Having read my colleagues blog posts and many comments thereon and elsewhere, I want to suggest that we consider the new blog, “Food Frontiers,” a little differently than some have suggested (see my original post) and, actually, welcome it to the Sb fold.

As painful as it is to admit (and I’m really squirming here) Isis and Drug Monkey were perhaps right to reserve judgment. Perhaps they recognize that what others have made into a stark distinction is really a gray area: There are in fact many science bloggers (here on Sb and elsewhere) who are paid fully by a single company from a major industry. Even scientists like Isis, Monkey and a half dozen others, here as Sb, are effectively paid by a very small number of sources (like the NIH or some big Pharm grant or whatever) and thus have a (largely undisclosed in some cases) potential appearance of a conflict of interest. Somehow, that seems to never get mentioned, and that is probably because it never actually matters.

In thinking about it further, I think the Food Frontiers blog is more like Collective Imagination than it originally seemed to me. In fact, this is pretty clear. Food Frontiers has a number of scientists who work at the R and D branch of a major e-vile corporation. I had no problem working, as a co-blogger, with a set of research scientists at a different major e-vile corporation, General Electric, who’s evil ways I’ve witnessed quite first hand.

Indeed, when I was asked years ago to be a keynote speaker at a major international group of food scientists, I jumped at the chance and spent several days at a conference at which I understood only a few percent of what was being said about the science, and learning a great deal of very interesting stuff.

I think the Sb launch of this blog could have been better done. Next time it probably will be. In the mean time, let’s keep an eye on it and see what interesting things develop.

For those who have noted that they don’t like soda and thus won’t like that blog: Likely, the blog will mostly be about other things.

Also, for those who see this as part of a negative trend (increasing corporate blogging) do suggest alternatives. Is there some entity out there that should be blogging at Scienceblogs.com? Suggest it!

Comments

  1. #1 Rich
    July 7, 2010

    Well, i think the readers have already lost more content via top class contributors than Food Frontiers will provide.

    I’d like to know if FF pays money for the privilege of being on Science Blogs.

  2. #2 Greg Laden
    July 7, 2010

    This is the statement by Seed regarding how this all works:

    http://scienceblogs.com/seed/2010/07/transparency_regarding_food_fr.php

  3. #3 cass_m
    July 7, 2010

    Thanks for this Greg. Honestly the knee jerk reaction by the bloggers to the addition of Pepsico research made me ready to walk away from the scienceblogs network as the network is already quite unwelcoming to people who work in science outside of academia.

    Corporations should do a lot more research whether in house or through sponsorship/scholarships. It’s up to the researchers to ask the hard questions and persist in their work when corporate would like them not to. Being at scienceblogs could provide the researchers with a lot of support for direction.

  4. #4 Russell
    July 7, 2010

    When I start thinking about where the bright line is here, I come back to the fact that I don’t know who pays most of the bloggers here.

  5. #5 Greg Laden
    July 7, 2010

    Russell, we don’t either, any more than we would know who was paying us for an article published in Discover Magazine or some other mass market outlet.

    Apparently (glancing at the right side bar) the University of Phoenix, for one.

  6. #6 Hank Fox
    July 7, 2010

    “In the mean time, let’s keep an eye on it and see what interesting things develop.”

    Yeah, and especially notice the crappy — and inevitable — side effects.

    The sweet guy handling the blog is already censoring comments deemed, in his loving corporate opinion, to be “profane” or “defamatory.”

    I can say FUCK here. PZ can create Crackergate on Pharyngula.

    By contrast, I’ll bet you PepsiCo already has a policy in place for censoring comments, deleting comments, and permanently banning people who say things they don’t want said there. It’s a no-brainer to say there will be no controversial content.

    It won’t end there. The financial pressure and corporate control will leak out from Food Frontiers and taint the rest of ScienceBlogs.

    It will also drive a wedge between the commenting public. I’m already seeing comments — yours among them — asking the equivalent of “let’s all keep an open mind and welcome this poor, downtrodden multi-billion dollar corporations into our midst.”

