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 has received funding from a large number of corporations and industry groups with a financial stake in the science 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;
- Plans to pitch cosmetic companies on a plan to counter “reformulation pressures” brought by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics to remove toxic ingredients;
- Efforts to court tobacco and e-cigarette companies.
- ACSH’s longtime “Medical/Executive Director” Dr. Gilbert Ross was convicted in a scheme to defraud the Medicaid system prior to joining ACSH. In 1993, Dr. Ross was “Found guilty, after trial, of 13 counts of fraud, specifically one count of participation in a racketeering enterprise, one count of violation and pattern of racketeering activity, 10 counts of mail fraud and one count of criminal forfeiture,” according to court documents filed in the state of New York. Court documents indicate that Dr. Ross was “sentenced to prison for forty six (46) months … and also ordered to make restitution to the New York State Department of Social Services in the amount of $612,855.”
- The scheme to defraud Medicaid was “brazenly larcenous,” reported Bill Hogan in a 2005 Mother Jones story, “Paging Dr. Ross.” Hogan reported that 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, “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” 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.”
ACSH has often billed itself as an “independent” group, and has been referred to as “independent” in the press. However, according to the ACSH financial documents obtained by Mother Jones and reported by Andy Kroll and Jeremy Schulman:
- “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.”
- “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.”
- “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.”
ACSH features prominently in a July 11, 2017 article in the Progressive by Paul Thacker detailing the chemical industry’s PR campaign to promote GMOs and discredit environmental health concerns. Although Monsanto denied funding other groups, Thacker reported, “Monsanto ignored repeated questions about their financial support for the American Council on Science and Health.” ACSH Director Hank Campbell responded with this comment about his corporate funding, “I don’t care. If a large food corporation, like Whole Foods, or a smaller one, like Monsanto, wants to buy an ad here, they can. We will cash that check.”
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 with no disclosure of Monsanto’s role.
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.
Incorrect statements about science
- Claimed that “There is no evidence that exposure to secondhand smoke involves heart attacks or cardiac arrest.” Winston-Salem Journal, 2012
- Argued that “there is no scientific consensus concerning global warming.” ACSH, 1998
- Argued that fracking “doesn’t pollute water or air.” Daily Caller, 2013
- Claimed that “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
- Declared that “There is no evidence that BPA [bisphenol A] in consumer products of any type, including cash register receipts, are harmful to health.” ACSH, 2012
- Argued that the 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 continues to publish columns by ACSH president Hank Campbell and senior fellow Alex Berezow, who is also member of USA Today’s Board of Contributors, 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 or at least provide full disclosures about who funds the group.
The letter states:
- “We are writing to express our concern that USA Today continues to publish columns 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 on science. Your readers deserve accurate information about what and whom this group represents, as they reflect on the content of the columns.”
- “These are no idle allegations. Many of the undersigned health, environmental, labor and public interest groups have been tracking ACSH’s work over the years. We have documented instances in which the group has worked to undermine climate change 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.”
- We note that financial documents obtained by Mother Jones show that ACSH has received funding from tobacco, chemical, pharmaceutical and oil corporations. Public interest groups have reported that ACSH received funding from the Koch Foundations between 2005-2011, and released internal documents showing that ACSH solicited $100,000 from Syngenta in 2009 to write favorably about its product atrazine – a donation that was to be “separate and distinct from general operating support Syngenta has been so generously providing over the years.”
- “At a time when the public is questioning the legitimacy of the news media, we believe it is vital for publications such as USA Today to follow the highest standards of journalistic ethics and serve the public with as much truth and transparency as possible. We respectfully ask you to refrain from publishing further columns authored by members of the American Council on Science and Health, or at the very least require that the individuals identify the organization accurately as a corporate-funded advocacy group.”
As of December 2017, USA Today editorial page editor Bill Sternberg has declined to stop publishing ACSH columns and the paper has repeatedly provided inaccurate or incomplete disclosures for the columns, and failed to notify its readers about ACSH’s funding from corporations whose agenda they promote.