“Fake it, till you make it…so,” might be one of the many truisms apropos for Merchants of Doubt, the new documentary by Food, Inc. director Robert Kenner, based on Naomi Oreskes’ and Erik M. Conway’s book of the same title. The film examines a group of spin doctors who make a living convincing the public to doubt science in favor of corporate-backed fiction. These silver-tongued faux-pundits introduce (unreasonable) doubt on topics as diverse as acid rain, cigarettes, toxic chemicals, the ozone layer, and climate change, obfuscating the real issues and influencing public opinion. Their modus operandi: “Discredit the science, disseminate false information, spread confusion, and promote doubt.”
You first question might be, “So?” Industries hire PR people to promulgate their point of view. That’s how PR works. Yes, well, Merchants of Doubt shines a light on much murkier and shadier territory you might not have considered before: This is an incestuous cadre of “experts” who are bedfellows with just about every industry in need of white-washing of their nefarious activities. In addition, plainly put, these spin doctors are NOT doctors—none of them have Ph.D.s or any sort of scientific qualifications making them worthy of opining on the topics. As Marc Morano, one of the most ubiquitous of the lot, states, “I am not a scientist, but I play one on TV.” Funny. If it were not hair-raisingly scary.
Merchants of Doubt asks the very germane question of what these doubt-peddlers gain from their activities. Sure, the remuneration is nice. But Seitz and Singer were scientists during the Cold War—the film suggests there is an ideological component, too: To frame these debates as being about government interference and an attack on a way of life. Hence, the term “watermelon:” “Green on the outside, red on the inside. “The dreaded specter of communism, indeed. This could also explain why libertarians, as a group, are such intense climate change deniers, or so Merchants of Doubt posits.
Merchants of Doubt certainly offers a probing look into something that seems to be “business as usual,” though it shouldn’t be. The cadre of fake scientists/spin doctors, thanks to 24 hour conservative channels like Fox News, has been frighteningly successful in steering public sentiment toward a corporate-backed political outcome. The implications of this are much further reaching than just exposing the public to biased-by-their-very-nature public relations yarns. While the film could have used a much tighter editing hand to keep it on track (not to mention that the gimmick of having a magician explain how magic works to draw an analogy is heavy-handed, at best), it does expose something we might not have thought much about: Climate change deniers who continue to have a political venue for spouting dangerous and invalid opinions.
You can watch the trailer below, and check the Merchants of Doubt site for theater screenings near you.
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