Culture Dish

As I said  yesterday on Twitter, a big conflict of interest and transparency problem has arisen on ScienceBlogs. Like several other bloggers here, I’m now on a hiatus, however like like David Dobb’s and Blake Stacy’s, my hiatus from ScienceBlogs will be permanent. I’ve been contemplating a move from ScienceBlogs for a while for several reasons, but PepsiGate has sealed the deal for me. Several of my ScienceBlogs colleagues have summed up the situation well, including PZ Myers, GrrlScientist, and Brian over at Laelaps. For a full recap of the issue and other ScienceBloggers’ responses, see this post from today’s Guardian. For a clear explanation of the ethical problems that make it so I will no longer be affiliated with Science Blogs, see this from the Knight Journalism Tracker: “ScienceBlogs Trashes its Bloggers’ Credibility.” 

I’m now looking for a new permanent home for my blog. For now, I have moved Culture Dish onto my website, where I’ll be posting until further notice.  You can follow me there via RSS feed, and of course, you can also follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

UPDATE: The Guardian has just posted this letter sent to all ScienceBlogs bloggers today by  Adam Bly, head of Seed Media Group and ScienceBlogs.

Update 2: See the Knight Journalism Tracker’s response to Adam Bly’s email linked above. 
 
Update 3: ScienceBloggers have just received a note from Adam Bly saying that in response to all of this, ScienceBlogs has begun making changes to the Pepsi blog, including adding a statement about conflict of interest and funding, adding a banner labeling it as “Advertorial.”

Update 4:  Adam Bly just announced via email that the PepsiCo blog has now been canceled.  

Comments

  1. #1 Synchronium
    July 7, 2010

    The best thing to do is shell out a few quid, buy a domain name and web hosting, and set up your own blog there (wordpress is great, but there are others).

    Then you have complete control over your content, you’re responsible for your own blog’s reputation, and you can earn back that few quid by renting your own advertising space, if you so wish.

    Honestly the best solution available. I’d recommend everyone leaving ScienceBlogs do the same. Perhaps you can invent your own stamp of approval for all these independent sites, instead of relying on ScienceBlog’s reputation.

  2. #2 DrugMonkey
    July 7, 2010

    The problem is, Synchronium, that the audience boost provided by a collective is blogger-crack.

  3. #3 Greg Laden
    July 7, 2010

    I wonder which science blogger felt s/he was above common courtesy and basic ethics to release a clearly marked confidential letter to The Guardian? Hopefully not one of the sciencebloggers who is offended by the breach of purity!

  4. #4 James Hrynyshyn
    July 7, 2010

    DrugMonkey is right. Most of us sciencebloggers were lured over here with the possibility of higher traffic and the promise of a little pay. As you can see from the decision to stay by some of the more popular SB blogs, e.g., Pharyngula and Greg Laden’s Blog.

    Meanwhile, in addition to Rebecca, other outstanding science journalists, David Dobbs and Brian Switzer among them, are leaving.

    I am giving Science Blogs a couple of days to reverse itself precisely because there are advantages to staying. Until then, Class M posts are suspended

  5. #5 kevin z
    July 7, 2010

    It took a bit less than a year for our readership to get back to SB levels after Deep Sea News left. Now we are doing better :)

  6. #6 conspicuouschick
    July 7, 2010

    It’s tragic that SB would put profits above editorial integrity (I know, meet the boss, same as the old boss). Perhaps the defecting bloggers can create their own collective rather than attempt to go it alone, which we’ve already established is incredibly difficult.

  7. #7 Rebecca Skloot
    July 7, 2010

    Greg: I did not leak it. But I’m not surprised it got out there — just look at the ScienceBlogs backforum, which is filled with angry bloggers threatening to leak it. The history of journalism is filled with internal documents leaked to the press as a way to better inform the public. I’m sure Bly knew that writing “confidential” across the top of that email wouldn’t keep it confidential.

  8. #8 Greg Laden
    July 7, 2010

    Rebecca, sorry if my question implied that, I certainly did not mean to. I regard you as a person of the utmost integrity, and assumed you did not.

    just look at the ScienceBlogs backforum, which is filled with angry bloggers threatening to leak it.

    No thank you!

    James: As you can see from the decision to stay by some of the more popular SB blogs, e.g., Pharyngula and Greg Laden’s Blog.

