From the Desk of Thom Golab: 'Ideas Have Consequences'

By Thom Golab — Jan 03, 2023
A former boss often used the phrase, “ideas have consequences.” In the 1960s and 1970s, America saw a rise in junk science and fearmongering. Because of this, three highly respected experts: Nobel Laureate Dr. Norman Borlaug (the “Father of the Green Revolution”), Dr. Frederick Stare (founder of the Nutrition Department at Harvard School of Public Health), and Dr. Elizabeth Whelan (noted epidemiologist, nutrition expert and author of 23 books)created the American Council on Science and Health.
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ACSH has sought to do two things: promote sound science and debunk junk science. The Wall Street Journal wrote in the early 1980s that Dr. Whelan, ACSH’s first president, coined the term junk science. Overnight, ACSH became a respected leader in the fight for truth in science and health. When fearmongers screamed about approved pesticides or snake oil salesmen tried to peddle worthless diet pills, ACSH’s experts went into action.  

Looking at our founders, one can see how ACSH rose to such prominence and respectability so quickly and has remained there. Dr. Whelan ran ACSH from its beginning until her death in 2014. I was lucky enough to know her for many years; she was remarkable. Dr. Whelan amassed a Board of Scientific Advisors comprised of experts in everything from nutrition and drugs to agriculture and nuclear energy.

ACSH’s experts have responded to junk science and fearmongering in many ways. We’ve produced books, written articles, and commentaries. Most importantly, our experts report so non-scientists can easily comprehend complex and detailed issues. Last year alone, ACSH reached more than 1.2 billion readers worldwide. We’ve done this directly through our website, our social media pages, and more importantly, indirectly through media outlets like The Washington Post, The New Post, The Baltimore Sun, the BBC, and many more globally.

ACSH has a long and successful track record. We warned the public of the dangers of smoking, and we were the driving force behind seatbelt laws and bike helmets that save children. Famously, when NRDC, with the help of Academy Award-winning actress Meryl Streep – herself a noted chemical and pesticide expert (sarcasm) – manufactured the “alar on apples” pesticide scare, we showed it to be exaggerated hype manufactured with the help of public relations firm. Our warnings about “chemophobia” were portrayed in the ground-breaking documentary Big Fears, Little Risks, narrated by Walter Cronkite and aired on PBS, The Learning Channel, and others.

Our science publications have informed key policymakers for decades. When media physician Dr. Oz continued to foist off "miracle" foods and supplements on the public, Council friends and members spearheaded the letter to Columbia University demanding he be removed from their faculty, which got nationwide attention. Our testimony before FDA about missteps in the war on pain addiction made "fentanyl" part of the national lexicon.

If you regularly read articles at ACSH, you know that it is a go-to organization. And for all of the reasons I have already noted and more.

ACSH is often the first to inform the public of breakthroughs and discoveries. Over the past year, ACSH was the first to report on how telemedicine saves lives, Chornobyl and the war in Ukraine, a vaccine to counter fentanyl, a study on twins to compare nature versus nurture, comparing the environmental impact of artificial Christmas trees and natural trees, and at least a dozen more.

ACSH’s experts have testified before congressional committees and executive branch agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency, Food and Drug Administration, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Since becoming president of ACSH, I have testified on particulate matter before the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee of the EPA three times and on the same issue at a National Academy of Science, Engineering and Medicine meeting. And I even participated in a joint workshop of the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research at the Food and Drug Administration and the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health on Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Therapeutics.

And over the past few months, ACSH has been asked to help a public interest law group to provide some scientific background for their amicus curiae briefs. And they have used the information I sent them in their briefs.

My old boss was right, “Ideas have consequences,” and the idea of Drs. Borlaug, Stare, and Whelan – the American Council on Science and Health – have proven and continues to prove it every day.

And finally, Dr. Henry Miller will join ACSH full-time as our Glenn Swogger Distinguished Fellow. More on Henry in my next article.

Wishing you and yours a happy, healthy, and safe new year.

Thom Golab

Thom Golab is the President of the American Council on Science and Health. Prior to becoming President in 2019, Mr. Golab joined ACSH as Vice President of Development in May 2017 and has served on the ACSH Board of Trustees since 2012.

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