Monday, June 01, 2015

Rabett Run Goes to the Movies

On April 17, I took my wife to the movies to see Merchants of Doubt, the movie.

I have already read the book, by Orestes and Conway.

The movie has its own website! All new movies do these days.

The movie starts off with Stanton Glantz, professor and tobacco-control activist, speaking about the efforts of the tobacco companies to deny the findings of medical science, that smoking causes cancer.
The tobacco companies fought back with a PR campaign. They did not bother to engage with the scientific community, because that would have been hopeless. Instead, the tobacco companies aimed to propagandize the public directly, bypassing the scientific community. The tobacco companies financed the work of a handful of denier scientists, including Fred Seitz and Fred Singer.

The movie is quite thorough in describing the tobacco companies and their PR strategy. Doubt is their real product. They didn’t have to win the debate, they just aimed at a draw.

After a thorough discussion of the tobbacco companies and their strategy, the movies discusses the climate change deniers.

Same PR strategy, and some of the same cast of characters.

Fred Singer is shown in three consecutive clips:
in clip #1 he denies the climate is warming,
in clip #2 he proclaims that the climate is warming, but it’s not manmade.
And in clip #3 he proclaims that the climate is warming, and the warming is manmade. But he says it would be ruinous to the economy to stop global warming.

Other global warming deniers featured include Stephen Malloy (, and Marc Morano (former Inhofe staffer, now running the fog machine at ClimateDepot)

The film features an honest conservative, Robert Inglis, former Republican Congressman from South Carolina. Inglis is a conservative Christian with a lifetime rating over 95% from the American Conservative Union, and support from the anti-abortion lobby and the NRA. He was upset in the Republican primary in 2010, attributed to his rejection of global warming denial. Inglis strikes an oddly positive tone to the movie.

My wife and I saw the movie in a nearly empty theater: Only about ten seats were occupied, in a theater with a capacity of a couple hundred. The movie only played for a few days in Las Vegas, whose metropolitan area includes two million people. I didn’t see any advertisement for the movie.
Documentaries sometimes jump through hoops to qualify for consideration for awards. There was acknowledgement of support from the Omidyar Network, founded by Pierre Omidyar, eBay founder whose fortune is estimated at $9 billion. So there are backers for the movie.

Let's hope the movie wins an Oscar.

The envelope please!


Hank Roberts said...

> Tobacco
Does the book/movie mention the polonium problem?

I've known about that for decades, but haven't seen much about that part of the coverup, tho' it's there when I 'oogle.

Anonymous said...

@ Hank Roberts: I can't speak for the film but the book does not.


Woud you care to treat us to an example of Fred Seitz trying to propagandize the public directly ?

A clip of his talking head in a tobacco ad , perhaps ?

How about him holding up a carton of Chesterfields, like Ronald Reagan ?

No, wait a minute, physicists don't write tobacco ads and the tobacco ads in Naomi's penny dreadful all went off the air for good a decade before the Marshall Institute was founded-

How about a tobacco related research paper he authored ? No, physicists don't write tobacco papers either.

What RJR funded was a ten year 45 million dollar grant to Rockefeller University , none of which was spent on tobacco research- it supported Prusiker's Nobel winning prion research program.

What did Rockefeller U President emeritus Seitz get for his grantsmanship and administering the program in retirement ? 60 K a year.

What did RJR get? An academic figurehead for their oversight board, who never appeared in public on their behalf.

The appearance of a slight of hand artist at the start of what is supposed to be an exercise in the history of science is seldom a good sign, It is a testimony to the power of film editing that Greg's failed to recognize the disconnect between Naomi's cutaways and her invented narrative. To recycle a phrase "This isn't history of science."

And neither is Merchants of Doubt's political misrepresentation of all the NAS had to say about the future of climate in the 1960's reports to which Nierenberg and Seitz contributed.

Susan Anderson said...

Fred Singer seems to be the embodiment of evil. One is tempted to ask if the human race deserves to survive.

Canman said...

