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American Council on Science and Health

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This article is part of the Center for Media & Democracy's spotlight on front groups and corporate spin.

The American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) describes itself as "a consumer education consortium concerned with issues related to food, nutrition, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, lifestyle, the environment and health." At one time the web site stated, "ACSH is an independent, nonprofit, tax-exempt organization. The nucleus of ACSH is a board of 350 physicians, scientists and policy advisors - experts in a wide variety of fields - who review the Council's reports and participate in ACSH seminars, press conferences, media communications and other educational activities." Currently that statement is changed to read, "ACSH is a national, non-profit, tax-exempt 501(c)(3) consumer health education and advocacy organization based in New York City." Note that the word "independent" no longer appears in the description.[1]

To its credit, it has taken a strong public position against the dangers of tobacco, one of the leading preventable causes of death in today's society. However, it takes a generally apologetic stance regarding virtually every other health and environmental hazard produced by modern industry, accepting corporate funding from Coca-Cola, Kellogg, General Mills, Pepsico, and the American Beverage Association, among others.



The website states that "ACSH was a group of scientists who had become concerned that many important public policies related to health and the environment did not have a sound scientific basis. These scientists created the organization to add reason and balance to debates about public health issues and bring common sense views to the public." [1]

ACSH director Elizabeth Whelan explains that the concept of ACSH emerged following being commissioned by Pfizer to produce a background paper on the 'Delaney Clause' in the 1958 Food Additive Amendment, which restricted the use of cancer causing chemicals in foods. Subsequently Whelan wrote Panic in the Pantry, a "book on the history of food scares", which was published in 1976.

ACSH was founded by Whelan and Dr. Frederick Stare in March 1978, with the assistance of her father and husband as legal advisers."With assistance from former Secretary of the Treasury William Simon, ACSH was introduced to the Scaife Foundations and John M. Olin Foundation which provided ACSH with its first financial support," Whelan explained in a retrospective on the organization's 25th anniversary. [2]


A revealing reference regarding ACSH's origins appears in the March 1978 minutes of a meeting of the board of directors of the Manufacturing Chemists' Association (later renamed the Chemical Manufacturers Association, and known today as the American Chemistry Council). The minutes record an appeal by MCA director William J. Driver, who noted that Whelan had founded "a tax-exempt organization composed of scientists whose viewpoints are more similar to those of business than dissimilar. . . . ACSH is being pinched for funds, but in the interest of independence and credibility will not accept support from any chemical company or any company which could even remotely be concerned with the aims of the council." [3]

Notwithstanding this desire to make ACSH appear independent, Driver added that "Dr. Whelan would be happy to hear from" MCA members who "are interested in the work of the council and know of possible sources of funds."

Media coverage

WaPo 2010: McCaughey and death panels

The Washington Post identified ACSH as "an industry-friendly group whose board member Betsy McCaughey helped set off the "death panels" frenzy" in the 2009 health care reform debate.[2]

Coverage of ACSH Ties

The conflict between ACSH's hidden sponsors and the views espoused occasionally rates a mention in media coverage too. Writing in the Columbia Journalism Review, Gloria Cooper wryly commented that the Today Show deserved a "dart" for "failing to meet truth-in-labeling standards." Cooper noted that in a June 12 2003 segment on the Today Show, Whelan had dismissed the suggestion of the New York Assemblyman Felix Ortiz that a 1 percent tax be placed on junk foods. "There is room in life for potato chips and Twinkies and all these other maligned foods if you don't eat huge amounts of them," Whelan said.

"Point well taken", Cooper wrote, "But one that viewers might well have taken with a mindful grain of salt, had they been given at least a clue to the organization that Whelan represents." [4]

Case studies

Alar and apples

"It was the great Alar scare of 1989 that boosted Whelan into the media stratosphere," Washington Post media reporter Howard Kurtz wrote in a 1990 article in the Columbia Journalism Review. ACSH and Whelan were fixtures on the anti-environmental scene long before the Alar issue emerged, downplaying risks from DDT, dioxin, asbestos, and a host of other polluting chemicals, but Whelan's prominent role in the Alar counter-publicity campaign helped make ACSH a common source for journalists seeking commentary on public health issues.

