The merchants of doubt are the people you see on your TV, sadly shaking their heads with derision and condescension at the scientist on the other side of the split screen attempting to boil a complex issue down to a snappy soundbite (and failing). They are the people who took the playbook that Big Tobacco used for half a century to stonewall the public on the deadly impacts of smoking, and are now using it to prevent real action on global warming. Filmmaker Robert Kenner opens our eyes to the public-relations sleight of hand — a metaphor put to good and entertaining literal use here — that huge corporations deploy to protect their profits when the facts and the science aren’t going their way. You will be enraged to see the TV footage from the 1970s, 80s, and 90s in which highly paid shills dance around the science of tobacco using the very same language we now see highly paid shills use to deny that climate change is an issue we should be worried about. Based on a book by historian of science Naomi Oreskes, this is an infuriating expose of the corporate con game, from the phony grassroots organizations set up to combat anything that threatens profits to the attacks on individual scientists and activists when they can’t knock down the facts. And as Oreskes, who appears here, points out, just as once you see how a card trick is done, you can’t unsee it, you will see these tactics everywhere in our public discourse. It may turn you into a person who yells at the TV (if you aren’t already). And you won’t be able to unhear the inevitable horrifying conclusion Oreskes underscores about the connection between Big Tobacco and Big Everyone Who Profits From Fossil Fuels. Capitalism killed smokers. Will it eventually kill us all?
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