    They’ve found a way to use open-mindedness as a corporate weapon. And don’t think some bright young Karl Rove hasn’t brought up the point in exactly those terms.

    I come here for the science, and the pro-science, pro-reason opinion, not the soda.

    As to your comments about other bloggers, this is not some blogger partially funded by PepsiCo. THIS IS PepsiCo. This is PepsiCo advertising.

    Jeezus, sometimes it seems that every frickin’ flat surface in the world is covered with advertising from some goddam corporation. Certainly I long ago recognized that TV is really about advertising, and EVERYTHING else on there is the sweet bait to draw in the viewers.

    This is not some accident. It’s … hell, it would be moronic to assume that it was anything BUT the end result of decades of deliberate effort by corporate advertisers.

    I think you’re wrong, Greg. You’re not thinking this through.

    What we’re witnessing is not some fluffy good-willed experiment, it’s a shameless, cynical, heavily-bankrolled effort to take control of whatever piece of ScienceBlogs they can get, up to and including the entire damned thing, to deliver those readers into the hands of PepsiCo.

    If enough people like you roll over to have their tummies rubbed, THEY’LL GET IT.

    I comment on the ABC News site fairly often. About half the time, my comments get deleted, and I have never yet figured out just why. You can post a strong on-topic, profanity-free opinion about George Bush and have it vanish the same day, or never get posted. I’m assuming some reader flags it as “inappropriate” and ABC, just to be on the safe side, deletes it.

    Ten years from now, ScienceBlogs will be a very different place from what it is now, a place exactly like ABC News. Critics will say it has “matured” – all the loud, random, argumentative content will be controlled by editors hired to shepherd the formerly-troublesome bloggers into safe corporate channels, and all the annoying commenters will be required to follow strict rules of staying on topic and using “polite” language.

    The camel’s nose is in the tent.

  7. #7 Sharon Astyk
    July 7, 2010

    I think greater transparency in our personal funding would be a really good thing. I’ll be happy to reveal my sources. But that doesn’t change the fact that this is not a blogger from Pepsi – despite your attempt to make it a poor innocent scientist who happens to work for Pepsi, but Pepsi’s blog, by their scientists. This is not independent content.

    Independent writers have complex motivations – yes, where the money comes from matters, and we should probably be more specific about that. But I’m not just motivated by my desire to keep my money coming from one source here – nor can I be fired by anyone for what I say here, nor do I adhere to a corporate policy that isn’t available for other people to see.

    Pepsi is trading on us, and the cost to some of us, at least is pretty high. I can’t imagine anyone here writing about health or food is going to be able to walk into a conference or a speech without hearing “oh, but aren’t you from that Pepsi place.”

    As for GE – Mea culpa I wasn’t paying attention, but since I live by the Hudson, I woulda been just as pissed at that if I’d realized.

    Sharon

  8. #8 Greg Laden
    July 7, 2010

    Sharon, yes, it is Pepsi’s blog, and should be presented as such. Please do not ride up to me on your high horse.

    And yes, “independent” bloggers have complex motivations. Some of those may be hidden behind pseudonyms, by the way. But the complexity that may or may not exist for a given blogger does not make the gray area clear at all. I’m not sure why you think that.

    I can’t imagine anyone here writing about health or food is going to be able to walk into a conference or a speech without hearing “oh, but aren’t you from that Pepsi place.”

    I don’t think having a Pepsi blog on scienceblogs makes a food/nutrition blogger any more suspect as “the pepsi blogger” than being on the same network with any of your siblings makes people think you are them. For which I am quite thankful.

    I also don’t think it is necessary or appropriate for you to turn this into an “us vs them” situation then take it on yourself to define who is on what side. There is not very much difference, for instance, between what you and I seem to think is important. I’m being less of a purist. That could make me as evil as you seem to be suggesting, or it could make me more realistic. I don’t think we know yet.

    You can claim all the ignorance of Shell and GE you want, but the side bar on the right side of your blog still advertises for companies that for all you know are owned by GE and Pepsi and who knows who else.