See Alar and apples

Benzene in Soft Drinks

See Benzene in Soft Drinks

C. Everett Koop and ACSH

See C. Everett Koop and ACSH

Panic Attack

See Panic Attack: ACSH Fears Nothing but Fear Itself

ACSH and Tobacco

In December, 1980 ACSH co-founder Stare wrote to tobacco giant Philip Morris seeking financial support. "We are a voice of scientific reason in a sea of pseudo science, exaggeration and misnformation. We believe it would be to your benefit to help ACSH," he wrote. Stare explained that the "basic" ACSH corporate benefactor membership was $3,000 "but we hope you will contribute $10,000 or more."[3]

Whelan&ACSH oppostion to tobacco

Despite Stare's 1980 solicitation of funds from PM, Whelan was an early advocate against the tobacco industry. In December 1981 she wrote to Henry Waxman explaining that while they opposed government labelling restrictions on food additives such as saccharin and nitrites - "because there is no adequate data to support the hypothesis that these substances pose a risk to human health" - cigarettes was another matter altogether.

"In the case of cigarette smoking, however, the evidence is overwhelming. I believe it is the correct role of government to provide educational information on the health risks to consumers, and let the consumers make their own decisions," she wrote.[5]

When a new cigarette brand called "Satin" appeared with the slogan "Spoil yourself with Satin," the ACHS commended this in a newsletter as the first truthful cigarette ad because "our dictionary defines 'spoil' as 'to damage seriously; to ruin; to impair the quality or effect of.' What better way to describe a product which harms the lungs, heart and other organs, stains the teeth and fingers, promotes wrinkles, fouls the breath, and leaves an unpleasant odor on hair and clothing. Certainly the more than 300,000 Americans who died last year of smoking related diseases were 'spoiled' by cigarettes."(L. White, Merchants of Death, 1988)

In 1982 and 1986, ACSH conducted a survey of magazines to determine how well they covered the hazards of smoking and to explore the role that cigarette advertising might play in editorial policy. The studies clearly showed that the best coverage of smoking and health was presented in magazines that did not accept cigarette advertising.(L. White, Merchants of Death, 1988).

Tobacco industry reaction

The tobacco industry, tired of Whelan's criticism of their products, considered exploiting concern over her advocacy for the interests of funders. In 1983 the lobby shop Shook, Hardy and Bacon drafted a briefing note just in case Tobacco Institute representatives were quizzed on why they hadn't responded to letters from Whelan. "It is interesting that Dr. Whelan continues to make unequivocal assertions about cigarette smoking at the same time that she categorically rejects similar charges about other possible health hazards, such as chemicals and food additives," they wrote. [6]

"It suggests that Dr. Whelan may be using different scientific standards to judge claims about cigarettes smoking than about products manufactured by companies that would appear to have a vested interest in furthering views such as those expressed by Dr. Whelan. As you may be aware, it has been suggested in the press and elsewhere that her views about certain products are open to question because of the sources of funding for her organization," the briefing note stated.

Sound Science Award

ACSH awarded author Michael Crichton its 2005 Sound Science Prize for "his defense of sound scientific principles and critiques of junk science" in his novel State of Fear.[4], although ACSH reportedly takes no stand on climate change. The ACSH has not awarded this prize before or since.[5]



"ACSH did not accept funding -- even general operating funding -- from any corporation or trade association for the first two years of operation," Whelan explained in 2003. ACSH's policy, she said, was to only accept funding only from foundations was soon relaxed. "For two years we tried that, but the media still regularly implied that ACSH had industry support … The ACSH Board of Directors concluded that what critics objected to was not ACSH's funding but ACSH's views -- and that in avoiding corporate donations we were limiting ACSH's fundraising potential to no avail," she wrote insisting that corporate funding must be "no strings attached".

Shortly after its founding, ACSH abandoned even the appearance of independent funding. In a 1997 interview, Whelan explained that she was already being called a "paid liar for industry," so she figured she might as well go ahead and take industry money without restrictions.

2003 shortfall

In its IRS Form 990 for its fiscal year ending June 30, 2003, ACSH reported revenues totalling $1,332,214 but ran a deficit that year just over $402,000. (In comparison, its total revenue for the year to June 30 1999 was $2,566,557). See ACSH financial data

Faced with a budget shortfall, ACSH suspended the production of its newsletter, ACSH News, for eighteen months. [7] While ACSH's income has nosedived, salaries for the top three staff have climbed. In 2002-2003, the three highest paid staff - Whelan, Stier and Ross - accounted for $638,186 between them.

