked about, did they all die in your hospital?" And he said, "It wasn't factual, it was anecdotal." And he said, "Listen, the details don't matter. The principle matters." I go, "What's the principle?" He says, "The principle is flame retardants work." I said, "That's not what you testified." And he said, "Well, I wasn't under oath."
===

The scientific method is, you have to continually reassess your conclusions. As soon as there's new data, you ask, "How does that affect my interpretation?" And you're open-minded. What we're up against is people who have a preferred answer, and so then they take the position of a lawyer. They're going to defend their client, and they will only present you with the data that favors their client.
===
So what we begin to see is think tanks taking up climate change as an issue but not from the point of view of science but from the point of view of the politics.

j
jimg2000
Apr 22, 2017

The global warming alarm spread by Al Gore and the United Nations is in utter scientific collapse. We've gone 18 years without global warming according to data. Akin to medieval witchcraft where we blame witches for controlling weather.
===
Sometimes the argument was that, "The Earth is not warming."

At another time the argument would be, "Well, yes, the Earth is warming but it's not due to human activities."

At another time the argument would be, "Yes, it is warming, and it's due to human activities, but the cost of doing something about it would be ruinous for society.
===
What these institutes do is they promote their own "experts" as contrary experts who give you the "other side" of the issue, and journalists fall for it. Fall for it lock, stock, and barrel.

j
jimg2000
Apr 22, 2017

You go up against a scientist, most of them are gonna be in their own little, policy-wonk world or area of expertise. ---So you look in the ice and you find bubbles of trapped gas-- Very arcane, very hard to understand, hard to explain and very boring.
===
My initial reaction with the Climategate, I thought, "Okay, mm, gosh, I hope I didn't flip at the wrong point there. Maybe this is all baloney." When you actually read the e-mails in context, you go, "Oh. Okay, he's not actually saying what Rush Limbaugh said he was saying."
===
Gridlock is the greatest friend a global warming skeptic has. That's all you really want. There's no legislation we're championing. We're the negative force, just trying to stop stuff. It's all about distraction, it's all about confusion. It's about preventing you from looking where the action really is, which is in the science. Misdirection is the use of the little lie to sell the big lie.

j
jimg2000
Apr 22, 2017

Everywhere you turn, somebody is telling us what we can't eat. Do you ever feel like you're always being told what not to do? -- These people tell us where to work, how many children to have, how much energy to use, how much water we can-- On global warming, you see the same thing happening. What will they try to regulate next?
What we can say? What we can read? I don't want Big Brother breathing down my neck telling me what to do. Not just for smokers but for nonsmokers and all others who want to live their lives making their own decisions, not having them made for them by the benevolent bureaucracy of Washington wisdom or these other-- By turning it into an abstract issue of freedom and moving it away from their corporate interests, they can get people behind it. Who can possibly be against freedom?

j
jimg2000
Apr 22, 2017

They said these on TV:

Nancy Pelosi: We don't always see eye to eye, do we, Newt?
Newt Gingrich: No, but we do agree our country must take action to address climate change.
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Boehner: The facts of global warming demand our urgent attention. We have had climate change. Clearly, humans have something to do with it.

===

Mitt Romney: Well, I think the risks of climate change are real. I think human activity is contributing to it.
===
They're spreading a message of global warming alarmism, lost jobs, higher taxes, and less freedom. Over eight years ago, we launched Americans for Prosperity and the goal behind it was to provide grassroots support at the local and state level to push free-market policies.

j
jimg2000
Apr 22, 2017

Many conservatives, I think, see action on climate change as really an attack on a way of life. The reason that we need the science to be wrong is otherwise, we realize that we need to change. That's really a hard pill to swallow, that the whole way I've created my life is wrong, you're saying? That I shouldn't have this house in the suburb? I shouldn't be driving this car that I take my kids to soccer? And you're not gonna tell me to live the way that you want me to live. And along comes some people sowing some doubt, and it's pretty effective because I'm looking for that answer. I want it to be that the science is not real.
====
If we look at the case of climate change, we can imagine that eventually people will come to understand the scientific evidence. But the problem is, we don't have 50 years. Climate change is happening, it's underway, and it's not reversible.

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