Elizabeth Whelan

Elizabeth M. Whelan
Born December 4, 1943
Manhattan, New York
Died September 11, 2014(2014-09-11) (aged 70)
Manahawkin, New Jersey[1]
Fields Epidemiology
Food science
Institutions American Council on Science and Health
Alma mater Harvard University

Elizabeth M. Whelan (/ˈhwlən/; December 4, 1943 – September 11, 2014) was an American[2] epidemiologist best known for challenging government regulations of the consumer products, food, and pharmaceuticals industries that arose from what she said was faulty science. In 1978, she founded the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) to provide a formal foundation for her work.[1] She also wrote, or co-wrote, more than 20 books and over 300 articles in scientific journals and lay publications.

Whelan's advocacy encompassed numerous high-profile cases, including the so-called Delaney Clause used by the Food and Drug Administration to eliminate use of the sweetener saccharin.[3] She was often criticized as a shill for industry, for example with respect to pesticides, growth hormones for dairy cows, PCBs, hydraulic fracturing, and Michael Bloomberg's crusade against sugary drinks.[1] She was critical of many public interest groups that she said frightened people away from making personal choices in cases where no danger had been proved.[1]


Before her marriage, her name was Elizabeth Ann Murphy.[1] Born in Manhattan in 1943, she was the daughter of Marion Barret Murphy and Joseph F. Murphy and had two brothers, Kevin and Brian Murphy. Her father was a lawyer and the Commission of Insurance of New Jersey from 1982 to 1984.[1][4]

Whelan was married to Stephen T. Whelan. They had one child, Christine Moyers, and two grandchildren.[1]

Whelan enjoyed swimming and swam laps almost every day of her life until her health prevented it.[2] Whelan was also a member of the Lotos Club, a gentleman's club, which began admitting women in 1977, with a literary and artistic bent.[5]


She earned a bachelor's degree from Connecticut College and went on to receive a master's degree in public health from Yale University and both a master's in science and a Ph.D. from Harvard University, in 1971.[1][6][7] After graduating Elizabeth Whelan began work studying modern marriages and family relationships. She published several papers on the subject.[8][9][10][11] That work lead to her first book, Sex and sensibility: a new look at being a woman. The next year she published two more, A Baby?... Maybe: A Guide to Making the Most Fateful Decision of Your Life and Making Sense Out of Sex: A New Look at Being a Man. The latter was cowritten with her father-in-law, Stephen T. Whelan Sr., and was meant as a companion to her first book.


After graduating, Whelan began writing on health issues for consumer magazines.[7] She said she became increasingly concerned by the gap between scientific knowledge and public discourse on health related topics. She began writing books as a response. Panic in the pantry: facts & fallacies about the food you buy, published in 1975 and Eat OK--feel OK!: Food facts and your health, published in 1978.

After several years of writing, Whelan, along with her likewise controversial coauthor Frederick J. Stare and said that she created the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) in 1978 as way of helping scientists reach the public. The ACSH describes itself as a consumer education consortium targeting policy issues with a large scientific component, but critics contend it has a pro-industry bias. It says that one of its goals is to use the media to bring sound science to public debates. Whelan initially invited 50 scientists to the organization. One of the first to respond and a founding director was Norman Borlaug.[7] The ACSH reported in 2003 that it had grown to nearly 400 scientists.[7]

Whelan continued publishing personally, as well. Some examples include The One-hundred-percent Natural, Purely Organic, Cholesterol-free, Megavitamin, Low-carbohydrate Nutrition Hoax; A smoking gun: how the tobacco industry gets away with murder; and Toxic terror, published in 1983, 1984 and 1985 respectively.