In a year that the organisation ran a substantial deficit, the salaries of the top three accounted for 48% of the revenue for the year and over a third of the organisations total expenditure. While Stier and Ross took a pay cut of approximately 4.5% each in 2002-2003, Whelan's salary rose by over 11%.


In a speech marking the 25th anniversary of ACSH Whelan explained that about 40% of ACSH funding comes from private foundations, "about 40% from corporations, and the rest of the sale of ACSH publications", she wrote. "The important thing, though, is not the source of your funding but the accuracy of the points you make, and ACSH's scientific advisors and use of peer review keep us honest". [[8]


During its first 15 years of operation, ACSH published the names of its institutional funders, but it has stopped doing this in recent years, making it harder to identify where all of its money comes from. In the latest years for which information is available, some 40 percent of ACSH's budget was supplied directly by industry, including a long list of food, drug and chemical companies that have a vested interest in supporting Whelan's message.

1984 Funders

In its 1984 Annual report ACSH provided an extensive list of its corporate and foundations. [9] ACSH funders have included the following:

  • ALCOA Foundation
  • Allied Signals Foundation, Inc.
  • American Cyanamid Company
  • American Meat Institute
  • Amoco Foundation, Inc.
  • Anheuser-Busch Foundation
  • Archer Daniels Midland Company
  • Ashland Oil Foundation
  • Boise Cascade Corporation
  • Bristol-Myers Fund, Inc.
  • Burger King Corporation
  • Campbell Soup Company
  • Carnation Company
  • Chevron Environmental Health Center
  • Ciba-Geigy Corporation
  • Coca-Cola Company
  • Consolidated Edison
  • Cooper Industries Foundation
  • Adolph Coors Foundation
  • Crystal Trust
  • Shelby Cullum Davis Foundation
  • Dow Chemical Canada, Inc.
  • Dow Corning Corporation
  • E.I. Du Pont de Nemours & Company
  • Ethyl Corporation
  • Exxon Corporation
  • FMC Foundation
  • Ford Motor Company Fund
  • Frito-Lay
  • General Electric Foundation
  • General Mills, Inc.
  • General Motors Foundation
  • Gerber Products Company
  • Rollin M. Gerstacker Foundation
  • Hershey Foods Corporation Fund
  • Heublein, Inc.
  • ICI Americas Inc.
  • Johnson & Johnson
  • Johnson's Wax Fund, Inc.
  • Kellogg Company
  • Ester A. and Joseph Klingenstein Fund, Inc.
  • David H. Koch Charitable Foundation
  • Kraft Foundation
  • Kraft General Foods (now part of Altria Group)
  • Licensed Beverage Information Council
  • Thomas J. Lipton Foundation, Inc.
  • M&M Mars
  • Merck Company Foundation
  • Mobil Foundation, Inc.
  • Monsanto Fund
  • National Agricultural Chemicals Association
  • National Dairy Council
  • National Soft Drink Association
  • National Starch and Chemical Foundation
  • Nestlé
  • Samuel Roberts Nobel Foundation, Inc.
  • Northwood Institute
  • NutraSweet Company
  • John M. Olin Foundation Inc.
  • Oscar Mayer Foods
  • Pepsico Foundation Inc. (Pepsi-Cola)
  • Pfizer Inc.
  • Pillsbury Company
  • PPG Industries Foundation
  • Procter & Gamble Fund
  • Ralston Purina
  • Rohm & Haas Company
  • Salt Institute
  • Sarah Scaife Foundation, Inc.
  • Schultz Foundation
  • G.D. Searle Charitable Trust
  • Joseph E. Seagrams & Sons, Inc.
  • Shell Oil Company Foundation
  • Stare Fund
  • Starr Foundation
  • Sterling Drug, Inc.
  • Stouffer Company
  • Stroh Brewery Company
  • Sugar Association, Inc.
  • Sun Company, Inc.
  • Syntex Corporation
  • Union Carbide Corporation
  • Uniroyal Chemical Co.
  • USX Corp.
  • Warner-Lambert Foundation
  • Wine Growers of California

