Latest posts by Russell Cook (see all)
- Teach the Children Well (Gelbspan in schools) - March 14, 2017
- Dr David Legates: ‘A badge I wear with honor’ - September 18, 2016
- To Be an Objective Reporter, or Not to Be, that is The Question - September 17, 2016
Financially speaking, Merchants of Doubt, which purports to debunk global warming skeptics by revealing their nefarious sources of funding, is a dud. Three box office sales reporting sites, The Numbers, Box Office Mojo, and Pro Box Office all show ticket sales of barely over $190,000 from its March 6 opening date through the first weekend of April. It is still showing in a handful of theaters through June 20th, but my inquiry to The Numbers site yielded a response from Nash Information Services, LLC in Beverly Hills that “Sony Pictures Classics hasn’t reported any box office for this film since the weekend of April 3.”
Content success is an entirely different matter. In any movie review, the reviewer’s objective is to explain how the movie succeeded or failed to tell its intended story. Documentaries face a tougher challenge than fictional movies, namely to successfully and accurately tell the story of a real-life situation.
Merchants of Doubt does indeed succeed at telling a tale in an attention-keeping way. People who accept its assertions without question say they have all the information they need to justify animosity against scientists who express skepticism about catastrophic human-induced global warming. However, if anyone deeply questions its assertions, the movie unravels.
Merchants of Doubt is no dud on presentation. Director Robert Kenner provides us with an entertaining opening, a consistent theme using a sleight-of-hand metaphors from “close-up card trick magician” Jamy Ian Swiss, and effective visuals, leaving viewers with a memorable impression about skeptic climate scientists being little more than the latest in a lineage of industry-paid and directed shills. So long as nobody checks the veracity of that impression, the movie accomplishes its goal.
For example, the movie claims the ClimateGate scandal was not a scandal but instead nothing more than a few leaked email statements taken out of context. But people can easily read those leaked emails in their full context and read analysis at ClimateAudit.org so intensely detailed about ClimateGate scientists’ actions that they might get migraine headaches from doing so. The movie also features former Greenpeace USA executive director John Passacantando, speaking vaguely about his role in ‘discovering industry-corrupted skeptic climate scientists’, but people can check for themselves whether this so-called discovery happened while he was at Greenpeace, or at another organization, and whether that particular situation ever actually produced evidence proving its accusation was true.
There’s more: Merchants of Doubt portrays the Oregon Petition Project as worthless because of the fake scientist signer names found within it, but people can check for themselves to see if a certain organization played a role in planting a fake name in the petition, whether the other ‘fake’ names are actually in the petition, or just how many legitimate PhD-level scientists signed it.
For me, one of the more amusing instances in the movie came from former Republican South Carolina Representative Bob Inglis’ claims that he, as an affirmed conservative, lost his election solely because of his pro-global warming beliefs. Among the visuals for this passage was news video of the other completely unnamed Republican primary challengers he faced, which comically prompted a movie viewer seated near me to audibly gasp the name of one of those challengers: Trey Gowdy! People can do their own objective analysis to see whether Inglis was just as conservative as Gowdy, of course…. to the detriment of the movie.
Therein lies the problem with Merchants of Doubt. In what turned out to be a pair of hugely ironic statements, John Passacantando said the public will ultimately catch up on what is truly going on in the global warming issue, and at the 1:28 point of the movie’s trailer, Naomi Oreskes — who wrote the book the movie is based on — said, “It’s all about preventing you from looking at where the action really is, which is in the science.”
Problem is, the public may very well catch up to the fact that the collective two-decade effort to portray skeptic climate scientists as ‘paid shills of industry’ is all about distracting everyone from looking at what the issue actually is, an unsettled debate over whether human activity is the primary driver of what little global warming there’s been over the last century.
From my knowledge about the issue, Merchants of Doubt employs outright misdirection to tell the story of skeptic climate scientists’ alleged “misdirection.” Essentially anybody having full familiarity of the issue could do a Rush Limbaugh-style “stop the tape!” point-by-point dissection of the movie’s misdirection attempts. I’ll finish with one more item: the movie wants us to believe the issue is a battle of settled science versus ‘paid industry shills’ who have no credibility because they aren’t scientists, a sleight-of-hand trick specifically described within the movie as “once revealed, it cannot be concealed.” The problem is, Oreskes herself appears toward the end of the movie authoritatively proclaiming the near-certainty of a future plagued by rising seas from melting ice sheets, droughts, and other extreme weather. But she has no scientific expertise, she is no more than a history professor.
Indeed, a problem once revealed that now cannot be concealed.
Believers in human-induced global warming heartily recommend that you see the movie and trust all of what is said within it. For anyone near the handful of theaters still showing it through June, I also recommend that you see it, but that you also look deeper into every assertion it makes and see how many other problems are found in it that, once revealed, cannot be concealed.