Paging Dr. Ross

Meet America's most aggressive debunker of legitimate scientific research.

When American corporations come up against inconvenient science, say, a study showing that mercury in fish can damage a developing fetus, or that a blockbuster drug has nasty side effects, they call in the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH). Industry-funded ACSH is the most aggressive debunker of pesky research reports emanating from government and academia. Its medical/executive director’s calm, soothing voice can be heard on television and radio, quelling public fears about the latest bad news about health and the environment.

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That man is Dr. Gilbert Ross. It was Ross who defended the Wood Preservative Science Council, saying that, contrary to reams of scientific evidence, the arsenic in pressure-treated wood poses “no risk to human health”; Ross who wrote on behalf of the farmed-salmon industry that the PCBs in fish “are not a cause of any health risk, including cancer”; and Ross whose organization once asserted that the jury’s still out on whether environmental cigarette smoke really is hazardous to your health. Much of his time is spent tarnishing noncorporate-sponsored work as junk science of questionable motive. But Ross may not be ACSH’s most prudent choice to question the credibility of other doctors, scientists, and researchers. Although the biography posted on the organization’s website doesn’t mention it, Ross actually had to abandon medicine on July 24, 1995, when his license to practice as a physician in New York was revoked by the unanimous vote of a state administrative review board for professional misconduct.

Instead of tending to patients, Ross spent all of 1996 at a federal prison camp in Schuylkill, Pennsylvania, having being sentenced to 46 months in prison for his participation in a scheme that ultimately defrauded New York’s Medicaid program of approximately $8 million. During a three-and-a-half-week jury trial, federal prosecutors laid bare Ross’ participation in an enterprise, headed by one Mohammed Sohail Khan, to operate four sham medical clinics in New York City. For his scam to work, Khan needed doctors who could qualify as Medicaid providers, and Ross responded to an ad in the New York Times promising “Very, very good $$.”

The scheme was brazenly larcenous: The clinics, which were later described as “very dirty and unsanitary,” raked in indigent patients—most of them homeless, alcoholic, or drug-addicted men—by offering them prescriptions for expensive drugs that they could resell on the street for cash. Word spread fast, and in streamed patients who, in exchange for the valuable scrip, would provide their Medicaid recipient numbers, give blood samples, and undergo medically unnecessary examinations, procedures, and tests. All of this brought Ross and the other doctors in the scheme money from the state’s Medicaid system, a percentage of which was kicked back to Khan.

Ross testified at his trial that he had no knowledge of the ongoing fraud at the clinic where he worked. This defense only added to his troubles when, following his conviction, the judge ruled that Ross had obstructed justice by committing perjury. In addition to his prison sentence, Ross was ordered to forfeit $40,000 and, for his role in the fraud, to pay restitution of $612,855—an amount that was later reduced to $85,137 on the grounds that he didn’t have the assets to pay more. In 1997 a judge sustained a decision by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to bar Ross for 10 years from participating in either the Medicare or Medicaid programs, holding that he was “a highly untrustworthy individual” who had, at Khan’s clinics, engaged in “medically indefensible” practices. After his release from prison, Ross answered another ad in the New York Times, this one for a “staff assistant” at ACSH. Ross told president Elizabeth Whelan that he’d been convicted of a crime, done time in prison, and no longer possessed a medical license. She hired him anyway, and in 1999 he was promoted to medical/executive director.

In 2000, while admitting his “unethical and criminal activity,” which he said was motivated by “greed,” Ross asked a state review panel to reinstate his medical license. The panel ruled against him. Ross finally got his license back in 2004, though he faces three years of probation should he ever choose to practice medicine again. Last year, in filling out a form for nydoctorprofile.com, an official state website, Ross faced a field titled “Criminal Convictions.” He left it blank.