    Scienceblogs.com is now and always has been a commercial, closed source enterprise. It was that way when you got here. Blogging here is like writing for Discover Magazine or Popular Science, or whatever. I can understand how that can be an uncomfortable environment, but I can’t quite understand how someone can join up with Sb and not realize this is an issue.

    Make no mistake: I think the rollout of this blog was botched, and the way it is done is not the way it should be done. I do have confidence that Sb will change the way corporate blogs are presented. I don’t assume that they will do everything the way I would personally want them to, though one can hope.

    What I don’t understand about your blog, Sharon (and I really love your blog) is how you can insist that the problem is deep and endemic and that they’ve been doing it all along and that you would not have joined Sb had you known, but that you are only suspending and not just leaving. I truly hope you don’t leave, but you really sort of have to given what you are saying.

    Or, you can stay and be one of the voices a) pushing Sb to do the right (or at least more right) thing and b) making sure that Sb is NOT the Pepsi Network, but perhaps the place where Pepsi laid down the bullshit and those other sciencebloggers kicked their ass. That’s what I hope you do.

    (By the way, I grew up by the Hudson, downstream from Waterford. And, when offered the chance to take a contract for GE for part of the EIS for the plant that was designed to destroy the PCB’s I jumped at the chance because it was the right thing to do … destroying the PCB’s that is. And, for most of my life, I’ve pretty much boycotted GE products. Life is complex. I also have boycotted Nestles most of my life but when living in the Congo had only Nido. Oh well.)

  9. #9 Sharon Astyk
    July 7, 2010

    Way to read into my comments, Greg – I didn’t say you were evil, and I didn’t say anything to justify the patronizing tone you are using. I really think you read into this one. I said that I think you are blurring an important distinction between writers who may be employed by someone but are writing independently and those who are not. I disagreed with you – you don’t have to be a jerk unless you really want to.

    I certainly had no doubts that science blogs was ad supported, and it was a tradeoff – I was very explicit with my readership that I accept that tradeoff – and the price it comes with for my credibility. It is a price I’m willing to pay. I’m working for an ad sponsored site because of the audience and the benefits it comes with. I’m not an idiot, despite your attempt to portray me as one.

    That’s not the same thing has having a mimic of our basic content be presented as equivalent to the writing we do. That’s a different set of trade-offs, one that I wasn’t aware of. I assume we can agree that all of us are embedded in society in ways that are uncomfortable – and that some of those ways are worse than others. You seem to think that Pepsi buying an ad and Pepsi sponsoring a blog are basically the same. I don’t agree – I don’t think they are remotely in the same territory. I think Pepsi sponsoring a blog is much closer to buying advertorial content without the label “this is an ad.”

    I freely admit, I should have read the memos more carefully about the GE blog. But I don’t think that’s a credible argument in favor of the Pepsi (or any other future corporate blog). Ok, so people weren’t pissed enough before – they are now, and I think rightly so – a weak response before doesn’t justify the same response now. And honestly, if I had known, the very fact that an independent scienceblogger was sitting in with them would make it somewhat less awful – if Pepsi wants to dump funds on Obesity Panacea, I’m good with it.

    Not everyone does read very carefully, and not everyone does understand the difference between journalism, editorial writing and advertorial.

    As for the cost to credibility – I’m already getting those emails. In fact, that’s how I found out about this – not from Seed. I got the email from someone I’m supposed to be speaking to in a few weeks asking if I knew about this and what they were supposed to say when people start emailing. We’re in the Guardian, Daily Kos, etc… you don’t think people will notice?

    I suspended because I still have some hope that Seed will dump the Pepsi blog, or if it doesn’t, place it into a ghetto of “Scienceblogs-corporatewhorage” – if it doesn’t, I’m done. I didn’t leave because I think it is fair to give people a chance to rectify the mistake – and whatever Seed did in the past and now, it could conceivably choose to create policies that would be fine with me, that would create grey areas that were morally acceptable to me and ideally, other science bloggers.

