Merchants of Doubt

Merchants of Doubt

A documentary that looks at pundits-for-hire who present themselves as scientific authorities as they speak about topics like toxic chemicals, pharmaceuticals and climate change.

Inspired by the acclaimed book by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway, Merchants of Doubt takes audiences on a satirically comedic, yet illuminating ride into the heart of conjuring American spin. Filmmaker Robert Kenner lifts the curtain on a secretive group of highly charismatic, silver- tongued pundits-for-hire who present themselves in the media as scientific authorities – yet have the contrary aim of spreading maximum confusion about well-studied public threats ranging from toxic chemicals to pharmaceuticals to climate change.

Merchants of Doubt is a 2014 American documentary film directed by Robert Kenner that was “inspired by” the 2010 book of the same name by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway. The film traces the use of public relations tactics that were originally developed by the tobacco industry to protect their business from research indicating health risks from smoking. The most prominent of these tactics is the cultivation of scientists and others who successfully cast doubt on the scientific results.

Using a professional magician, the film explores the analogy between these tactics and the methods used by magicians to distract their audiences from observing how illusions are performed. For the tobacco industry, the tactics successfully delayed government regulation until long after the establishment of scientific consensus about the health risks from smoking. As its second example, the film describes how manufacturers of flame retardants worked to protect their sales after toxic effects of the retardants were discovered. The central concern of the film is the ongoing use of these tactics to forestall governmental action to regulate greenhouse gas emissions in response to the risk of global climate change.

Merchants of Doubt Movie Poster

Merchants of Doubt

Directed by: Robert Kenner
Starring: Frederick Singer, Naomi Oreskes, Jamy Ian Swiss, James Hansen, Katharine Heyhoe
Screenplay by: Robert Kenner, Kim Roberts
Film Editing by: Kim Roberts
Music by: Mark Adler
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for brief strong language.
Studio: Sony Pictures Classics
Release Date: March 6, 2015