‘Merchants of Doubt’ explores the science of denial


Two stars

Merchants of Doubt Directed by Robert Kenner. Rated PG-13. Opens Friday.

There are brief flashes of something beyond the standard-issue social-activism documentary (complete with call-to-action URL at the end) in Merchants of Doubt, which explores the world of scientists and experts who testify in favor of huge corporations on a range of public-health issues. Director Robert Kenner finds a great interview subject in Marc Morano, a gleefully unapologetic global-warming denier, but he devotes only a few minutes to Morano’s pride in his nasty tactics.  Similarly, Kenner glosses over the subject of why these sometimes respected scientists end up opposing the majority of their colleagues, just when he’s brought up an interesting theory that gets beyond “for the money.” Instead, the movie rehashes familiar talking points and feeds its undoubtedly sympathetic audience a bunch of information they already know. With its framing device featuring an actual magician talking about deception and misdirection, Merchants of Doubt is both heavy-handed and smug, taking undue pride in saying very little that’s insightful or new.

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