Based on the 2010 book written by science historians, Naomi Oreskes and Erik M.Conway, “Merchants of Doubt” explores the shady dealings of big corporations and their purported experts who try to cast doubt and delay governmental action on issues like climate change; often ones that work in direct competition with their money making agendas. “Merchants of Doubt is the follow up to documentarian, Robert Kenner’s 2009 eye-opening food documentary, “Food Inc.” .While “Merchants of Doubt” doesn’t pack the same infuriating punch that “Food Inc.” did it still will make you cringe at the inner workings of some of the world’s largest corporations that are presented as the dastardly villains of contemporary America.
Superbly crafted and researched “Merchants of Doubt” is documentary for anyone who wants a lesson on the history and inner workings of Corporations VS Science and subsequently wants the veil of scientific skepticism lifted from their susceptible eyes.
Using magician, Jamy Ian Swiss and his slight of hand tricks as a framework for the film, “Merchants of Doubt” illustrates the level of deception and misdirection that magicians use to manipulate their audiences to see only what they want to see. Kenner contrasts this with issues that have been constantly debated over the last two decades: Tobacco and climate change. Using his magician and his industry of manipulation as a parallel narrative he takes the audience on a journey through a history of modern deception focused around America’s spin doctors and pseudo-scientists who have been attempting to warp the scientific findings around climate change. “It’s a film about deception” says Kenner “It’s about understanding how we’re being deceived across multiple industries…but really it’s about the biggest deception of all-which is the destruction of the planet for profit.”
In the 80′s and 90′s Big Tobacco were all about manufacturing doubt with the general public regarding the safety of cigarettes despite having studies from the 50′s and 60′s proving the addictive and health risks they posed. You can tell Kenner finds the spin tactics ludacris as he pokes fun at top executives from William Morris who presented arguments in the late 80’s that smoking too much could be harmful to your health “But then again, so could eating too much applesauce” said their PR reps. One thing “Merchants of Doubt” has in abundance is the ability to laugh at antics of these destructive and manipulative organizations.
Transitioning from Tobacco issues, Kenner shifts the focus the crux of the film and issues like climate change and the environment. Focusing on the Fossil-fuel lobby group, “Americans for Prosperity” founded by the big oil tycoon the Koch Industries. Owning operators, launched a campaign to create skepticism about the reality of climate change; from shifting the focus from science to politics they were able to spin almost an entire nation into thinking that global warming is a myth and a construction of “watermelon” communists (Green on the outside, red on the inside) As Kenner has stated, this deception worked, despite there being a literal consensus from Environmental scientists stating that “yes in fact, the earth is heating up and yes, it is mankind’s fault.”
I had the opportunity to screen this intelligent issue driven documentary in Toronto and in California at the Palm Springs Film Festival and while Toronto audiences seemed engaged and captivated they were vastly different from the American crowd of Democrats who literally hissed at the screen when big oil players like the Koch Brothers appeared on screen.
Overall, Kenner presents a complicated issue in a clear and concise manner that never lacks it’s moments of perfectly executed comedic timing. Highly recommended!