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Merchants of Doubt

A new documentary film opens this weekend titled Merchants of Doubt, about the nature of pseudo-skepticism and climate denial and the link to the tobacco industry, featuring Skeptic publisher Michael Shermer and magician and skeptic Jamy Ian Swiss, among others. In addition to the many climate deniers and their industrial lobbyists featured and interviewed in the film, Jamy Ian Swiss plays a key role in demonstrating, through card magic, how easy it is to be deceived and how, through his principle “once revealed, never concealed,” the exposure of the tricks employed by industrial lobbyists to deny science means that they cannot use them again (just like knowing the secret behind a magic trick makes it hard to be fooled again). Forewarned is forearmed. Michael Shermer is featured as a one-time climate skeptic, who flipped his position (famously in the pages of Scientific American) after reading the primary scientific literature on the subject. One of the more entertaining moments in the film is when a camera crew follows Shermer around FreedomFest in Las Vegas, a libertarian gathering where conspiracy theories about global warming abound, including a debate he participated in with a climate denier that was most colorful. Watch the trailer below, and find links to reviews and a list of theaters where you can see the film.

Check out the following reviews and theater listings: Newsweek Review, Los Angeles Times Review, Wired Magazine Review, Film Journal Review, Documentary Magazine Review, and Theater Listings.

See Michael in the Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany
March 9-20

From March 9–20 March, Michael will be touring book stores in various countries in the Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany, giving lectures, and signing copies of his books for those in attendance.

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It’s easy to identify history’s evil geniuses—the Hitlers and Stalins—but who are the moral geniuses among us? And what does it take to be one? How can science and religion help us do great work in the world—and stop us from using our singular human intelligence for ill? Get to the very heart of right and wrong when Professor Michael Shermer, editor of Skeptic magazine and author of The Moral Arc, joins in conversation with Rabbi Geoffrey A. Mitelman, founding director of Sinai and Synapses. MORE INFO

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Shermer responds to book reviews
The Moral Arc: How Science and Reason Lead Humanity toward Truth, Justice, and Freedom (book over)

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The initial reviews of The Moral Arc are in and the author has completed his U.S. book tour, and in this article Michael Shermer replies to the criticisms and commentaries thus far leveled against his thesis that we are living in the most moral time in our species history and that one of the primary drivers bending the arc of the moral universe toward justice is science and reason. You will be astounded to learn that not only religious people, but some scientists and secularists themselves object to using science and reason to determine human values. Shermer challenges them to explain what they use, if not their rational brains, to solve moral issues!

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Daniel Loxton
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Daniel Loxton shares reflections from George Orwell and George Bernard Shaw on the topics of flat-Earth arguments, expertise, and credulity in an age of scientific marvels.

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El D20ablo — The Satanic Panic & Role-Playing Games

The late 1970s and 1980s saw the rise of a new kind of game. Dungeons & Dragons and its many competitors captivated many high-school and college students, but many parents and authority figures feared that these new games were a gateway to Satanic ritual and perhaps even murder. Author Joseph Laycock returns to discuss his new book: Dangerous Games.



  1. Franz Dullaart says:

    I am most disappointed at the “Merchants of Doubt” plug. It is as if you have never heard of Climate Gate, The IPCC failures and bias, the misnamed “hiatus” or “pause” in warming, the Ice Core evidence that CO2 follows temperature, etc. etc.

    • Alex Bell says:

      Okay, I can’t tell if your comment was intentionally ironic, meant to be satire or was in earnest. If it was the first two, well played. If your comment was real, you really need to see the documentary or better yet read the book.

  2. Jon Kapecki says:

    Dear Franz: I have not only “heard” of all of these, I have followed them in detail. Have you?

    If you had, you would know that “Climategate” is utter nonsense, as multiple, independent reviews of this manufactured “scandal” have revealed. The IPCC reports are far from “failures” but rather the most thoroughly documented reviews of the primary scientific literature. The “pause” you cite in global warming is indeed “misnamed” as it is nonexistent, reflecting only short-term fluctuations in the rate of warming which have been seen many times before while the upward trend continues. The ice core/CO2 lags do not contradict the link between global warming and greenhouse gases as other known factors were contributory during those periods.

    I suggest that you read the primary literature, not the writings of those who cherry-pick data and try to sow doubt for political or commercial purposes. You will find that there is no other explanation that is consistent with all the evidence other than the significant contribution of human activities to the warming trend of the past century.

