Updated in January 2023
The American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) calls itself a “pro-science consumer advocacy organization” and media outlets often quote the group as an independent science source; however, documents described in this fact sheet establish that ACSH is corporate front group that solicits money from tobacco, chemical, cosmetic, pharmaceutical and other companies in exchange for defending and promoting their products. The group does not disclose its funding.
Key documents reveal hidden corporate funding
- Monsanto funded ACSH and asked the group to help defend glyphosate, according to emails from 2015, released via discovery in lawsuits filed by gardeners, landscapers and farmers who claim that exposure to glyphosate-based Roundup caused their cancers.
- Leaked financial documents from 2012 establish that ACSH solicited money from tobacco, chemical, plastic and cosmetic corporations for specific product defense campaigns.
- Emails from 2009 show that ACSH solicited $100,000 from Syngenta to write a paper and book about Syngenta’s pesticide atrazine. In 2011, ACSH released a book by Jon Entine (founder of the Bayer-funded Genetic Literacy Project) similar to the project described in the email.
- Syngenta and Monsanto have been regular contributors to ACSH over the years, the emails show.
Science denier Henry I. Miller joins ACSH writing staff
Five years after a Monsanto ghostwriting scandal prompted Forbes to delete dozens of his articles, Henry I. Miller, MD, joined the “full time writing staff” of ACSH. Miller, a former FDA official and founding director of the FDA Office of Biotechnology, has a long history of science denial and providing product-defense services for corporations. For more information, read our fact sheet about Henry I. Miller.
Monsanto: ACSH is “EXTREMELY USEFUL”
Emails released in April 2019 reveal that Monsanto agreed to fund ACSH in 2015 and asked the group to help defend glyphosate from cancer concerns raised by the International Agency for Research. ACSH agreed to do so, and later attacked the cancer report as a “scientific fraud.” The emails illuminate ACSH’s reliance on corporate funding and efforts to please its funders. ACSH’s former acting director Gil Ross (who spent time in jail for Medicaid fraud prior to working for ACSH) wrote to a Monsanto executive, “Each and every day, we work hard to prove our worth to companies such as Monsanto.” Ross wrote:
Emails also reveal that Monsanto executives paid ACSH despite their discomfort with the group. Daniel Goldstein, Monsanto’s senior science lead, championed ACSH to his colleagues, and sent them links to 53 ACSH articles, two books and a pesticide review he described as as “EXTREMELY USEFUL.” Goldstein wrote, “I can assure you I am not all starry-eyed about ASCH- they have PLENTY of warts- but: You WILL NOT GET A BETTER VALUE FOR YOUR DOLLAR than ACSH” (emphasis in original).
For more about the product defense role ACSH played for Monsanto, and the group’s attacks on scientists and journalists, read our reporting, “Meet the Merchants of Poison: The front groups and PR partners pesticide companies use to defend glyphosate.”
Key player in Monsanto’s propaganda network
An award-winning investigation by Le Monde into Monsanto’s “war on science” to defend glyphosate named the American Council on Science and Health among the “well known propaganda websites” that played a key role in attacking the scientists who raised cancer concerns.
In May 2017, plaintiffs’ attorneys suing Monsanto over glyphosate cancer concerns stated in a brief: “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.”
As another example of how ACSH helps companies with product defense, emails obtained by U.S. Right to Know reveal that Monsanto initially chose ACSH to publish a series of pro-GMO papers that were assigned to professors by Monsanto and “merchandized” by a PR firm to heavily promote them as independent. 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 by Genetic Literacy Project with no disclosure of Monsanto’s role.
Leaked ACSH financial documents
A 2012 financial summary from the American Council on Science and Health, leaked by an employee and reported by Mother Jones, revealed that ACSH received funding from a large number of corporations and industry groups with a financial stake in the science messaging ACSH promotes. The document further exposed that ACSH solicits corporate donations for quid pro quo product-defense 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;
- Plans to pitch cosmetic companies to counter “reformulation pressures” from the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics;
- Efforts to court tobacco and e-cigarette companies for product-defense campaigns.