    I have not made a decision to stay. I don’t accept that I’ve been handed a choice. Let’s be very clear about that: There is NOT a presumption that a given blogger must decide to do or not do what other bloggers have decided to do. In fact, I’ve made the argument that people should not be so shocked to find fighting in the war room. Although PepsiBlog Gate is different, and more extreme, it is the third, not the first, sponsored blog on a commercial network paid for by all sorts of evil ads.

    Shall I add this for irony: Any science blogger who has published a peer reviewed paper has quite possibly already sold her or his soul by publishing a self-promoting piece of writing (as peer reviewed papers are, always) in a journal owned by the same company that (fill in the blank … is a major arms dealer, made the nozzles used in the death camps, etc. etc.. or at least that also published what are effectively white supremacist journals.)

    And no, that is not extreme. Just an uncomfortable truth. Sb is no more or less OpenAccess and non-corporate than Newsweek or Time.

    This place was not the magic kingdom of righteousness yesterday. And this PepsiBlog thing needs to be fixed. I guess I’ll be here working on that while the rest of you are getting in bed with Google!!!! (How’s that or a little MnPassiveAggressive.)

  9. #9 Blake Stacey
    July 7, 2010

    I didn’t leak it, though I’m less than surprised that someone else did.

    I must admit, I’m vaguely puzzled that such a piece of vacuous management-speak would have been marked “confidential” in the first place. <sarcasm> Surely, amidst all our calls for greater transparency, the right thing to do is to reassure everyone with a confidential message! </sarcasm>

  10. #11 Synchronium
    July 7, 2010

    DrugMunkee: Yeah, there is that. You could always all agree to chip in a bit to a common pot and use that to buy a server/domain on which to host all of the blogs?

    It’d take a while for business to resume as usual, but if you handled the move right, it could be the best thing alla yalls ever did.

    As I’ve said everywhere else, if anyone needs a hand or some more concrete ideas about how to move forward without fucking the whole thing up, let me know. I might have a sciency degree, but “the internet” is my day job.

  11. #12 Greg Laden
    July 7, 2010

    Blake: Good point. So, what needs to happen here is an OpenSource science blog network needs to form. Like PLoS rose from the conflagration that was the boycott.

  12. #13 chasm
    July 7, 2010

    Greg: Maybe you should rethink your ethics. How is any recipient of a letter marked “confidential” bound to respect that confidentiality by moral standard or even common courtesy? There is no prior agreement here, neither would such an agreement be binding if releasing the content was necessary to respect other ethical concerns.

    If I sent you a letter marked “confidential” and asked you to keep it secret, and then announced in that letter my intent to blow up the Empire State Building, would you keep that secret out of common courtesy or ethical imperative? I certainly hope not.

    The letter from Adam Bly was a feeble attempt to provide cover for whoring SB out to big corporate interests, and, further, it revealed that this did not start with PepsiCo. Everyone who received a copy should have immediately forwarded it to as many media outlets as possible. THAT was the ethical imperative — NOT putting SB’s concerns about its credibility with its audience over the rights of that audience to know the truth about SB’s activities.

    I don’t suppose you work for PepsiCo, do you, Greg? Or SB? ‘Fess up.

  13. #14 spit
    July 7, 2010

    Greg — do you really, truly not see a difference between a scientist/writer publishing on a site with ads or in a periodical owned by a corporation, vs. a corporation having its own platform for its own controlled content on a site that has generally been made up of scientists/writers?

    In the era of greenwashing, do you not see the potential here for a corporation to use a place with that catchy “scienceblogs” title to spread crap PR Science(TM)?

    Do you not think there are already many problems with conflicts of interest, whether real or perceived, when it comes to science being read and understood by the general public?

    I’m sure there are fine food scientists working at every soda company on earth to find something they can at least market as more nutritious. I’m sure many of them are ethical human beings, people who are doing their best to be good scientists, and for whom the primary motive is to do solid research leading to better products. I would have no problem with any of them blogging here or anywhere else; in fact I’m sure I would potentially find their commentary on food science and nutrition pretty interesting.

    Very, very different thing from moving in the company blog. The writing is on the wall across every direction for every company — appear more green, healthy, and ethical, or you will wilt away. There’s an absolutely huge push for any company to market itself this way now. But marketing with stuff that sounds sorta sciency is not science, and making sure the boundary between the two are really damned clearly delineated is a really vital thing.