    • Canman says:

      Jon. I’m sorry for being rude, but If you followed Climategate in detail, what do you have to say about these details? Phil Jones asked Michael Mann to delete emails and because he didn’t know Eugene Wah’ls new email address, he asked Mann to forward this message to him. Mann response included: “I’ll contact Gene ASAP”. The inquiries that Mann says exonerated him did not interview Wahl. But Wahl did tell federal investigators that he received the message and complied. BTW the context for this is that they were worried about FOI’s.

      Then there is the matter of Mann’s R squared results for a crucial step. McIntyre knew by his calculations that Mann’s paper would fail them. He pressed Mann for them and Mann refused. When Caspar Ammann replicated Mann’s work, he also refused to tell McIntyre his R squared results. McIntyre had to file an academic misconduct complaint. Ammann released them, buried in his suplimental material, and they failed spectacularly. When Mann was testifying for the NAS panel and was asked about them, he said he did not compute them because it would be silly and incorrect reasoning. But he also told journalist, Marcel Crok that his hockey stick had passed this test if done correctly. This presents something of a trilema.

      1.) He was mistaken about his own paper.

      2.) He committed perjury.

      3.) He lied to a journalist.

      I’m sorry to put you on the spot. I don’t think you are aware of these facts and I don’t really want an answer. But I expect better from our science journalists and skeptical authors! So how about it, Michael Shermer? What do you have to say? How about some of you other skeptical authors? Naomi Oreskes. You’re a historian of science and these are disturbing details about a controversial part of science history. Do you have anything to say?

      Bill Nye, the debat’n guy. How about you? Here’s a challenge. Read Andrew Montford’s “Hockey Stick Illusion”. Then reread Mann’s book, for which you wrote the foreword to. Then go debate someone like Ross McKitrick.

  3. Ken McCulloch says:

    The real issue is whom to believe. No matter the issue, there always appears to be some opposition. What is propaganda? It seems to me that it depends on which side you come down on. Everyone cherry picks their information as even you cannot present all the pages and pages of scientific data in this documentary. So you pick and choose the points that support your theme or agenda.
    A great deal of science is known fact, until it is proven that it isn’t 100% accurate. The known science can send us into what we believe to be the right direction. Science is what is going to take mankind to the next step, but scientist will always be needed because we will never know it all. It is silly to assume we know all we need to know. And, let us not forget, Science tends to go where the money is. Right now the grants are going to those studying global warming. Scientist are human, by nature they are biased regardless of their training.

    • Jamie says:

      Ken, you are quite right in stating that you should follow the money. Who has more money, the oil/coal companies or those groups (usually not for profit) which are gathering from their supporters?

      Read the books, Merchants of Doubt, The Unpersuadables and In Defense of the Hockey Stick Graph (unsure of the last books proper title).

      The Merchants of Doubt book was very informative, and I am hoping that it gets a screening near me soon.

  4. Bob Pease says:

    A lot of environmental Activists are actually helping the
    “enemy” by publiclly promoting skewed priorities
    About climate change and global warming
    And diverting attention to stuff like “Fracking”

    It is not realistic to expect petroleum producers
    To mine less fossil fuel nor to alter existing methods without
    Raising the price of gasoline to stunningly high levels.

    Often as not, these folks are unaware of the
    Greenhouse effexts of the Beef industry because of the emission of Methane by ruminants and the associated emission of CO2 in feeding and tranporattion of corn to livestock

    A More likely Scenario is the danger from War
    by folks who claim Divine privilege to control distribution of food
    particularly diminished or relocated by climate change.

  5. Brad Tittle says:

    It is hard to enter into discussions on the subject of climate because it is completely impossible to get to a level field where the goal posts are clearly marked. The use of “Denier” in the description pretty much tells the story. I love being a skeptic. I hate that I have to call Mr Shermer a hypocrite.

    ClimateGate was not investigated very well. The documents I read made me cringe. The BEST dataset that is now available is there because Dr Mueller cringed. He didn’t cringe hard enough but he cringed. YOU DO NOT HIDE THE DATA.

    Except that Dr. Mueller is now tap dancing because he now knows that the data isn’t really there. How many people here had to do a section in school on Thermometers? My class learned how to do Dry bulb temperature readings AND wet bulb temperature readings. Do you know why we did both sets of readings. It was particularly pertinent at the school I went to because we were surrounded by pear orchards. If the pears froze, a company was going out of business. The dew point was a key indicator of whether or not the smudge pots had to be lit to keep the pears from freezing.

