The Questionable Authority

A few of you might have noticed that there’s a new blog here at ScienceBlogs – one that does not exactly seem to be receiving a warm welcome.

Pepsico – the makers of much of the sugary caffeinated goodness that gets me through the day – seems to have managed to purchase a blog here. (Contrary to popular belief, that’s not actually the strategy I employed to get my slot. I don’t have corporate pockets, so I went with “beg and grovel” instead.) For obvious reasons, having a corporation blogging about their products at Sb raises some concerns about things like conflicts of interest, the increasingly blurry line between “news” and “news releases”, and the like.

Some bloggers – better ones than I – have already talked about leaving Sb as a direct consequence of the Pepsi deal.

I’m not sure that I’m going to be blogging here for much longer, but if I do leave, the Pepsi thing is probably not going to be the main reason.

Like Jason Goldman, I am concerned about the Pepsico blog, but not outraged. I am a long, long way from thinking that adding Pepsi is a boost to Sb’s credibility, but I’m also far from convinced that it’s as bad a move as some believe. Here’s my rough take on the issue:

1: As others have pointed out, this is not the first corporate blog we’ve had here. It’s also not the first blog sponsored by a corporation that has a less than immaculate reputation when it comes to issues surrounding public health and the environment.

2: As far as the reputation of the platform is concerned, I don’t see that as a huge issue. We, the ScienceBlogs bloggers, have done just fine tarnishing that reputation without the help of the overlords. I don’t think this is likely to do any more harm to the community or the reputation of Sb than some of the past escapades that did not involve corporate have.

3: Advertising versus content. I’m going to hold judgement on this issue for a bit, at least until I see enough content on the new blog to get a feel for things.

4: Longevity. As I mentioned, this isn’t the first time there’s been an attempt at a corporate blog here. The other’s didn’t really last all that long. Given our readership, the only way that this one will end up any different is if they do a good job engaging your interest. That’s not easy, and if they succeed in doing so it will be because the new blog is actually presenting some science, and providing a place where reasonable discussion of that science can take place. Frankly, bought and paid for or not, I don’t see that as a bad outcome.

All that said, I definitely understand why people are concerned, and I will certainly respect anyone who decides that they cannot continue to blog somewhere that is selling content space. Depending on what happens with this new blog (or if adding corporate blogs becomes a major feature of Sb), I can easily see myself winding up in that group a few months down the line. For now, though, I think the best option is to take a deep breath and relax. For now. While continuing to watch the situation really, really closely.

Comments

  1. #1 Art
    July 7, 2010

    It might not be such a bad thing.

    With a corporate blog we can lay down the difficult questions right out in the open and see how they dance. If they handle questions straight up, open to what the corporation is doing both, good and bad, without spin and excuses it might be good for them as a sounding board of concerns and public opinion. but they better be prepared for some harsh criticism and vitriol.

    If they try to spin, sugar coat their activities, and use this forum as a crass PR opportunity while avoiding difficult questions they are going to get a lot of flak. If the criticism gets deleted or they cut and run then that will put them in a very negative light.

    I think it will be interesting to see them dance. Some good might come of it.

  2. #2 Matt M
    July 7, 2010

    Nice to read a cool-headed take on it. Maybe Pepsi should be commended for supporting ScienceBlogs. Time will tell.

  3. #3 ponderingfool
    July 7, 2010

    Why not look at the current Pepsi Food Blog?
    http://foodfrontiers.pepsicoblogs.com/

  4. #4 Henry
    July 10, 2010

    That link is actually somewhat informative. Appreciate it “ponderingfool”.