Mother Jones reported, “ACSH’s donors and the potential backers the group has been targeting comprise a who’s-who of energy, agriculture, cosmetics, food, soda, chemical, pharmaceutical, and tobacco corporations.” Funding details:
- ACSH donors in the second half of 2012 included Chevron, Coca-Cola, the Bristol Myers Squibb Foundation, Dr. Pepper/Snapple, Bayer Cropscience, Procter and Gamble, Syngenta, 3M, McDonald’s, and tobacco conglomerate Altria. ACSH also pursued financial support from 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 Searle Freedom Trust.
- Reynolds American and Phillip Morris International were the two largest donors listed in the documents.
Syngenta funding and atrazine defense
In 2011, ACSH published a book about “chemophobia”writtenby Jon Entine, who is now the executive director of the Genetic Literacy Project, another front group that works with Monsanto. Entine’s ACSH book defended atrazine, a pesticide manufactured by Syngenta, which was funding ACSH.
A 2012 Mother Jones article describes the circumstances leading up to the book. The article by Tom Philpott, based in part on internal company documents obtained by the Center for Media and Democracy, describes 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.
Email from ASCH staffer Gil Ross to Syngenta about proposed atrazine project:
A year and a half later, ACSH published Entine’sbook with a press release using similar language as the project Ross described in his solicitation email to Syngenta: “The American Council on Science and Health is pleased to announce a new book and companion friendly, abbreviated position paper” in response to the “irrational fear of chemicals.” Author Jon Entine denied any relationship with Syngenta and told Philpott he had “no idea” Syngenta was funding ACSH.
- Henry I. Miller, MD, joined ACSH’s staff as a full time writer in January 2023. Miller has a long history of arguing against public health protections and taking positions outside the scientific mainstream: he has claimed nicotine “is not particularly bad for you” and that low levels of radiation may be beneficial to health. In 2017, he was dropped by Forbes, his main writing platform, after a ghostwriting scandal; the New York Times reported that Miller had published an article under his own name in Forbes that had been ghostwritten by Monsanto. Miller was also a member of the “scientific advisory board” of theGeorge C. Marshall Institute, known for its fossil-fuel industry funded denials of climate science.
- ACSH’s longtime “Medical/Executive Director” Gilbert Ross, MD was convicted in a scheme to defraud the Medicaid system prior to joining ACSH. See court documents about Dr. Ross’ multiple fraud convictions and sentencing, and article in Mother Jones “Paging Dr. Ross” (2005). Dr. Ross was found to be a “highly untrustworthy individual” by a judge who sustained the exclusion of Dr. Ross from Medicaid for 10 years (see additional references and court document).
- In June 2015, Hank Campbell took over ACSH leadership from acting president (and convicted felon) Dr. Gilbert Ross. Campbell worked for software development companies before starting the website Science 2.0 in 2006. In his 2012 book with Alex Berezow, “Science Left Behind: Feel Good Fallacies and the Rise of the Anti Science Left,” Campbell describes his background: “six years ago… I decided I wanted to write science on the Internet … 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.” Campbell left suddenly under unknown circumstances in December 2018. Read more about Campbell here.
- Campbell’s book co-author, Alex Berezow, vice president of scientific affairs at ACSH until 2021, was a founding editor of Real Clear Science and served on the USA Today editorial board of contributors during his ACSH years. The paper elevated Berezow and ACSH without disclosing their corporate ties despite complaints by public health groups. Berezow is now the editor of Big Think.
Leaders and advisors: tobacco ties and climate science denial
The ACSH board of trustees includes Fred L. Smith Jr., founder of the Competitive Enterprises Institute, a leading promoter of climate science denial and a group that has received millions of dollars from Exxon Mobile and dark money funding vehicle Donors Trust. Smith and CEI also have a history of fighting against tobacco regulations and soliciting money from the tobacco industry, according to documents from the UCSF Truth Tobacco Industry Documents archive.
James Enstrom and Geoffrey Kabat, two epidemiologists who took money from tobacco companies and wrote studies defending tobacco products, also have ACSH ties. Dr. Enstrom was a longtime member of the ACSH board of trustees (he resigned in 2022 due to disagreements detailed in this email correspondence with ACSH President Thom Golab).