    I asked Dr Mueller why they didn’t average their temps through the psychrometric chart. They couldn’t because the wet bulb temps weren’t available. At least that is the answer I can glean from the available data on the website. The uncertainty in the temperature is magnified by the lack of wet bulb temperatures. There is an error bar on the data because of it. That error bar is significantly bigger than what you see on any chart.

    There are lots of scientists biting their tongues. Look at the harassment Willie Soon is receiving right now for having the gall to question the orthodoxy. His questions are serious. They are meant to point at the uncertainty in the data. There are lots of folks trying to point to the uncertainty. People who effectively do this are getting pilloried for doing it.

    The science is never settled. The people who keep saying it are pushing a message. They have stopped believing in science and started believing in Marketing.

    This piece is clearly marketing AND not furthering the science. Every thing they describe the Deniers as doing has been done by the alarmist. The Deniers are a sorely unfunded lot. If anyone managed to get funding that is somehow evil. Wake up folks. Most of us like putting food on our kids tables. There are no sources of funding out there completely untainted by strings. Willie Soon is being harassed because he got funding from Exxon. Take a closer look at the people Exxon funds. If you are going to be offended at people who accept funding from Exxon, take a good long look at every environmental group out there. The people not guilty of accepting money from Exxon wish they could.

    There is science to talk about. Too often we get sidetracked away from the science. Say the word Thermodynamics and experts in thermodynamics will start falling asleep. You cannot even begin to start talking about climate without talking about thermodynamics.

    Everyone loses if we talk about thermo. Everyone loses if we don’t.

    START TALKING ABOUT THE SCIENCE and stop painting the people who disagree as deniers. The location I live was covered by ice in the recent past. It was the very recent past. I like living where I live. I would much rather the ice not return. If you think I am dancing with words I AM. So are the alarmists.

    Look at the data. The straight data. Don’t massage it through statistics. Look at the data. Plot it all. It isn’t that hard. You can do it.

  6. Stephen Nowlin says:

    Ken, your argument falters over the notion that science has an agenda. Ideologies have agendas, but science has built into its methodology the elimination of bias. It would be very difficult for scientific consensus, across a broad spectrum of disciplines, to be arrived at with a bias intact — which cannot be said of other knowledge-seeking systems. Of course, scientific consensus can still turn out to have been in error, but it will not be because it had an agenda. If the real issue in an uncertain world is whom to believe given science vs. ideology, I think the better odds, and thus the choice, should be obvious.

    • Canman says:

      Science may not have an agenda, but scientists can, even if they are not conscience of it. Smart people are said to be more susceptible to confirmation bias and scientists are supposed to be smart people. I would say that their egos are also tied up in their being smart. I think anyone who has ever come into conflict with a college professor knows that they can be very petty. It’s even been illustrated in movies such as “Paper Chase” and “Cocktail”. Not all professors are like this, but I certainly saw some when I went to college. This trait can make for some nasty politics, especially when they are clustered towards one side (the left one) of the political spectrum. Dissenting views, especially on the environment, can become taboo. Science and scientists are not the same thing.

  7. Brad Tittle says:

    @Stephen Nowlin —

    I claim to be a 2nd Order Atheist. There is a picture of James Randi (AKA Jubal Harshaw) over the alter I bow to. It is the scowling picture on the back of “Flim Flam”.

    I wish I could say with confidence that believing in science over ideology gives better odds. The ugly truth that stares us in the face every day is that 80% of the world still clings to their theology. 80% maybe YOTA, but it isn’t too inaccurate to say “MOST” of the world clings to their theology. It is likely more accurate than even that because most of the people who claim to not have a theology have found something else to cling to. Sciencism is it’s own religion.

    The Catch Phrase of the Royal Society is Nullius in Verba. My translation is “Believe no one”. It can be chased around the room in many ways, but in the end it means to me, practice understanding everything you can and do not accept anyone at their word just because they are an “expert”. Grab on to the things that have proven to let you predict the next outcome. Be ready to let go of them when you realize you were clinging to false idea. Never believe that a fundamental discussion is beneath you.

    Right there is a crux of the problem though. You can get mired in fundamental discussion and never get the 10,000 foot message out.

    Skepticism is about having the fundamental discussions. A skeptic who starts Advocating has lost the path. Advocation is where politicians enter the picture.

    There is a place for advocation. There is a place to lie when you are advocating. In order to accomplish your goal, it may be necessary. Are you willing to pay the price of the advocation though. It is similar to the price of liberty.

    Dr. Shermer and Mr. Swiss seem to have taken the position that it is okay for them to lie to get their message across. I can accept that.