    Look, I don’t have 1+ billion dollars to give some cash to Seed. I don’t even pretend that I bring in enough traffic to matter much to Seed. The only thing I can do is leave and take my readership – but I don’t agree with those who left before Seed had a chance to respond (although I respect their right to do so, obviously). I’m using the only leverage I’ve got to have any effect – as are other bloggers. I don’t have to provide content, I won’t advise my readers to visit them, and I can make fun of seed. If that doesn’t do the ass kicking, hey, I’ve got another blog. I’ve got other windmills to tilt at.

    Sharon

  10. #10 Sharon Astyk
    July 7, 2010

    On further consideration, I apologize for responding pissily this time. I did not intend pissiness, just disagreement in the previous comment, but perhaps it came off that way. I still disagree with you, but I responded more strongly than you deserved. I’m blaming the heat.

    BTW, on the subject of GE – it is the major employer in my region, and frankly, if GE ever goes under, I won’t have a synagogue ;-). Overeducated Jews don’t move to upstate New York for a whole lot of other reasons. A number of my close friends are brilliant GE scientists from R and D and other segments, and they would be superb bloggers. The difference I see is that I would see a place for them here as individual bloggers, with complex motivations, rather than as employees of their corporation – that’s just too dangerous a line to cross.

    Sharon

  11. #11 Jason
    July 7, 2010

    “The sweet guy handling the blog is already censoring comments deemed, in his loving corporate opinion, to be “profane” or “defamatory.””

    Hank,
    My comment “Scienceblogs, not corporateblogs. And your carbonated sugar water is pretty much the same as all the other carbonated sugar waters, all your advertising be damned.” was not allowed.

    I think that shows pretty clearly what their standards are, i.e., not the standards of freedom and intellectual honesty I associate with scienceblogs.

  12. #12 CherryBomb
    July 7, 2010

    The problem may be self-correcting to some degree. PepsiCo is clearly doing this to promote it’s brand, and I don’t think they really want a blog full of comments about how deceptive and devious they are as a corporation. I expect they and ScienceBlogs will adjust the way it is presented until it no longer provokes intense outrage, and everyone will be (reasonably) happy.

  13. #13 Greg Laden
    July 7, 2010

    Sharon:

    Way to read into my comments, Greg … I really think you read into this one.

    I’m sure you’re right, sorry.

    I think you are blurring an important distinction between writers who may be employed by someone but are writing independently and those who are not.

    That is an important distinction, and it is the reason that a blog written entirely by such bloggers should be identified as such, as I have said, yet still may have value. They are, actually, scientists doing research, not public relations people.

    But it is also true that bloggers who are not in that exact situation may well be in a nearly similar situation.

    You seem to think that Pepsi buying an ad and Pepsi sponsoring a blog are basically the same. I don’t agree.

    You are going to have to not tell me that I’m out of line if I tell you that you are out of line to tell me that I think that. You do have a way with the straw, and you should admit that.

    I think Pepsi sponsoring a blog is much closer to buying advertorial content without the label “this is an ad.”

    I have yet to see anyone say otherwise.

    The only thing I can do is leave and take my readership

    There is something else you can do. In fact, what you can do is something that you would probably NOT be able to do if, say, you were writing a column for Scientific American and got annoyed at the Exon (or whatever) 25 page content ad in the middle of the mag: Attack it directly from within. The Sci Am editors would probably not let you do that. I can’t imagine the Sb editors stopping you from doing that.

    And, there is another thing you and everyone else needs to do: Stop characterizing a presumed position on this on the basis of a person’s action-related decision. I promise you that I can be much madder about this than a science blogger who leaves over it.

  14. #14 Greg Laden
    July 7, 2010

    Sharon:
    On further consideration, I apologize for responding pissily this time. I did not intend pissiness, just disagreement in the previous comment. but perhaps it came off that way. I still disagree with you,

    We are, and perhaps should be, all feeling pissy, so no worries.

    Also, we don’t disagree that much. And I’m sure I was being pissier than you, sorry.

    Interesting comments about GE. Something else worth noting: GE makes most of its money on products that are not associated with a delicate public corporate image. Pepsi does. So, I am not surprised to have a bunch of GE geeks/engineers/scientists being very bloggy and conversational. But Pepsi employees, I’d expect to be more under the corporate thumb. I could be wrong.

