American Council on Science and Health
The American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) is a nonprofit (501(c)(3)) advocacy organization founded in 1978 by Dr. Elizabeth Whelan that self-describe as a "consumer education consortium" focusing on issues related to food, nutrition, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, lifestyle, the environment and health. Its core membership is a board of 350 physicians, scientists and policy advisors who review the Council's reports and participate in ACSH seminars, press conferences, media communications and other educational activities. In the 1970s ACSH scientists concerned with what they described as the lack of sound scientific basis, common sense, reason and balance in public forums and public policy regarding issues such as health and the environment, began to produce their own policy statements. Over the years their articles have included topics such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), obesity, chemophobia, Phthalates, DDT, fracking, e-cigarettes, GMOs, atrazine, and bisphenol-A.
History and mission
ACSH describes itself as a "consumer education consortium". Founded in 1978 by Elizabeth Whelan, who earned her PhD Harvard School of Public Health in 1971, was motivated to found the American Council on Science and Health in 1978 after doing research for the pharmaceutical company Pfizer regarding a section of the 1958 Food Additive Amendment on banning certain chemicals from foods. She found through further research that public discourse and public policy was chemophobic. Her first book entitled Panic in the Pantry, published in 1976, challenged the notion that was popular in the 1970s, that natural was better and chemicals were dangerous. Along with Frederick J. Stare, founder of the Harvard Nutrition Department, in 1978, Dr. Whelan invited fifty other scientists "to bring the message of sound science to consumers, via the media" in a "consumer education consortium". One of the first to respond was Nobel Laureate Norman Borlaug. Their first financial support came from the Scaife Foundation and John M. Olin Foundation. By 2003 almost 400 scientists had joined ACSH.
ACSH frequently warns against regulating chemicals without scientific proof of harms. A 2009 editorial by board member Henry Miller in Investor's Business Daily criticized the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), saying, "An EPA hit list of important and demonstrably safe chemicals is about to be put through the regulatory wringer, and many are likely to be banned or severely restricted. These include bisphenol-A, phthalates, flame retardants, the herbicide atrazine and fluorinated chemicals used to make Teflon."
On 10 February 2009 the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 imposed regulations of several substances and banned the manufacture for sale, distribution in commerce, or import any children's toy or childcare article that contains "concentrations of more than 0.1 percent of" di-(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP), Dibutyl phthalate (DBP), or Benzyl butyl phthalate (BBP). Michael Kamrin, who was on ACSH's Board of Scientific and Policy Advisors, published a critical review in 2009 in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, claiming that phthalates were safe. ACSH’s advocacy on the issue extends back to 1999, when they worked with former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop to advocate for the ingredient used in many soft plastics.
Food safety and nutrition
ACSH has advocated against taxation of food that contributes to weight gain as a means to combat obesity. The group opposed New York state’s move to require food chains to post calorie information on their products. ACSH has also called for better regulation and testing of dietary supplements.
Diseases and pharmaceuticals
ACSH criticized Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz's Breast Cancer Education and Awareness Requires Learning Young Act as focusing on detection methods that were not scientifically supported and distracting from more effective measures. The group worked to clarify unclear messages and dispel myths surrounding the swine flu outbreak in 2009. In 2008, ACSH applauded the American Academy of Pediatricians for demanding that an episode of Eli Stone carry a disclaimer since the show depicted a jury awarding damages based on the claim that a vaccine caused autism. ACSH has long been critical of groups who claim a supposed link between the two.
Following the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001, ACSH opposed the appointment of a federal official to oversee and administer aid to those injured during the attacks and subsequent rescue, arguing that such a move would create another layer of bureaucracy between victims and aid. Further, the group criticized rescue workers who attempted to fraudulently receive financial compensation though they did not suffer injuries.
ACSH has taken a harm-reduction stance on tobacco smoking. Associate director Jeff Stier took the opportunity to address the negative long-term effects of smoking using the case of Senator Barack Obama during his 2008 campaign. It opposed a New York state law that outlawed certain types of smokeless tobacco because, they argued, it made it harder for adult smokers to quit cigarettes. ACSH also criticized Apple workers who refused to enter homes where smoking had taken place to make technical repairs out of concern over secondhand smoke. Unlike some public health organizations, ACSH does not support government efforts to ban the use of e-cigarettes.