  14. #15 Art
    July 7, 2010

    Grow up.

    Food Frontier has clearly and openly stated their sponsorship by Pepsico. Presumably if they had kept this vital information under wraps you wouldn’t be leaving. If the truth causes such a reaction what does it say about you?

    If you exclude all scientists who have accepted corporate funding you are going to be able to hold meetings in a phone booth.

  15. #16 Rebecca Skloot
    July 7, 2010

    Food Frontier *now* states its sponsorship, but it didn’t when it first launched, or when I wrote the post above. The site has been changed because of complaints and calls for full disclosure (aka “the truth”) about the fact that it’s a blog paid for and written by Pepsi. It is advertising, and it was being presented incorrectly as an editorial ScienceBlog. I’m a professional journalist, and this is about journalistic ethics, conflict of interest, and transparency. Read the Knight Journalism Tracker posts linked above for more information about that.

  16. #17 Art
    July 7, 2010

    [quote]Food Frontier *now* states its sponsorship, but it didn’t when it first launched, or when I wrote the post above.[/quote]

    That puts it all in a different light. Thanks.

    Perhaps I’m being to Pollyanna about it but I think this situation can be made useful. Useful as an exploration of the concerns and conflicts connected with the funding of science and the real and potential bias of scientists by way of their funding sources.

  17. #18 Art
    July 8, 2010

    Okay … having read the Knight Journalism Tracker I really think this is blown all out of proportion. The idea that Scienceblogs depends on its reputation is, as I see it, wrong. In my mind its reputation depends on the long term aggregate value of the mix of blogs. But each blog within that mix rises or falls on its own merits.

    If Food Frontiers has something interesting and informative to say, something that stands on its own merits as being reliably based on reality and science, it gets credit. If the posts are little more than empty advertising and short of verifiable science they get rated lower. Over time it performance is lacking I’ll simply stop reading it.

    If Pepsico wants to lay out money for a blog that nobody reads then so be it. No skin off your nose.

    How scienceblogs reputation might effect the reputation of your blog depends on the relative merits of your blog. If you are a slacker and riding on scienceblogs reputation then their reputation slipping might be a net loss. On the other hand, if your blog has a good reputation on its own a slip in scienceblogs reputation shouldn’t make a dent. A pearl in a pile of shit is still a pearl.

  18. #19 Murfomurf
    July 8, 2010

    I would feel extremely uncomfortable blogging under the roof of a huge multinational like Pepsico who continues to make a fortune out of selling food that is not good for humans in the quantities we tend to consume it. However, customers have made Pepsi strong enough to sponsor a “blog channel” and you ScienceBloggers will have to decide on your own principles whether you can hack it or not. I will definitely follow as many as I can of those who flee the sinking ship and I would guess others like me will do the same. However, from now on I must be very vigilant about who is sponsoring the blogs I do read- I’ve dropped them in the past because they’re sponsored by a company I object to (and whose products I boycott). Admittedly it is extremely difficult to boycott every product of all companies I find objectionable or unethical, but with changing my blog loyalties, I won’t actually starve!

  19. #20 Tracey S.
    July 8, 2010

    Look forward to seeing where you end up, Rebecca! Scienceblogs is not going to be happy at losing you, but serves them right for being sneaky and stupid.

    Greg, my question when I heard about the leaked letter was not “who leaked it” but “who got there first?”. Seriously, no one else agreed that it was confidential – it’s like being off the record. You can say it but if the journalist doesn’t agree to it then it means nothing.

  20. #21 AnyEdge
    July 8, 2010

    So, will you be staying, considering the PepsiCo banishment? Or has your camel’s back broken?

  21. #22 Rebecca Skloot
    July 8, 2010

    Nope, I’m still moving my blog. For now, while I figure out where I’ll be blogging next (and while I move my actual house from Memphis to Chicago, which happens in a few days), I’ve moved Culture Dish onto my website, where you can follow me via RSS feed, comment, etc. I may keep my blog on my own site permanently, or I may join another blogging cooperative — I haven’t decided yet. But I won’t be staying with ScienceBlogs.

  22. #23 Mark F.
    July 8, 2010

    Good luck in Chicago Rebecca. I grew up in the Chicago suburbs and lived in the city proper for about 7-8 years until 1994. It’s a great city to live in.

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