In Memoriam: Elizabeth Whelan

I was very sad to hear last week that Elizabeth Whelan, founder and president of the American Council on Science and Health, had passed away. Beth had a great scientific mind—always asking questions, and always seeking new knowledge—not just information, but understanding. And it was that innate desire to know, to better understand, and to share the truth that led her, in 1978, to found an organization dedicated to injecting solid scientific information into public debates and public policy on public health. Under Beth’s leadership, and with her aggressive, no nonsense activism, ACSH became a leading voice in science advocacy and “go to” source of information about a range of science and health issues.

I came to know Beth many years ago after becoming interested in food and drug safety issues. As a young policy wonk with no formal scientific training, I sought out as many respected scientific advisors as I could find to guide me. It wasn’t long before several of the scientists I consulted directed me to ACSH, and to Beth Whelan in particular. She was a nutritionist by training—having completed an Sc.D. at Harvard and a M.P.H. at Yale—and a greatly respected one at that. But I found her to be both incredibly knowledgeable about a broad range of science and public health issues and eager to teach a budding young scholar like myself.

In time, as my own science policy expertise grew, I was honored that Beth and her ACSH colleagues agreed to publish several of my own writings—including, most recently, the monograph, Food and You: A Guide to Modern Agricultural Biotechnology, co-written with UC Davis’s Martina Newell-McGloughlin and the University of Illinois’s Bruce Chassy. And, some years ago, I was honored to join ACSH’s Board of Scientific and Policy Advisors.

In founding and building ACSH into a powerhouse of science and public health education, Beth Whelan has done the world a tremendous service. And she will be sorely missed.