An outspoken critic, Whelan had many critics herself. Critics of Whelan and the ACSH often characterized her and her organization as beholden to industry. The ACSH initially did not accept funding from corporations, but the media still implied that the ACSH received industry support. In a 1979 article about Whelan, published in People, the information director of the FDA is quoted as saying, "Whelan just makes blanket endorsements of food additives. Her organization is a sham, an industry front."[2] The ACSH began accepting corporate funding in 1980. In 2003 the ACSH reported that 40% of its funds came from corporations.[7]

In 1982, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a watchdog and consumer advocacy group/known to spar with ACSH, published an extensive report on ACSH's practices that stated, "ACSH appears to be a consumer fraud; as a scientific group, ACSH seems to arrive at conclusions before conducting studies. Through voodoo or alchemy, bodies of scientific knowledge are transmogrified into industry-oriented position statements."[12] CSPI director Michael F. Jacobson said of ACSH, '"This organization promotes confusion among consumers about what is safe and what isn't.... ACSH is using a slick scientific veneer to obscure and deny truths that virtually everyone else agrees with."[13]

In 1980, controversial ACSH cofounder Stare was chairman of ACSH's Board of Directors and sought generous funding from US tobacco giant Philip Morris USA for ACSH's activities; he stated that he believed financially supporting ACSH would be to Phillip Morris' benefit.[14][15]

One notable critic was Ralph Nader who said, "ACSH is a consumer front organization for its business backers. It has seized the language and style of the existing consumer organizations, but its real purpose, you might say, is to glove the hand that feeds it."[16] Nader and Whelan, through their organizations, clashed on several issues over the years, including food irradiation and the fast food industry.[17][18]



  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Martin, Douglas (17 September 2014). "Elizabeth Whelan, Who Challenged Food Laws, Dies at 70". The New York Times. Retrieved 3 February 2015.
  2. 1 2 3 Collins, Nannie (August 27, 1979). "Elizabeth Whelan Has Only to Say Saccharin or Bacon Is Harmless, Then Await the Tide of Criticism". People. Time Inc. Retrieved February 17, 2015.
  3. Editorial staff (2014) Elizabeth Whelan's Impact The Wall Street Journal, Sept 18.
  4. "Joseph F. Murphy, Insurance Expert, 81". The New York Times. 27 January 1997. Retrieved 25 February 2015.
  5. "Elizabeth M. Whelan Obituary". The New York Times. 17 September 2014. Retrieved 6 March 2015.
  6. "Elizabeth M. Whelan, M.P.H., M.S., Sc.D.". American Council on Science and Health. Retrieved 3 February 2015.
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 Whelan, Elizabeth (December 4, 2003). "Where Did ACSH Come From?". American Council on Science and Health. Retrieved February 13, 2015.
  8. Whelan, Elizabeth M. (1975-04-01). "Attitudes toward Menstruation". Studies in Family Planning. 6 (4): 106–108. doi:10.2307/1964817. ISSN 0039-3665. JSTOR 1964817.
  9. Whelan, Elizabeth M. (1974-11-01). "Compliance with Contraceptive Regimens". Studies in Family Planning. 5 (11): 349–355. doi:10.2307/1965188. ISSN 0039-3665. JSTOR 1965188.
  10. Whelan, Elizabeth Murphy (1972-11-01). "Estimates of the Ultimate Family Status of Children Born Out-of-Wedlock in Massachusetts, 1961-1968". Journal of Marriage and Family. 34 (4): 635–646. doi:10.2307/350315. ISSN 0022-2445. JSTOR 350315.
  11. Whelan, Elizabeth Murphy (1972-08-01). "The Temporal Relationship of Marriage, Conception, and Birth in Massachusetts". Demography. 9 (3): 399–414. doi:10.2307/2060862. ISSN 0070-3370. JSTOR 2060862.
  12. Harnik, Peter. "Voodoo Science, Twisted Consumerism: the Golden Assurances of the American Council on Science and Health". Center for Science in the Public Interest. January 1982.
  13. Center for Science in the Public Interest. "'Consumer Group' labeled front for industry". News Release. February 14, 1982.
  14. Fred Stare, American Council on Science and Health Untitled letter to Helmut Wakeham of PM Letter. December 5, 1980. Bates No. 1000283163/3165
  15. Hess, John L. (August 1978). "Harvard's sugar-pushing nutritionist". The Saturday Review. pp. 10–14. Retrieved May 2016. Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  16. Mark Megalli; Andy Friedman (1991). Masks of Deception: Corporate Front Groups in America. Essential Information.
  17. "The WHO vs. Nader Group". American Council on Science and Health. October 11, 2002. Retrieved March 9, 2015.
  18. "Nader: McDonald's Is Like Mass Murder". American Council on Science and Health. May 20, 2002. Retrieved March 9, 2015.

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