    I hope you don’t leave.

  15. #15 Greg Laden
    July 7, 2010

    Jason: Seriously? Was that really the whole comment?

    Oh, wait, you said “damned” … they may have thought that profane (though it’s in the bible and shit, so it shouldn’t be).

    However, it is incorrect to assume that such petty stupid-ass behavior did not exist on scienceblogs prior to the arrival of PepsiBlawg.

  16. #16 Sharon Astyk
    July 7, 2010

    I hope I don’t too ;-).

    BTW, again, that wasn’t an attempt at a strawman, but an honest attempt to figure out what it is we do disagree with – you lept to the conclusion in your response to me that I should have been just as outraged by the ads as I am by the corporate blog, therefor, I assumed that you were implying that they were similar, that you view them as about equally troublesome. I don’t think that’s an unreasonable conclusion from what you said, but clearly its wrong – I’d happily take a correction that explained what you do think. Otherwise, I find it hard to account for the idea that I should be just as outraged about ads as this.

    Sharon

  17. #17 Phil
    July 7, 2010

    This is Pepsi advertising pure and simple, disguised as independent science. It’s also going to bring Scienceblogs reputation down to the level of a paid broadsheet.

  18. #18 Sharon Astyk
    July 7, 2010

    The person responding to comments is not a scientist doing research. Moreover, the blog claims we will hear from “experts” but doesn’t identify any scientists – so what you say may be true, but it isn’t necessarily.

    I’ve already done my attacking from within, and if the changes are sufficient, I’ll stay. If not, honestly, the reform of science blogs is not my biggest priority right now. I don’t think its unreasonable to say “look, I will only blog under these circumstances, and if you conform to them, great, I’ll stay, if not, instead of fighting the fight from within, I’ll go.” If Seed thinks I and the other people are worth it, they’ll change, if not, they have to find new content. I really like science blogs, and I like writing here – but I can write elsewhere, too, and what I write about matters to me more than where I write it.

    Sharon

  19. #19 Casey
    July 7, 2010

    Greg,

    I think you’re taking a very intelligent stance on it all.
    Kudos for that.

    I have a lot of concerns about the blog, especially since the whole idea of making money on a delicate public image thing is definitely a serious difference between them and some other coprorations. The thing that concerns me is the corporate pactice of information dissemination as it applies to any issue they may even potentially encounter heat on. I mean look at the coal industry and the work they do just to keep coal on the table as a “safe” option. There’s no real ethical criteria for a corporation like there is for an individual, which is largely the basis for my concern.

    On that note I will say this, if they post things that are out of line or crazy wrong, or incredibly misleading, I wouldn’t want them to be anywhere else. I feel safer about it simply because of the fact that blogs on here are already expressing extreme disdain for the idea, and thos eposts haven’t vanished. I think Pepsi will be under some serious scrutiny, maybe not from SB itself, but from the army of peopl SB does have on hand who do good science and constantly fight bad information.

    Hell, I could see it being amazing if Pepsi manages to respond to any criticism they get here. I’m sure that if they ignore the commentors and the bloggers here, they’ll be ignored like many blogs on the internet.

    If they do bad things, they’ll be addressed as such, if they do good things there, I’m sure the same will stand. If they do corporate watered down drivel…I’m certain that it will be labled such by the bloggers here.

    I know the environment at SB that I have always perceived is that of a very supportive one. I came here originally for 1 blog, and for months it was all I looked at, but that blog showed me others here, and now I barely look at the original one and look at a multitude of others.

    I’m certain that at least 2 bloggers here would run off on their own if they felt that SB was compromising their integrity to the point that it actually hurt their own blogs. I’m also certain they would be wildly successful regardless.

    So I guess if Pepsi wants to blog anywhere, I’d rather have them here than at a place with absolutely no scientific scrutiny. I guess I’m really happy that they aren’t doing this just on MTV and Superbowl halftimes, even if it works that way in their budget.

