Science Policy

Elizabeth Whelan, Fierce Fighter Against Junk Science, Is Dead.



Elizabeth Whelan, founder of the American Council on Science and Health, died yesterday. Whelan had devoted her life to combatting the misinformation and disinformation that are all-too-often peddled by activist charlatans. I could count on her and ACSH to steer me right when reporting on public health, environmental, medical, and regulatory issues.

Whelan's characteristic scientific insight is fully on display in her co-authored 1984 Reason article, "Sweet Truth," which called into question the validity of animal testing for determining the likelihood that various substances cause cancer in human beings. She used the FDA's attempt to ban the sweetener saccharin to illustrate just how wrong-headed and unscientific reliance on such tests is. After reviewing all of the data, she concluded: "Saccharin presents a risk to humans that in all likelihood is negligible, if not nonexistent."

The article concluded:

In the tradition of individual rights and limited government, it is the business of government to protect individuals from being harmed by others. It is not the business of government to prevent individuals from pursuing actions that may result in harms only to themselves. Such restrictions erode freedom of choice and individual responsibility, essential ingredients of a free society.

Just so.

Thirty years after the FDA first tried to ban it, saccharin was delisted in 2000 from the U.S. National Toxicology Program's Report on Carcinogens, where it had been listed since 1981 as a substance reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency finally got around in 2010 to agreeing to no longer list saccharin and its salts as hazardous.

The notice of Whelan's death over at ACSH notes:

Beth was a giant in the annals of public health. With postgraduate degrees from Yale and Harvard, she grew increasingly frustrated with the discrepancy between what she knew to be fact-based scientific truth, and the distorted information that the public was hearing and reading from the media. Unlike many of her colleagues, however, she resolved to do something about it. That's how ACSH was born.

By sheer force of will — despite her youth and inexperience with any sort of activism —she recruited several towering figures in epidemiology, science and public health. These included Nobel Peace Prize laureate Dr. Norman Borlaug, father of the Green Revolution—the man who is credited with saving more lives than any other human being— and Dr. Fredrick Stare, the founding chairman of the Harvard School of Public Health Nutrition Department. Other scientists and policy experts, now numbering close to 350, flocked to join the nascent nonprofit's Board of Scientific Advisors and Policy Experts.

At the same time, she assembled and led a coterie of scientific professionals at the ACSH headquarters in New York City. Before long, publication after publication—all strictly devoted to the concepts of sound science and independent peer review—began to flow. These continue to this day. Every effort she inspired promoted the mantra of evidence-based science, while at the same time countering the hysteria and hyperbole spread by the media and agenda-driven activists. Beth firmly believed that the nonsense and destructive myths posing as science were only allowed to exist because of what she termed "mute science": competent, expert scientists failing to speak up to dispute the junk science advocacy agenda that permeated the media. Beth led the way in urging scientists to speak out against the fallacies that are all too pervasive in our culture.

Beth's legacy will live on long past her all-too-brief sojourn on Earth. Her commitment to the precepts of sound science have been passed on to all who knew her.

She will be sorely missed.

Disclosure: I have worked on a couple of projects for ACSH in the past, including my report, Scrutinizing Industry-Funded Science: The Crusade Against Conflicts of Interest.

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  1. I read that as Elizabeth Warren.

    RIP, Ms. Whelan.

    1. The world is not that just of a place. This woman is dead and Warren will serve in the senate until she is a hundred.

      1. Not unless she becomes the first woman president.

          1. I could see it. Especially if there’s a spoiler in the race. For example if Rand Paul broke from the Party after losing the nomination, I could see Warren winning a three way race. Not that I think Paul will do that.

            1. In a three way race maybe. But, the spoiler is likely to take just as many from the Ds as they do from the Rs. The real no kidding full retard will vote for Warrant over the Christie Bloomberg establishment ticket is probably not enough to win an election.

              1. No one believes me, but Sandra Fluke will be our First Woman President.

                1. I increasingly think it will be Hillary Clinton.

                  1. Obama has brought into the game a coalition out there that beforehand wasn’t much of a factor, his problem is he’s alienated much the old Clinton/Carter type of Democrat. Hillary is the one person who can fix those two sides back up: for the first faction, she will be billed as ‘make history, first woman President’ while at the same time being enough ‘hey, I’m not Obama’ for the second.


