Anyone who cares about their children's future, indeed the planet's future, should see Merchants of Doubt. The problem is, the people who really need to see it - climate-change deniers, politicians with ties to the fossil-fuel industries, the blithely indifferent - aren't likely to.

Robert Kenner's expert adaptation of science historians Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway's book is advocacy filmmaking, a smartly packaged cautionary tale. But thanks to campaigns by lobbyists and industry organizations - the individuals and groups who give the film its title and who have been busy sowing seeds of discord in the media - disbelievers are out there, and ardent.

Merchants of Doubt begins at the fabled Magic Castle in Hollywood, where magician Jamy Ian Swiss dazzles his audience with card tricks - sleight-of-hand, misdirection, deceit.

What's that got to do with anything?


Merchants of Doubt examines how the tobacco industry pulled off a similar con, arguing that cigarettes did not cause cancer and that nicotine was not addictive, even as their own scientists knew otherwise. Epic public-relations campaigns were launched to distract and dissuade, to find physicians and "experts" to counter the increasingly alarming studies.

It took decades before cigarette manufacturers were forced to acknowledge the truth.

That same strategy, according to Merchants of Doubt, is now being deployed by oil companies, coal companies, and free-marketeers who argue that climate change isn't the result of human action - that it is naturally occurring, or maybe not occurring at all. Never mind the overwhelming consensus reached by scientists.

Never mind the rising ocean levels, extreme weather patterns, hurricanes, droughts.

Marc Morano, an unapologetic ringleader in the movement to thwart climate-change action, pops up on news shows to challenge earnest, nerdy scientists, while an institute funded by the Koch brothers publishes "research studies" aimed at obfuscation and obstruction. Pseudo-science is just as good as real science, especially when it's delivered in tandem with get-the-government-off-our-backs slogans, rallying the troops, and railing against "liberals" such as Al Gore.

When global-warming skeptics such as former South Carolina congressman Bob Inglis, who represented one of the reddest Red State districts in the land, change their minds, look out. Inglis started talking about the climate-change crisis, then lost his long-held seat to tea party-backed Trey Gowdy in the 2010 primary. Similarly, Michael Shermer, editor of Skeptic magazine and an avowed libertarian, read the reports and the research and came to the conclusion that climate change was for real. But when he tried to say as much to fellow libertarians, he was shouted down, often hatefully.

Merchants of Doubt shouldn't be a hard sell. The fact that it is should make you very mad.

Merchants of Doubt ***1/2 (Out of four stars)

Directed by Robert Kenner. With Frederick Singer, Naomi Oreskes, Jamy Ian Swiss, James Hansen, Marc Morano, Bob Ingliss. Distributed by Sony Pictures Classics.

Running time: 1 hour, 33 mins.

Parent's guide: PG-13 (adult themes).

Playing at: Ritz Bourse.EndText