The American Council on Science and Health is a Corporate Front Group

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The American Council on Science and Health is a front group for the tobacco, agrichemical, fossil fuel, pharmaceutical and other industries.

A leaked ACSH financial summary, released in 2013 by Mother Jones, revealed that the American Council on Science and Health receives funding from a large number of corporations and industry groups with a financial stake in the messaging ACSH promotes. The internal document further revealed that ACSH solicits corporate donations for specific product-defense science messaging campaigns. For example, the document outlines:

  • plans to pitch the Vinyl Institute which “previously supported chlorine and health report”;
  • plans to pitch food companies for a messaging campaign to oppose GMO labeling, and cosmetic companies to counter “reformulation pressures”; and
  • efforts to court tobacco and electronic cigarette (e-cig) companies.

Personnel

  • ACSH’s longtime “Medical/Executive Director” was Dr. Gilbert Ross.[2] In 1993, according to United Press International, Dr. Ross was “convicted of racketeering, mail fraud and conspiracy,” and was “sentenced to 47 months in jail, $40,000 in forfeiture and restitution of $612,855” in a scheme to defraud the Medicaid system.[3]
  • ACSH’s Dr. Ross was found to be a “highly untrustworthy individual” by a judge who sustained the exclusion of Dr. Ross from Medicaid for ten years.[4]
  • Hank Campbell took over ACSH leadership from convicted felon Dr. Gil Ross in June 2015. Campbell is a former software developer who started the website Science 2.0 in 2006. In his book, “Science Left Behind: Feel Good Fallacies and the Rise of the Anti Science Left” (2012), Campbell describes his background: “six years ago… I decided I wanted to write science on the Internet” and, “Six years ago, with nothing but enthusiasm and a concept, I approached world famous people about helping me reshape how science could be done, and they did it for free.”

Funding

ACSH has often billed itself as an “independent” group, and has been referred to as “independent” in the press. However, according to the internal ACSH financial documents obtained by Mother Jones:

  • “ACSH planned to receive a total of $338,200 from tobacco companies between July 2012 and June 2013. Reynolds American and Phillip Morris International were each listed as expected to give $100,000 in 2013, which would make them the two largest individual donations listed in the ACSH documents.”[5]
  • “ACSH donors in the second half of 2012 included Chevron ($18,500), Coca-Cola ($50,000), the Bristol Myers Squibb Foundation ($15,000), Dr. Pepper/Snapple ($5,000), Bayer Cropscience ($30,000), Procter and Gamble ($6,000), agribusiness giant Syngenta ($22,500), 3M ($30,000), McDonald’s ($30,000), and tobacco conglomerate Altria ($25,000). Among the corporations and foundations that ACSH has pursued for financial support since July 2012 are Pepsi, Monsanto, British American Tobacco, DowAgro, ExxonMobil Foundation, Philip Morris International, Reynolds American, the Koch family-controlled Claude R. Lambe Foundation, the Dow-linked Gerstacker Foundation, the Bradley Foundation, and the Searle Freedom Trust.”[6]
  • ACSH has received $155,000 in contributions from Koch foundations from 2005-2011, according to Greenpeace.[7]

Ties to Monsanto

A 2017 Le Monde investigation into Monsanto’s “war on science” describes the American Council on Science and Health as a key player in Monsanto’s communication and lobbying network.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys suing Monsanto over glyphosate cancer concerns stated in a May 2017 brief that:

  • “Monsanto quietly funnels money to ‘think tanks’ such as the “Genetic Literacy Project” and the “American Council on Science and Health,” organizations intended to shame scientists and highlight information helpful to Monsanto and other chemical producers.

According to emails obtained by US Right to Know, Monsanto tapped ACSH to publish a series of pro-GMO papers written by professors and assigned by Monsanto.

  • In an August 2013 email, Monsanto executive Eric Sachs wrote to the professors: “To ensure that the papers have the greatest impact, the American Council for Science and Health is partnering with CMA Consulting to drive the project. The completed policy briefs will be offered on the ACSH website … CMA and ACSH also will merchandize the policy briefs, including the development of media specific materials, such as op-eds, blog postings, speaking engagements, events, webinars, etc.” The papers were eventually published and merchandized by Jon Entine’s Genetic Literacy Project.

Ties to Syngenta

In 2011, ACSH published the book “Scared to Death: How Chemophobia Threatens Public Health,” by Jon Entine, a longtime PR messenger for chemical industry interests. Entine’s book defends atrazine, a pesticide manufactured by Syngenta, which was funding ACSH.