Funders who withdrew

According to ACSH, some of its funding from the food industry dried up after those companies were acquired by Philip Morris, which does not like the position that ACSH has taken against tobacco. "ACSH's warnings about cigarette smoking resulted in the loss of substantial contributions from food manufacturers that had been acquired by tobacco companies. A metal pipe manufacturer withdrew its support after ACSH defended the safety of the proper use of plastic pipes," ACSH states on its website. [10]


While ACSH has never been far from controversy, it can draw on well-connected supporters. ABC News' John Stossel was the master of ceremonies at ACSH's 25th anniversary dinner on December 4, 2000.[11] (Stossel penned a commentary column - "The Anti-Junk Scientists" - lauding ACSH for that that days edition of the for the New York Post.) [12] Also attending was conservative humourist Christopher Buckley.


ACSH has been headed by Elizabeth Whelan since its inception. Whelan makes no bones about her political leanings, describing herself as a lifelong conservative who is "more libertarian than Republican." According to media commentator Howard Kurtz, "Television producers like Whelan because she's colorful and succinct, skewering her adversaries with such phrases as 'toxic terrorists' and referring to their research as 'voodoo statistics.' Newspaper reporters often dial her number because she is an easily accessible spokesperson for the 'other' side of many controversies."

Board of Trustees

December 2009

The ACSH board of Trustees, as of December 2009[6], is composed of:

July 2004

The ACSH board of Trustees, as of July 2004, was composed of:

Founders Circle

In December 2009 the ACSH listed the following individuals in its Founders Circle[6]:

Scientific Advisors

As of December 2009, ACSH lists over 300 advisors; see ACSH Scientific advisors


Staff, including the salaries and benefits to its top five employees were reported in ACSH's 2003 IRS return as follows:

(Between the 1999 financial year to 2003, Whelan's salary climbed from $223,570 to $326,612; Stiers from $110,185 to $155,577 and Gilbert Ross's from $87,325 to 155,997). (See ACSH staff salaries).

Former staff

Nicolas Martin was ACSH's administrative director during parts of 1988 and 1989. He dubbed ACSH's President, Elizabeth Whelan, the "junk food queen" for her defense of companies who make products with low nutritional value.

Martin says that during his tenure with ACSH he saw or was informed of instances when funders were intimately involved in ACSH projects. Before Martin's arrival at the organization, ACSH published a booklet on sugar and health. He says that he was told by ACSH's then vice-president, Edward Remmers, that the booklet was printed in-house by The Hershey Company. Martin says that during his tenure ACSH was producing a booklet on alcohol and health that the Stroh Brewery Company participated in editing. Neither booklet included an acknowledgement of funder participation.

Martin claims that in 1999 The Professional Lawn Care Association of America (PLCAA) asked ACSH to publish a booklet defending chemicals used for lawn care. He says that Dr. Whelan insisted that ACSH would only produce such a defense if the PLCAA made a donation to fund it. This is the sort of quid pro quo Dr. Whelan has always claimed that ACSH has never permitted.[13] Martin says that he notified ACSH board members of these apparent violations of ACSH policy, but that no public acknowledgement or correction resulted.

Martin disputes Dr. Whelan's claim to be a libertarian, noting that she has long supported government limits on the sale of food supplements, and controls over tobacco sale and use by adults. He notes that Dr. Whelan attended a fundraiser to support the Supreme Court nomination of Robert Bork, whose constitutional views are anathema to most libertarians.

From 1989 to the present, Martin has been executive director of the Consumer Health Education Council.

Contact Information

American Council on Science and Health
1995 Broadway
New York, NY 10023-5860
phone: (212) 362-7044

Related SourceWatch Resources

External links

Referenced version available at web address above. This article discusses the threats to science and society posed by anti-science groups, focusing on American Council on Science and Health, and provides background on Elizabeth Whelan and Gilbert Ross. An open access powerpoint is available at Confronting pseudoscience and threats from a corporate front group - the American Council on Science and Health. No password necessary.

Articles by ACSH Staff

  • Elizabeth Whelan, "Where Did ACSH Come From?", Editorial, December 4, 2003.
  • Elizabeth Whelan, "letter to Henry Waxman", Bates Number: 03741494, December 1981.