    I still have hope that a magician will recognize when he is doing a push on himself. Flip over the other card. Both sets of arguments have the same origins. Which side is doing it to fight the other.

    It is quite possible both sides they think they are responding to the antics of the other side. “They aren’t listening to what I say” is in just about every marriage counseling session in the world. Too many times we are the ones that aren’t listening.

    I hope that hearing that there are still people on the other side of the discussion gives hope. I fear the day that I can’t find people who disagree with my position. It means that I will have lost my battle.

  8. Albert Natian says:

    There is a spectrum, at one end are focused the experts, at the other lopsided end are amassed the world’s non-experts, with some intermediaries in between. How should the non-experts form ‘informed’ opinions about such issues as Climate Change and Global Warming?

    I am reminded of Bertrand Russell’s taxonomy for opinion formation:

    1. When the experts are agreed, the opposite opinion cannot be held to be certain.

    2. When they are not agreed, no opinion can be regarded as certain by a non-expert.

    3. When they all hold that no sufficient grounds for a positive opinion exist, the ordinary man would do well to suspend his judgment.

    The problem I see with the above is that Russell does not provide any quantification or measure about the degree of agreement or opposition among the experts. If the overwhelming majority of scientists agree that the Earth is almost spherical, and yet there are some who believe the Earth is flat, does this mean the ‘experts’ are not agreed according to Russell? Is it not true that the overwhelming majority of scientists with expertise in Climate Change and Global Warming say that in fact these phenomena are real and pressing issues? Whom is one lone non-expert to believe, these scientists or their opposition?

    Does anyone have a more detailed and nuanced taxonomy for opinion formation? Please share.

    • Canman says:

      Here’s an aspect you might not have considered. sometimes an expert’s ego is tied up in his being an expert. Say he’s an expert on climate and is convinced CO2 emissions need to be cut and he has political clout. He’s sure solar and wind are the way to go, even though he is not an expert engineer. The engineers, who are the real experts, have their expertise overridden. A lot of people who are knowledgeable about energy, think this is what is happening in Germany right now.

  9. Stephen Nowlin says:

    @Brad Tittle —

    Knowledge is a process, and at any moment what science claims is provisional — but it has a pretty amazing track record compared to other ways of knowing things. Understanding how science works, we know that it must try to prove itself wrong and that multiple scientists, rather than the propensity to fall into collusion with one another, are by their nature delighted to disprove one another. Scientific consensus is a hard-won battle. Uncertainty prevails, of course — but scientific consensus across a broad spectrum seems, as @Albert Natian points out above, to be a best bet for opinion formation.

    Thus the notion of science being seduced into prejudicing knowledge to match the flow of grant monies, or of a conspiracy by self-serving scientists to dupe the world, are born of a misunderstanding about how science works. The provincial meme that scientific theory and ideological opinion are of equal status on either side of a question — that climate change, for example, and its causes are an argument rather than agreed upon knowledge demanding attention — is specious to say the least, and should be the true target of reasoned skepticism.

    • Brad Tittle says:

      @Stephen Nowlin —

      There are best bets for opinion formation. Then there is listening to your own experience. There are simple things that make me question the consensus.

      The definition of Temperature and its relation to Enthalpy.
      Enthalpy and its relation to Humidity.
      Models and their ability to predict the future.

      Water is a magical element here on our planet. We understand it in many ways really well. But the ways we understand it don’t lend themselves to being modeled really well. Superheated steam is manageable in a model. Saturated steam on the other hand starts to play fast and loose. That is in a closed system. In an open system, things can go in all directions.

      It is the all directions part of the game that makes me question the “consensus”.

      Ever wonder how they average temperatures from around the globe? What is an average? What should an average be? Fundamental questions. An average for me on the physical level is a small model of reality. “I have 100F 50% humid air over here and 25F 20% humid air here, what will the resultant temperature be if I put the two bodies of air together?”

      In order to answer that question, you have to use a psychrometric chart. You have to start making assumptions to get to an answer. There will be a range of answers that work. Pointing at any one of the answer as correct is wrong. Not without extra information.

      People who say that Enthalpy doesn’t matter?

      I have a very broad brush for these folks. They are artists who think that perspective isn’t important; doctors who don’t worry about the ABCs; magicians who believe their eyes can see everything.

  10. daniel gautreau says:

    Looks like you’re all at it again, pretending to be climate scientists, discussing details of your work. Why don’t you have a debate on the validity of General Relativity ,too? I’m sure you could find some Ph.D.’s who have doubts about it.

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