  20. #20 Sharon Astyk
    July 7, 2010

    I assume, btw, that you’ve seen this: http://ksjtracker.mit.edu/2010/07/07/scienceblogs-trashes-credibility-leaked-response-from-editor/

    Perhaps because I work a lot with contested science (not saying you don’t just that this has this effect on me), I care about my credibility – and I think this has a real and recognizable effect.

    Sharon

  21. #21 Greg Laden
    July 7, 2010

    Phil: It’s also going to bring Scienceblogs reputation down to the level of a paid broadsheet.

    Wait, don’t you mean “up”????

    Sharon: If Seed thinks I and the other people are worth it, they’ll change I agree, and they better, and I think they did:

    http://tinyurl.com/24bzzhm

  22. #22 E.V.
    July 7, 2010

    Well, the comments at the new blog seem to have stopped at 138 despite a couple I sent sans naughty words or defamation (whatever the definition of that is according to PepsiCo). I’m sure I’m not the only one.
    Um, did someone at Seed drop you a line Greg or did you just suddenly dismiss the blurring of the lines between advertising and propaganda/Corporate shilling via association with credible science minded bloggers? I’m sure Monsanto has the capital and will be glad to blog/promote here, hell – DI or the Jesuits too, have Evan at Seed give them a call.

    The point is PepsiCo will edit and control all blogging even if it is a quasi-independent subgroup doing the blogging.
    (BTW since when does University of Phoenix have a blog at ScienceBlogs? Advertising is one thing…)

  23. #23 Greg Laden
    July 7, 2010

    Um, did someone at Seed drop you a line Greg or did you just suddenly dismiss the blurring of the lines between advertising and propaganda/Corporate shilling via association with credible science minded bloggers?

    Fuck you too. There is no way you can say that and have read what I’ve written. And yes, someone did drop someone a line. I dropped Adam Bly a line, as did many other sciencebloggers.

    I’m simply pointing out that this is not a black and white situation. We did not go from a non-profit open access journal to an evil corporate run entity. What we saw here was a screwup (that is getting fixed) not black helicopters coming down from the heavens.

  24. #24 E.V.
    July 7, 2010

    And it is illuminated
    Thanks for the “fuck you”, I always know when I’ve yanked someone’s chain juuuust right.

  25. #25 RBH
    July 7, 2010

    Greg, a few hours ago you wrote

    If you look at the Pepsi Food Frontiers Blog you will see that it now says “ADVERTORIAL” along the top of the blog.

    Not any more. That’s apparently gone now.

    I’m very glad that we at Panda’s Thumb decided not to go with ScienceBlogs some years ago.

  26. #26 ponderingfool
    July 7, 2010

    For those wondering what the current Food Frontiers looks like:
    http://foodfrontiers.pepsicoblogs.com/

  27. #27 JohnV
    July 7, 2010

    I find it very amusing/depressing that 1 ScienceBlogger who is “taking a hiatus” over this also blogs at Huffington Post. Because, apparently blogging somewhere that pushes a very strong anti-vaccine, anti-science pro-ignorance agenda is a-ok but elsewhere if PepsiCo sponsors a blog IT IS JUST TOO GREAT AN INSULT TO BEAR.

  28. #28 Isis the Scientist
    July 8, 2010

    Wait. I’m sorry. I can’t get past the first paragraph. Did you just say that you agree with me?

  29. #29 JohnV
    July 8, 2010

    See Isis there’s a silver lining in every cloud!

  30. #30 Rob
    July 8, 2010

    (I posted a response similar to this in the Pepsi blog responding to one of your comments. I didn’t cut and paste it, so this isn’t exact. Let’s see if it shows up…)

    Sorry Greg, I can’t agree with your wait and see attitude. If the person in charge of the blog was someone from R&D, sure. PR, not a chance.

  31. #31 Greg Laden
    July 8, 2010

    Rob, I’m not sure if I get your meaning. Are you saying that there is nothing that scienceblogs can do to make this right?

  32. #32 Rob
    July 8, 2010

    Are you saying that there is nothing that scienceblogs can do to make this right?

    Sure they can. Issue a mea culpa, kick them to the curb. Next time, involve the existing bloggers in the decision.