ACSH Annual Reports

  • "Second Annual Report," American Council on Science and Health, 1979
  • "Seventh Annual Report," American Council on Science and Health, 1984

General Articles

  • Norman Borlaug the Poster Boy for Bogus Science, [14]
  • Interactive Network of Connections for ACSH [15]
  • Center for Science in the Public Interest, ""Consumer Group" labeled front for industry", News Release, February 14, 1982.
  • Peter Harnik, "Voodoo Science, Twisted Consumerism: the golden assurances of the American Council on Science and Health", Bates No 521021383, Center for Science in the Public Interest, January 1982.
  • John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton, "The Junkyard Dogs of Science", PR Watch, Volume 5, No. 4, 4th Quarter 1998.
  • "Integrity Ain't Cheap", PR Watch, Volume 5, No. 4, 4th Quarter 1998.
  • "Flying the Koop: A Surgeon General's Reputation On the Line", PR Watch, Volume 5, No. 4, 4th Quarter 1998.
  • "Panic Attack: ACSH Fears Nothing but Fear Itself", PR Watch, Volume 5, No. 4, 4th Quarter 1998.
  • "ACSH vs. Ashes: Tobacco's Worst Enemy, or a Smoke Screen?", PR Watch, Volume 5, No. 4, 4th Quarter 1998.
  • Wade Frazier , "Julian Simon, Whaling, and the 'Good News'". This essay looks primarily at the work of now-deceased conservative economist Julian Simon, but also includes commentary based on Frazier's close reading of several books authored by Elizabeth Whelan. It also provides details about Whelan's relationship with her mentor and ACSH co-founder Frederick Stare, a nutritional "expert" who specialized in the defense of sugar and fatty foods.
  • Republican Doctors to Gingrich: Shun Tobacco Industry. This story provides an example of Whelan's rather unusual approach to anti-tobacco activism. (She is critical of tobacco, yet opposes requiring cigarettes to carry the U.S. Surgeon General's warning label.)
  • Frederick Stare, "ACSH letter to Dr H R.R. Wakeham, Vice President, Science & Technology, Philip Morris", Bates Number: 1000283163/3165, December 5, 1980.
  • Howard Kurtz, "Dr. Whelan's Media Operation," Columbia Journalism Review, Vol. 8, No. 6 (March 1990), pp. 43-47.
  • "The ACSH: Forefront of Science, or Just a Front?", Consumer Reports, May 1994, p. 319.
  • Gloria Cooper, "Darts & Laurels", Columbia Journalism Review, Issue 5, September/October 2003.
  • W. Shinn (Shook Hardy & Bacon), "For Congressional hearings or more formal inquiries: Why no response to Elizabeth Whelan?", Bates No TIMN0140124/0126, 1983 (approx).
  • John Stossel, "The Anti-Junk Scientists", New York Post, November 4, 2003.
  • Roger P. Maickel, Ph.D. "ACSH Defended", PR Watch, Volume 6, No. 2, Second Quarter 1999. (A response by PR Watch follows this letter to the editor).
  • Bill Hogan "Paging Dr. Ross: A doctor who defends corporations from "inconvenient" science has a secret of his own, Mother Jones, November/December 2005.
  • John Stauber, Food Flack Nation Attacks Journalist Eric Schlosser,, May 11, 2006.


  1. American Council on Science and Health About, organizational web page, accessed January 24, 2012
  2. Dan Eggen How interest groups behind health-care legislation are financed is often unclear Washington Post, January 7, 2010, Page A1
  3. Stare, FJ 3-page Letter, Bates No.1000283163/3165, Philip Morris document collection, December 5, 1980
  4. Author unknown (2005-11-08). Michael Crichton Accepts Award from ACSH. ACSH. Retrieved on 2010-11-17. “New York, NY -- November 8, 2005. The American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) presented Dr. Michael Crichton with the 2005 Sound Science Award for his defense of sound scientific principles and critiques of junk the Union League Club in Manhattan on Friday, November 4th...drew an impressive crowd and featured remarks from such prominent individuals as ABC News's John Stossel and former White House Chief Counsel, the Honorable C. Boyden Gray, in addition to the guest of honor.”
  5. Whelan, Nov. 2010, pers. comm.
  6. 6.0 6.1 ACSH Trustees and Founders Circle. American Council on Science and Health. Retrieved on 2009-12-24.

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