ACSH routinely publicizes its campaigns by placing opinion editorials in news publications. Editorials from the group have appeared in publications including the New York Post, Politico, Investor's Business Daily, The Washington Times, Forbes, National Review and the Weekly Standard. ACSH spokespersons also appear on television news as pundits. Spokespeople from the group have appeared on CNBC, MSNBC, Fox News, ABC and NY1.
On the May 14, 2009 episode of the satirical late night show The Daily Show, correspondent Samantha Bee noted ACSH's opposition to the Obama family's organic garden and the organization's funding by the petroleum, chemical, and pharmaceutical industries.
Reviews and assessments
The ACSH is known as an "industry-friendly" group. In 1982, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a watchdog and consumer advocacy group, known to spar with ACSH, published an extensive report on ACSH's practices that stated, "ACSH appears to be a consumer fraud; as a scientific group, ACSH seems to arrive at conclusions before conducting studies. Through voodoo or alchemy, bodies of scientific knowledge are transmogrified into industry-oriented position statements." CSPI director Michael F. Jacobson said of ACSH, '"This organization promotes confusion among consumers about what is safe and what isn't... ACSH is using a slick scientific veneer to obscure and deny truths that virtually everyone else agrees with."
In 2004, the now-defunct Tufts University Nutrition Navigator (a rating guide to nutrition websites) gave the ACSH site an overall rating of 20 out of 25 and an "Accuracy of Information" rating of 8 out of 10. However, it commented, "This site aims to arm consumers with the facts necessary to make wise decisions about health, but be aware that the information here is biased and represents a very conservative interpretation of current science. Consumers looking for a balanced debate on health issues will have to look elsewhere."
At one time the ACSH websites quoted Michael Osterholm as calling the organization "one of the most centrist and most intellectually honest groups we've got today". In 2015, Osterholm told Medscape Medical News that he was no longer a member of ACSH, saying "I have concerns about how this group operates and the positions they take. I don't believe it's the best science."
In 2005, a critical piece in the magazine Mother Jones reported that the ACSH's current medical director, Gilbert Ross, had served time in a federal prison camp and had his medical license revoked for Medicare fraud. ACSH responded with an article on its website stating that Ross was remorseful for the role he played in the scam, that it had occurred during a period of personal and financial hardship, and that Ross had resigned from the fraudulent clinic after only 7 weeks employment. His medical license was reinstated in 2001.
The Scaife Foundation and John M. Olin Foundation provided ACSH's first financial support in the 1970s. In her address on the 25th Anniversary of ACSH, Dr. Whelan noted that their critics such as Phil Donahue and Barbara Walters accused them of being a "surrogate" of the petrochemical industry and a "shill" for the food industry. To appease their critics, ACSH only accepted funding from private foundations for two years. However, as the media continued to indicate that ACSH was industry-supported, the Board decided on a fundraising policy through which "about 40% of ACSH [funding] comes from private foundations, about 40% from corporations, and the rest of the sale of ACSH publications."
In the early 1990s, ACSH decided to stop reporting its funding. Their 1991 report shows that many corporations contributed funds. As of 2005, they had received $90,000 from ExxonMobil. Whelan told John Tierney of the New York Times in 2007 that "ACSH has a diverse funding base - we receive donations from private foundations and individuals and unrestricted (usually very small) grants from corporations. The fastest-growing segment of our funding base is individual consumers who are sick and tired of the almost daily baseless scares - and they write us checks to help support our work." In 2010, Whelan told The New Yorker that about a third of the organization's two million dollar annual budget comes from industry.
But in 2013, Mother Jones magazine received leaked internal financial documents from ACSH, which revealed that 58% of the organization's donations in the period from July 1, 2012, to December 20, 2012 came from corporations and large private foundations, many of which themselves had close ties to industries with financial stakes in the specific issues on which ACSH issues industry-favorable opinions. In addition, the documents revealed that the organization had on numerous occasions directly solicited donations from industry sources on the basis of projected reports on the specific issues in which those companies and industry organizations had such a stake. Similarly, in a 1992 internal memo by Whelan disclosed by Consumer Reports, Whelan directed her staff to “ask McNeil Specialty for $10,000 toward sweetener paper” and disclosed that her staff would seek “more CCC [Calorie Control Council] money ... to help us get new sweetener booklet out.” McNeil Specialty Products (now McNeil Nutritionals) owns the U.S. marketing rights to Splenda, the branded name of the artificial sweetener sucralose; the Calorie Control Council is an industry trade association for producers of artificial sweeteners, fat substitutes, and low-calorie foods. The same memo instructs that staffers give “special attention" to "Mr. McDermott at Searle about meat money." Thomas McDermott was shortly to become director of biotechnology communications for the agricultural biotechnology firm Monsanto; G.D. Searle was a Monsanto subsidiary, subsequently acquired by Pfizer.