A 2012 Mother Jones article about Entine describes the circumstances leading up to the publication of the book. The article, by Tom Philpott, is based in part on internal company documents, obtained by the Center for Media and Democracy, describing Syngenta’s PR efforts to get third-party allies to spin media coverage of atrazine.

In one email from 2009, ACSH staff asked Syngenta for an additional $100,000 – “separate and distinct from general operating support Syngenta has been so generously providing over the years” – to produce an atrazine-friendly paper and “consumer-friendly booklet” to help educate media and scientists.

A year and a half later, ACSH published Entine’s book with this release:

“The American Council on Science and Health is pleased to announce a new book and companion friendly, abbreviated position paper … authored by Jon Entine, a scholar with the American Enterprise Institute and highly regarded science journalist … ACSH compiled this resource book and position to educate legislators, industry, media, consumers and parents on the actual risks of chemical exposure and use in everyday products.”

Entine denied any relationship with Syngenta and told Philpott he had “no idea” Syngenta was funding ACSH.

Indefensible and incorrect statements on science 

ACSH has:

  • Claimed that “There is no evidence that exposure to secondhand smoke involves heart attacks or cardiac arrest.”[8]
  • Argued that “there is no scientific consensus concerning global warming. The climate change predictions are based on computer models that have not been validated and are far from perfect.”[9]
  • Argued that fracking “doesn’t pollute water or air.”[10]
  • Claimed that “The scientific evidence is clear. There has never been a case of ill health linked to the regulated, approved use of pesticides in this country.”[11]
  • Declared that “There is no evidence that BPA [bisphenol A] in consumer products of any type, including cash register receipts, are harmful to health.”[12]
  • Argued that the exposure to mercury, a potent neurotoxin, “in conventional seafood causes no harm in humans.”[13]

ACSH in the Media 

February 2017 letter to USA Today: Thirty health, environmental, labor and public interest groups wrote to the editors of USA Today expressing concerns that the paper is publishing science columns by members of the American Council on Science and Health without identifying  them as a corporate front group. The editors have so far declined to stop publishing the column or provide accurate disclosures about ACSH’s ties to corporations.

Footnotes

[2]Meet the ACSH Team,” American Council on Science and Health website.

[3]Seven Sentenced for Medicaid Fraud.” United Press International, December 6, 1993. See also correspondence from Tyrone T. Butler, Director, Bureau of Adjudication, State of New York Department of Health to Claudia Morales Bloch, Gilbert Ross and Vivian Shevitz, “RE: In the Matter of Gilbert Ross, M.D.” March 1, 1995. Bill Hogan, “Paging Dr. Ross.” Mother Jones, November 2005. Martin Donohoe MD FACP, “Corporate Front Groups and the Abuse of Science: The American Council on Science and Health (ACSH).” Spinwatch, June 25, 2010.

[4] Department of Health and Human Services, Departmental Appeals Board, Civil Remedies Division, In the Cases of Gilbert Ross, M.D. and Deborah Williams M.D., Petitioners, v. The Inspector General. June 16, 1997. Docket Nos. C-94-368 and C-94-369. Decision No. CR478.

[5] Andy Kroll and Jeremy Schulman, “Leaked Documents Reveal the Secret Finances of a Pro-Industry Science Group.” Mother Jones, October 28, 2013. “American Council on Science and Health Financial Report, FY 2013 Financial Update.” Mother Jones, October 28, 2013.

[6] Andy Kroll and Jeremy Schulman, “Leaked Documents Reveal the Secret Finances of a Pro-Industry Science Group.” Mother Jones, October 28, 2013. “American Council on Science and Health Financial Report, FY 2013 Financial Update.” Mother Jones, October 28, 2013.

[7]Koch Industries Climate Denial Front Group: American Council on Science and Health (ACSH).” Greenpeace. See also Rebekah Wilce, “Kochs and Corps Have Bankrolled American Council on Science and Health.” PR Watch, July 23, 2014.

[8] Richard Craver, “The Effects of the Smoking Ban.” Winston-Salem Journal, December 12, 2012.

[9] Elizabeth Whelan, “’Global Warming’ Not Health Threat.” PRI (Population Research Institute) Review, January 1, 1998.

[10] Elizabeth Whelan, “Fracking Doesn’t Pose Health Risks.” The Daily Caller, April 29, 2013.

[11]TASSC: The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition,” p. 9. Legacy Tobacco Documents Library, University of California, San Francisco. November 21, 2001. Bates No. 2048294227-2048294237.

[12]The Top 10 Unfounded Health Scares of 2012.” American Council on Science and Health, February 22, 2013.

[13]The Biggest Unfounded Health Scares of 2010.” American Council on Science and Health, December 30, 2010.