I read Oreskes' last two books (and wrote Amazon reviews). On climate she is more of an activist than historian and incredibly biased. I have to wonder if any of her other science history is any good.

BBD said...


Oreskes & Conway's MOD demonstrated in exhaustive detail (64 pages of end notes) that there has been a sustained attempted by the tobacco industry to mislead policy makers and the public. The same playbook - and in some case players - was also used in an attempt to delay regulatory action over CFCs, acid rain and now CO2.

There is no doubt - none whatsoever - that vested interest has tried to distort public policy by deliberate misrepresentation of the science at the highest level.

A smear of content-free denial across the page from you doesn't change this one bit. The only reputation that suffers is your own.

tonylearns said...

I personally know the "sleight of hand artist" you refer to disparagingly- Jamie Ian Swiss
He is an expert in deception and manipulating people. the reason he is on the film is because he is a leader in the skeptic community and has spent decades exposing people trying to promote fraudulent ideas. Fake psychics, ufo-ologists, bigfoot proponents, and scientific issues like creationism.
He is eminently qualified to asses the tactics of climate deniers and correctly points out how most arguments are based on deception of some sort.
Interestingly there were members of the skeptic community that disputed ACC a number of years ago. Most famously, Penn and Teller, the amazing Randi, and Michael Shirmer. All three have changed their minds because they talked to scientists and looked at the research skeptically Shirmer is also in the movie explaining why he changed his mind and how it was the ideology of libertarianism that misled him initially. He is still libertarian, but acknowledges that listening to false info from libertarian ideologues initially influenced his thinking.

I do think the movie did paint a more stark picture than reality would indicate as far as Seitz' actual role, but it is an advocacy film, and as such largely accurate

JohnMashey said...

" do think the movie did paint a more stark picture than reality would indicate as far as Seitz' actual role, but it is an advocacy film, and as such largely accurate"

You might want to read "Scientific Perspectives on the Greenhouse Problem" (1990)by Jastrow, Nierenberg, and Seitz as one marker.

Then see Crescendo to Climategate Cacophony

"Seitz, Frederick 1911-2008
Activities: GMI1990, SIPP1993, Leipzig, A.Santer, OISM1998, A.HOCKX, WSJ
Organizations: GMI; Heartland, (Chairman of Board) SEPP, (Advisor) AIM, ELC
People: Jastrow; Nierenberg; Singer; Nichols (@ Rockefeller 1970-1990); other GMI
Fields: Solid state, nuclear-related
Locations: CA; NJ; NY
Employers: Rockefeller U President 1968-1978; GMI Cofounder 1984
Notes: Pre-eminent solid-state physicist; later cigarette consulting; wrote cover letter for OISM.
Wrote article for Heartland, 2001:"

PDF search : Seitz gets 57 hits.

p.97 has big spreadshseet of activities

p.81 has
"A.Santer – 1996-now Attacks on Ben Santer
Santer is a distinguished climate scientist attacked in 1996 by Michaels in WCR, GMI (Seitz) via WSJ"

etc, etc.

opit said...

Meh. The concern trolls about 'denierism' underwhelm. There is so much concern about 'communicating' warming 'science' one could almost forget that there is no demonstration of how much it might be ; or how / or if it works. Alleging scientific disinformation programs takes me almost immediately to places like Grist - which purport to disprove any and all arguments debunking an unproven idea by reasoned argument.
That belongs on Comedy Central.

BBD said...

Victor Venema

Do I remember correctly that "Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons" sounds like a scientific journal, but is actually a libertarian propaganda tool with no scientific credibility whatsoever?

Exactly so.

JohnMashey said...

VV and BBD
It's worse, see this post and click on the graph to expand the image. JPandS is at lower left.

PurpleOzone said...

Susan Anderson,

Of all the human beings I have known, Fred Singer is the only one I was darkly suspicious of when I was only fifteen -- a long time ago -- and never improve on acquaintance or familiarity with his "research". I refuse to judge the whole human race by him.

Snow Bunny