Since the publication of the Mother Jones article disparaging Dr. Gilbert Ross, my colleagues and I at the American Council on Science and Health have received a handful of (as of this writing, exactly three) inquiries about the veracity of the article and the circumstances surrounding Dr. Ross's activities.
Although this is hardly a cause celebre, I feel the need to clear the air by offering an overview of ACSH's history with Dr. Ross and his tenure here at ACSH for the past eight years.
In need of a senior staff person, early in 1998 I placed an advertisement in the New York Times seeking doctoral-level scientists with background in public health to work at ACSH. Dr. Ross responded to the ad, submitting his very impressive resume (he is a graduate of Cornell and received his medical degree from the New York University School of Medicine). I studied the resume and thought wistfully how terrific it would be to have a medical doctor on staff. But alas, ACSH's budget was (and is) so limited, such a prospect seemed far outside our reach. I called Dr. Ross, thanked him for submitting his resume, and told him upfront: "I need to be frank with you. Your resume is great, but ACSH can't afford you."
His response: "And I need to be frank with you. I have been convicted of a felony, have had my medical license temporarily revoked, and I have served time in prison."
Needless to say, I was stunned. I inquired about the offense involved (fearing that it was some aspect of quackery), and he asked if he could visit ACSH to meet me and outline the details in person.
I mentioned to a few staffers and friends the facts about Dr. Ross's circumstances and his forthcoming visit. The response was mostly negative, with most arguing "it would be bad for ACSH to bring on someone with a criminal record." I remonstrated that before I rejected his application, I wanted to get the facts -- and judge his credibility and honesty for myself.
When Gil came in, he presented his story: Following his residency, he had a successful private practice in rheumatology. He was married to a physician, and they had two daughters. Tragedy struck in the late 1980s: Gil's wife died suddenly in an accident, and he found himself raising two children alone, unexpectedly dependent on a single income. He sought additional work and more compensation. In 1991, he answered a newspaper ad seeking the services of a physician at a Bronx clinic. The clinic turned out to be a sham -- run by someone who claimed to be a physician but was not. Gil found himself inadvertently participating in a Medicaid scam. He described himself as "certainly not blameless," admitting, "I was stupid, I should have known the clinic was not legitimate." Gil worked at the clinic for seven weeks. In a federal sweep, he and other physicians there were indicted. Gil elected to fight the charges. Those who pleaded guilty got off easy, while Gil was sentenced to three years in prison.
By the time I met him, he had served his time (23 months with time off) and was seeking employment, intending to eventually reestablish his medical license. (Contrary to the assertions in the Mother Jones piece, his license was reinstated in 2001). Gil made it clear to me that he regretted his actions, made no excuses for himself, and said he was looking for a second chance in a career.
I liked him. He was very smart. I was intrigued -- and, of course, I was very interested in the prospect of having a physician on staff. I asked for references--and called each one. I spoke with his Rabbi, a nun he worked with while a volunteer at a Long Island Hospital, and his fellow physicians. Each one had only positive, enthusiastic things to say about Gil as a doctor, a family man, and a co-worker. At that point, I contacted members of the ACSH Board of Directors and set up interviews for Gil with key board members in New York City. Those who interviewed him were extremely impressed. But polling the Board, ACSH friends, and ACSH supporters, I found an almost even divide between those who urged me not to hire him for fear of putting ACSH at risk and those who said "go for it." The decision was, therefore, up to me.
I thought long and hard about it and decided that the benefits of hiring Gil far outweighed the risks. Further I believe in redemption, in second chances. Everyone makes mistakes. What is to be gained by stigmatizing someone for life for a mistake, even one that society considers a crime? Gil had already paid a high price -- I thought he had paid his debt to society and it was time to permit him to resume contributing.
I have never regretted that decision for a moment.
Dr. Gil Ross began working at ACSH in the spring of 1998. Within months, I appointed him Medical Director -- and then added the title of Executive Director. Gil oversees all ACSH's publication projects. He is a spokesman for ACSH on medical issues. He is invaluable. Hiring him was one of the best decisions I have ever made. The members of the "holdout" group among my advisors on the hiring question have uniformly apologized to me -- and praised me for hiring Gil. He has tremendously advanced ACSH's cause. He has become an indispensable member of the ACSH team.
Gil's transgression occurred nearly fifteen years ago. He has spent eight successful and productive years here at ACSH. In judging him, reasonable people will look not at his mistake of years ago but rather his stellar accomplishments in recent years. Only ACSH's critics -- ideologues who have no facts or scientific support for their views that toxins and carcinogens can be found in every drop of water, on every plate, and in the air around us -- will attempt to use Gil's long-ago past against him and ACSH. When you do not have science on your side, innuendo and ad hominem vilification are about all you have in your arsenal.
It is obviously difficult and painful for Gil to read once again these rehashed, ancient charges. The reality is that the transgression did occur and that it has been paid for in full -- but that it has no relevance to his superb work at ACSH during the twenty-first century. Let us move on.