- About, New York, 2013, retrieved 4 August 2014
- Andy Kroll; Jeremy Schulman (October 28, 2013). "Leaked Documents Reveal the Secret Finances of a Pro-Industry Science Group". Mother Jones. Retrieved 1 November 2013.
- Fracking: a safe and efficient path to energy independence, New York, 13 June 2014, retrieved 4 August 2014
- Whelan, Elizabeth (4 December 2003), Where Did ACSH Come From?: a 25th Anniversary Commentary
- "The New York Times". nytimes.com. Retrieved 7 February 2015.
- Miller, Henry; Ross, Gilbert (17 November 2009), "With A New Ideologue In Charge, It's (Bad) Business As Usual At EPA", Investor's Business Daily, retrieved 4 August 2014
- "15 U.S. Code § 2057c - Prohibition on sale of certain products containing specified phthalates", Cornell Law, 14 August 2008, retrieved 4 August 2014
- Kamrin, Michael A. (23 February 2009), "Phthalate Risks, Phthalate Regulation, and Public Health: A Review" (PDF), Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Part B 12 (2), retrieved 4 August 2014
- "Battle over phthalates heats up". CNN. September 28, 1999.
- "NYC Food Cops' National Agenda". The New York Post. September 8, 2008.
- "Doc Frieden's Food Voodoo". The New York Post. January 23, 2008.
- "Dietary Supplements: A Source of Regulatory Confusion (from Pharmacology Matters)". Pharmacology Matters. April 13, 2009.
- Detecting a Bad Breast Cancer Bill, Roll Call work=ACSH, 1 July 2009
- "One Flu Over the Piggy's Nest", Wall Street Journal, 28 April 2009
- "ABC's Autism Outrage". The New York Post. January 31, 2008.
- "WTC Health Czar? No!". New York Post. January 30, 2006.
- "Exploiting 9/11". The New York Post. June 26, 2008.
- "Will smoking past affect Obama’s health?". Politico. May 28, 2008.
- "Council Votes to Boost Butts". The New York Post. October 16, 2009.
- "Latest Excuse Not to Work". Fox Business. November 24, 2009.
- A Tool to Quit Smoking Has Some Unlikely Critics. New York Times. November 7, 2011.
- "Little Crop of Horrors: Samantha Bee reports on Michelle Obama's unhealthy, elitist organic garden". The Daily Show. May 14, 2009.
- Eggen D. (2010) "How interest groups behind health-care legislation are financed is often unclear". Washington Post.
- Harnik, Peter. "Voodoo Science, Twisted Consumerism: the Golden Assurances of the American Council on Science and Health". Center for Science in the Public Interest. January 1982.
- Center for Science in the Public Interest. "'Consumer Group' labeled front for industry". News Release. February 14, 1982.
- Review of ACSH from the Tufts University Nutrition Navigator. Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University. December 30, 2004.
- "BBB Wise Giving Report for The American Council on Science and Health". Better Business Bureau. January 2011.
- Lowes, Robert (22 April 2015). "Group Tied to Dr Oz Critics Has Critics Too". Medscape Medical News. Retrieved 10 June 2015.
- Hogan, Bill (November 9, 2005). "Paging Dr. Ross: A doctor who defends corporations from "inconvenient" science has a secret of his own.". Mother Jones.
- "Gilbert Ross, M.D. Medical/Executive Director". ACSH.org. Retrieved 22 October 2009.
- "ACSH Statements on Mother Jones Article About Dr. Gilbert Ross - ACSH".
- "w3.health.state.ny.us" (PDF).
- Center for Science in the Public Interest.
- "Put a Tiger In Your Think Tank | Mother Jones". motherjones.com. Retrieved 7 February 2015.
- "Money, Fats and Science". The New York Times. November 5, 2007.
- "The Plastic Panic", The New Yorker, 31 May 2010
- "The ACSH: Forefront of Science, or Just a Front?". Consumer Reports. May 1994. p. 319. Retrieved 1 November 2013.
- Official website
- Tufts Nutrition Navigator review of ACSH
- Daily Show segment on organic gardening featuring an ACSH representative
- Organizational Profile – National Center for Charitable Statistics (Urban Institute)