Defending the American public from fake news on science and health

Fake science seems to be taking over news sources that we have trusted for an insight into our world. An organization that is pushing back against such stories is the American Council on Science and Health. It is a consumer advocacy group founded in 1978 to promote evidence-based science and health policy. In addition to its permanent staff, the organization relies on a Board of Scientific and Policy Advisors. I am pleased to announce that I was recently appointed to that board. The other members appointed at the end of last month were

Michael Dourson, a toxicologist currently with the Toxicology Excellence for Risk Assessment;

Seymour Fein, Managing Partner of CNF Pharma;

Fred Lipfert, an air quality expert;

Leah McGrath, a registered dietitian with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics;

Miko Paunio of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health in Finland; and

Christine Whelan, clinical professor of consumer science at the University of Wisconsin.

Founding members include Elizabeth Whelan, author of Panic in the Pantry: Food Facts, Fads and Fallacies and mother of Christine, one of the new members of the board. Panic in the Pantry was the first non-technical book I read advocating the use of technology to improve foods. The book inspired me as a grad student to get active in the defense of processed foods and the field of food science. Dr. Norman Borlaug, Nobel laureate as the leader of the Green Revolution was also a founder.

ACSH certificate

How was I selected to the board?

I have not been specifically told why I was selected to this prestigious board. I came across the daily newsletter of ACSH and thought that the organization might be interested in my book as it seemed to fit in with the tenor of the stories in the newsletter. A few weeks after sending a complimentary copy of the book, I received a message from the President of the Council who liked the book with particular reference to the warning on an opening page which starts out

If you bought this book in search of simple solutions to America’s diet and health problems, YOU WERE RIPPED OFF!

When I was being considered for membership on the Board, I posted the article on Merchants of Certainty which I also think helped my case.

Recent articles by ACSH

Some articles in the newsletter that have caught my eye lately include

‘Attn:’ Video Spreads Lies About Processed Food In America, Europe

NPR Is Seeking A Science Editor. Science Education Not Required

ABCD: Obesity Has A New Name, But Will It Stop The Epidemic?

Healthy Eating Wastes More Food And Farming Resources, Study Shows

Throw Out Your Romaine Lettuce–All of It 

A few of these articles tend to be a little too edgy and in-your-face for me like the one on the video spreading lies. Most of them are on point, however, and a refreshing alternative to the message of the food evangelists who are overtaking major news sources. It is easy to subscribe to the newsletter to see 5 new stories each weekday.

Major positions of ACSH

ACSH is not afraid to take clear positions on controversial topics. It considers cigarette smoking to be a leading cause of death and promotes the use of cessation devices such as electronic cigarettes to reduce the death rate. The organization rejects that contention that chemicals in consumer products are contributing to increased levels of cancer in the United States as the actual rates of cancer are decreasing. ACSH supports the growth of genetically modified crops and associated food technology to make “sure that America continues to set the standard for how to feed a rapidly growing planet.” In addition, the Council does not accept the claims that vaccinations cause autism, advocating for continued use of vaccines to prevent the re-emergence of diseases such as measles and whooping cough.

Standing up for science, particularly with respect to processed food

ACSH is considered to be corporation friendly and thus an enemy of consumers. I have not found it to be the case. Yes, they defend industries and companies, big and small when scientific consensus supports commercial interests. The  Council also criticizes industries that use false scientific claims to thwart the consumer. It is easy to sit on the sidelines and wring one’s hands as misinformation floods public and social media. When I retired, I decided to take a stand against the false narrative that is being spread about processed food. This stand led me to write In Defense of Processed Food and follow it up with a blog by the same name. At present, it is clear that neither the book nor the blog are making a significant impact based on the lack of hate mail or even negative book reviews or blog comments I have received.

As a member of the Board of Scientific Advisors, I hope to expand my horizons with respect to defending the public portrayal of science and use it as a broader platform to defend processed foods. I anticipate that it will provide greater exposure for my book, blog and ideas. I will keep defending processed food and sharing links to key articles from ACSH on this site. Again, I look forward to any comments you might have.

Next week: A review of It’s Not about the Broccoli: Three Habits to Teach Your Kids for a Lifetime of Healthy Eating

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