Dr. Kabat, who is also a board member of the Bayer-funded Genetic Literacy Project, serves on the ACSH’s “health board of scientific advisors“. Enstrom and Kabat both have”long standing financial and other working relationships with the tobacco industry,” according to a paper in BMJ Tobacco Control.
In a widely cited 2003 paper in BMJ, Kabat and Enstrom concluded that secondhand smoke does not increase the risk of lung cancer and heart disease. The study was sponsored in part by the Center for Indoor Air Research (CIAR), a tobacco industry group. Although that funding was disclosed, a follow-up analysis in BMJ Tobacco Control found that the disclosures by Enstrom and Kabat “did not provide the reader with a full picture of the tobacco industry’s involvement with the study authors.” The paper details numerous financial ties between Enstrom and the tobacco industry.
Enstrom countered these claims in a 2007 article in Epidemiological Perspectives and Innovation, arguing that his funding and competing interests were clearly and accurately described in the 2003 BMJ paper, and that tobacco industry funding did not impact his research. “To date, no impropriety, bias or omission has been identified in the review process and no error in the results has been identified in the paper,” Enstrom said.
Emails from 2014 feature Dr. Enstrom discussing with famous climate science denier Fred Singer ideas to attack and discredit two scientists who were involved in the film “Merchants of Doubt:How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming, “and whether to try to stop the release of the film with a lawsuit. For more information, see DeSmog blog, “Tobacco Gun for Hire James Enstrom, Willie Soon and the Climate Deniers Attack on Merchants of Doubt” (March 2015).
Incorrect statements about science
American Council on Science and Health has claimed:
- “There is no evidence that exposure to secondhand smoke involves heart attacks or cardiac arrest.”Winston-Salem Journal, 2012
- “there is no scientific consensus concerning global warming.” ACSH, 1998 (Greenpeace has described ACSH a “Koch Industries climate denial front group”)
- fracking “doesn’t pollute water or air.” Daily Caller, 2013
- “There has never been a case of ill health linked to the regulated, approved use of pesticides in this country.”Tobacco Documents Library, UCSF, The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition document page 9, 1995
- “There is no evidence that BPA [bisphenol A] in consumer products of any type, including cash register receipts, are harmful to health.” ACSH, 2012
- exposure to mercury, a potent neurotoxin, “in conventional seafood causes no harm in humans.” ACSH, 2010.
Recent ACSH messaging continues in the same theme, denying risk from products that are important to the chemical, tobacco and other industries, and making frequent attacks on scientists, journalists and others who raise concerns.
- A 2016 “top junk science” post by ACSH denies that chemicals can cause endocrine disruption; defends e-cigarettes, vaping and soda; and attacks journalists and the Journal of the American Medical Association.
USA Today gives ACSH a platform
USA Today for years published columns by ACSH staffers Hank Campbell and Alex Berezow without disclosing their funding ties to corporations whose interests they defend. In February 2017, 30 health, environmental, labor and public interest groups wrote to the editors of USA Today asking the paper to stop providing a platform of legitimacy to ACSH.
“We are writing to express our concern that USA Today continues topublishcolumns written by members of the American Council on Science and Health(ACSH), a corporate-funded group with a long history of promoting corporate agendas that are at odds with mainstream science. USA Today should not be helping this group promote its false identity as a credible, independent source onscience. Your readers deserve accurate information about what and whom this group represents, as they reflect on the content of the columns.
“We have documented instances in which the group has worked to undermine climate science, and deny the health threats associated with various products, including second-hand smoke, fracking, pesticides and industrial chemicals – all without being transparent about its corporate backers.”
USA Today editorial page editor Bill Sternberg refused to stop publishing ACSH columns and the paper repeatedly provided inaccurate or incomplete disclosures for the columns, and failed to notify its readers about ACSH’s funding from corporations. Berezow left ACSH in 2021 and is no longer listed on USA Today’s website as an editorial board contributor.