            3. Rand isn’t going to break from the party if he loses the nom. Corpulent Jesus might, or whoever the establishment’s guy is.

            4. Please don;t use “Elizabeth Warren” and “three-way” in a sentence together ever again.

              1. damn… should have read all the replies first.

  2. Every effort she inspired promoted the mantra of evidence-based science, while at the same time countering the hysteria and hyperbole spread by the media and agenda-driven activists.

    Why did Global Cooling/AGW/Climate Change/Climate Choas spring to mind when I read that, hmmmm?

    1. She was another Denier and Heretic.

    2. “…mantra of evidence-based science….”

      If it isn’t evidence-based, it isn’t science.

  3. Apparently she never got the memo that the scientific method has been replaced by consensus.

  4. my classmate’s aunt makes $67 an hour on the computer . She has been fired from work for ten months but last month her pay was $21412 just working on the computer for a few hours. Learn More Here ……


  5. Gholas. ASAP.

  6. ot:…..l-25431716

    A Utah elementary school teacher who was carrying a concealed firearm at school was struck by fragments from a bullet and a porcelain toilet when her gun accidentally fired in a faculty bathroom on Thursday, officials said.

    1. That school will be on lockdown for at least ten more days.

    2. I’m frankly against public schools allowing their employees to carry on the job. I know my father knew at least one person in the neighborhood who he thought was reckless in handling firearms and as a result he did not want me to go over to that person’s house, and if he knew of such a teacher and yet had to send his child to a school allowing them to carry that’s wrong.

      If we had a more ideal world wherein the schools were privatized and each school made their policy on this known this of course would not be an issue, but not in this environment.

    3. A similar incident occurred in 2009 in the bathroom of a Carl’s Jr. restaurant in Centerville, Utah. A customer’s concealed weapon accidentally fell out of a holster, hit the floor and fired, shattering the toilet.

      Dropped guns don’t go off unless they’re cocked.

      1. I’m trying to think of a scenario where a gun would fire “by accident” without being cocked beforehand and dropped, or without the owner doing something stupid like fiddling around with his/her finger on the trigger, and I’m drawing a blank. This is clearly a scenario where the owner’s subconscious is desperately trying to select him-/herself out of the breeding pool.

        1. The only other possibility is dropping it and trying to catch it in mid-air.

      2. If you’d said “modern guns” or some such qualifier I’d say yes.

        However early revolvers could go off if dropped while uncocked due to the shock on the firing pin which was in direct contact with the percussion cap or cartridge. On those guns the firing pin was part of the hammer.

        Hence the classic empty first chamber practice which was common with classic forearms.

        Also the “half-cock” “safety” that is common on 20th cwntury lever-action rifle and revolver designs.

        1. That said, the vast majority of accidental firings are due to someone pulling the trigger of a loaded firearm.

          Still, dropping a gun is still a bad idea.

        2. Series 70 1911s are known for, in very rare circumstances, going off when dropped if they land on the muzzle. The firing pin has enough inertia to impact the primer, even without the hammer falling. This was corrected in the Series 80, IIRC. For your revolver example, there was a somewhat recent, very nasty accident where a guy went horseback riding with a .454 Casull. Despite the manual telling him to leave an empty chamber under the hammer, he didn’t. So when the coat he was wearing pulled back the hammer, and let the hammer fall, the loaded chamber ensured he had a very nasty hole in his leg. For the few hours before the MDs amputated it anyway…

          But I agree with you that the vast, vast majority of NDs are from some idiot inadvertently pulling the trigger. Leave the damned thing in its holster (I really like Remora’s, but there are plenty of others) and stop messing around with it, and you won’t have an ND.

    4. Remember 9-12-14!

  7. I miss her already. However, my sense of humor dominates my sentiment and wants to find out that her cause of death was an environmentally-associated cancer.

  8. Another view of Elizabeth Whelan.

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