I’d been planning to write this post for several days, and then late last night, got a nasty surprise that changed the focus of it for me. By now many of you will have heard that Pepsi bought a blog on science blogs and is using to to establish credibility by writing a blog focused ummm…on food and nutrition. Note long pause for your comments…feel free not to censor.
Let me be clear – my fellow science bloggers and I were blindsided on this – there was no advance notice, and let’s just say that a lot of us are pretty pissed. All of us suffer credibility hits here, but for me and the people who do medicine, health, and food this is a really big deal. My credibility as a writer is being used to feed audience to a corporate shill blog, basically to advertise for Pepsi’s supposed commitment to nutrition. I also have to face, every single time I go to speak, the comment that “but she blogs for those people who are shilling for Pepsi.” And I know for a fact I’ll be hearing that for ten years after I’ve left science blogs.
GrrlScientist does a great job of articulating my central difficulty (I suspect I’m still being inarticulate because frankly, I’m mad enough to spit – do, by the way, note and admire her subtitle “Sucking Corporate Dick”).
But I and my colleagues were recruited by ScienceBlogs based on our track records of productivity, topic choices, traffic and whatever ephemeral talent that their corporate masters thought we possessed. Not one of us had to buy our way in. And despite the presence of advertising on this site, none of us is paid to write content that supports a particular corporate agenda. But yesterday, we were blindsided with the surprise addition of a new corporate PR “blog” written by PepsiCo’s top R&D folks.
The presence of that “blog” raises a few important questions. How does ScienceBlogs expect to maintain their (OUR) credibility as a science news source (we are picked up by Google news searches afterall) when they are sneaking paid-for propaganda into the ScienceBlogs news stream under the guise of news? That is unethical. I can only speak for myself, but as an unemployed scientist who’d love to continue my interrupted career path before I’m dead, the only thing of value that I have left is my integrity, but this surreptitious decision by the Seed overlords is casting a pall over all of us by selling the site’s integrity to the highest bidder
As Zuska points out – this is not a new issue., and it is one I confronted when I elected to come here. My writing is being sponsored for ads by drug companies and car companies and all sorts of people. I decided (and I think it was right) that as long as I kept my original blog open and was able to return to it at any point, that it was worth trying – that the ads were a reasonable and unpleasant trade off for a different audience and a chance to speak about peak oil to a community that hasn’t already been reached.
This is different to me – I’m doing a speaking engagement soon to a group of community organizers working through Black Churches on how to get better food into poor urban communities. I just can’t go and do that when I’m being associated with the people who ship in the food that is killing them every day. I’m talking about water issues with an NGO and how to bring inexpensive manual pumping to poor rural communities vulnerable to power outages. How do I do that when Pepsi’s history of water piracy in India is now part of my own backstory? Moreover, how do I tell you all to get out of the supermarkets and start buying food locally and making fresh food, when a “nutrition” blog is promoting itself as having the answer when it creates very slightly less disgusting snack foods.
Pepsi is spending its money here buying credibility – association with the name “Science Blogs” and the people who built that credibility over many years – I’m lucky enough to have also taken part in that credibility, built up by my colleagues who have been here longer. And that’s being flushed down the toilet.
I have really liked blogging here, despite the ads. I like the challenges and support from my colleagues, I like reading new ideas. I admire them even when I don’t agree with them – blogging in a community is something new for me, and something I really like. Allies are important. You don’t have to hold together on every single thing to work together – I believe in community, and I like that I have it here. Unfortunately, the Media company is not being a worthwhile ally to have – it seems a terrible shame to lose my colleagues because of the idiocy of Seed Media, but that may happen.
