John J Cannell, MD - Founder of the Vitamin D Council
John Jacob Cannell was born in Washington, DC on June 21, 1948. Understanding why he founded the Council begins with an understanding on his interest and background in activism.
During his college years he had a penchant for social activism and was deeply involved in working against the Vietnam War. While at the University of Maryland he helped organize the “March on Washington” and also demonstrated against the war at the 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention. He finished up his undergraduate work at the University of Maryland where he graduated in Zoology and was a member of Phi Beta Kappa.
Cannell then went on to medical school at the University of North Carolina. After a year of a surgery internship at the University of Utah and four years of practicing itinerant emergency medicine, he began as a general practitioner in the coalfields of Appalachia.
The Black Lung debate
In 1983 Dr. Cannell started the Cannell Clinic, Inc. in Flat Top, West Virginia. It wasn’t long before he noticed that all of his coal-mining patients smoked cigarettes, prompting him to start an anti-smoking campaign. His efforts included asking businesses not to sell cigarettes, running television ads and refusing to accept patients into his clinic unless they stopped smoking. The New York Times took notice and ran a story on his anti-smoking activities in February of 1988.
Cannell had to give up on his efforts against smoking. In West Virginia, coalminers would often smoke in order to get Black Lung and enroll in the Black Lung disability fund. Coal miners who have never smoked often do not have the severe pulmonary function deterioration found in smoking miners, and thus no Black Lung.
Cannell lobbied the members of the West Virginia Medical Society, asking for a resolution to stop using pulmonary function testing to award Black Lung benefits and instead endorse years of service as the basis for receiving the benefit, to put an end to smoking encouragement. Unfortunately, this was to no avail.
Lake Woebegone and fraudulent testing
It wasn’t much longer until Cannell found a new cause. In the late ’80s, the Beckley Register/Herald ran a story stating that all 55 West Virginia counties were above the national average on commercial elementary standardized achievement. Cannell read the stories and decided to do some investigating.
Upon researching “normed referenced” commercial elementary achievement tests, Cannell discovered that the commercial publishers are free to choose their own “norm group” (a group of students said to represent the average which are given the test without any test preparation). The publishers sold the test booklets, the norms, and the answer keys to school officials to reuse each year.
Given this, all 50 States were claiming to be above the national average, because compared to fake test norms, they were. And the U.S. Department of Education confirmed that they did not regulate or oversee commercial achievement testing in the United States. They did not consider it their business as it was the for-profit business of commercial test publishers.
This led Cannell to form the nonprofit, Friends for Education, in 1986, in attempt to reform the education system and bring attention to State’s fraudulent claims of being above the norm. Friends for Education filed consumer fraud complaints with the Attorney Generals of all fifty States. Secretary of Education William Bennett held a special meeting about the issue, Congress held hearings on “Lake Woebegone” testing, and 60 Minutes featured a segment on Cannell’s work exposing the fraudulent testing. The story also got high-profile coverage in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, plus hundreds of other newspapers. It even received segments on the McNeill/Lehrer Show and Sunday Today.
Dr Cannell on 60 Minutes discussing education, testing and the need for reform in the United States.
- The Vitamin D Council is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, working to educate the public on vitamin D, sun exposure and health.