I’m in the process of making my requirements explicit to my corporate overlords – I have no power here compared to Pepsi – I have no idea what they are paying for this, but I have no doubt my comparatively small traffic won’t compete in cost with the money they could give. And maybe Seed Media is trying desperately to stay in business – they don’t tell us that either. But I’m asking that they separate out the Pepsi blog, and put Pepsi in the logo, and isolate the corporate blog(s) in a way that makes it clear they are advertising. Otherwise, my blog will be departing. I recently turned down another site, and I’m not sure where I will go – back to my old blog or somewhere else, but if we can’t resolve this, it just isn’t worth the price. So stay tuned – I don’t expect to be up in the air all that long – I’ve set August 1 as my deadline. In the meantime, I’m still deciding whether I’m going to join my colleague at Island of Doubt and suspend all posting here or not. I’ll let you know, but you can always find me at ye olde blogge www.sharonastyk.com.
I invite and encourage you to let the folks over at “Food Frontiers” (Aka “I’m a Pepsi Whore Blog”) know what you think of its presence. I also encourage you to send email to Seed Media and Science Blogs and let them know your thoughts. I’m told they don’t like profanity in the comments section, which seems a pity, because the right language can be very helpful.
Meanwhile, I have two positive things to announce as well in the territory of allies. First, after many years spent criticizing The Association for the Study of Peak Oil on the grounds that a. they weren’t paying enough attention on what to do after peak oil and b. on the grounds that they were a bunch of affluent old white guys, and lacked a certain perspective, ASPO actually called me up and said “Ok, you are right, do you want to be on the board and help us figure out what we should do after peak oil.”
This was a little annoying for me, actually, because now I had a choice – am I just bitching, or am I serious. Damn, how unfair of these people not to be faceless jerks, but people who take criticism thoughtfully and try and figure out how to remedy it. And damn for making me do the work ;-)!
And after a lot of thought (I say no to almost every board request I get), I said yes. The reason I did is this – both because I respect the geologists and scientists who raised the alarm on peak oil, and want to be involved in making the issue clearer and also because I believe in using what we’ve got. I don’t think we’re going to have the wealth and resources to build a huge amount of new infrastructure. If ASPO doesn’t serve the purposes of raising awareness and help guiding policy, no one will. So I’m going to try. If you are not familiar with ASPO-USA, you should check them out. .
ASPO has plans to do a major media campaign to raise awareness of oil issues and it has the power I think to bring some real change about. The people ASPO works with are the people who first figured out the terms of our crisis, and those geologists and physicists have done a signal service to humanity.
It is interesting for me to think about the problem of alliances here – ASPO has its issues, as does any organization. Among other things, it has a conference that is out of the price range of most ordinary people, and it has a long history of focusing on folks who have money and power and helping them have more money and power. This is not something that I consider to be a high priority for me. But just as I went into the Science Blogs shift with a sense of the trade offs and my goals, I’m going into this with the same. I live in the world, and I’m just doing what I can to make it the best I can – rather than seeking perfection. Helping ASPO become a more diverse organization that connects better with ordinary people and does more to raise public awareness is a worthwhile project to me.
Which brings me to my third new alliance – with old friends, and with much less ambivalence. Ilargi and Stoneleigh of The Automatic Earth have been friends and allies since well before the beginning of TAE. And the stunning success of their work has been wonderful to watch. Now they are starting to try and find ways to offer their readers who are worried about economic issues access to how to go forward, and they’ve invited me to join up with them and put that together. While there are ethical challenges working with anyone, this is one I can enter with a whole heart, because I know that whatever problems there may be can be dealt with a loud, furious internet battle between Ilargi and I while Stoneleigh shows calm good sense. This we can handle ;-).
In practical terms, eventually this means my courses will be done on a better platform than yahoo, and I’ve got some people I really admire with lots to teach lined up to do some teaching. I’m also hoping to do some occasional writing for TAE as well – although who knows, I may have a lot more spare time than I thought if I jump ship. All of us have been working as hard as we can, as fast as we can for a really long time, so I’m not totally sure that any of us really know what form my ties with TAE will take – but I do know this – that truly good allies matter.