Guilty Planet

Even before I knew what it was, I never wanted a blog, because I didn’t like how the word sounds. Similarly, the term scibling (which refers to bloggers on scienceblogs.com) always creeped me out. And yet, here I find myself, a scibling and a blogger for more than three years in SEED’s network and more or less content. Ask anyone and you’ll find I’m fairly uninvolved, rarely take a position, do not contribute to the forums or make a fuss.

Last Wednesday, I saw an email from SEED editor Adam Bly, which everyone knows about by now, in which he defended SEED’s decision to allow PepsiCo a platform to voice their wisdom and science of nutrition. I figured PepsiCo’s Food Frontiers was actually a new frontier of blogwashing. I also figured Adam was fighting a losing battle when his justification to add PepsiCo included the fact they make Quaker Oatmeal. A few clicks and I realized people were justifiably unhappy. Because I was down here in the Gulf just preparing to post a series of pieces on the oil spill, I had my own self-obsessed worries that I would have to make a quick migration (which, after seeing all the oiled birds, seemed almost apt) out of principle and solidarity. Then, something happened.

The people spoke. And, more important, SEED listened. In the afternoon, Adam sent another email saying that SEED would do a better job in flagging the blog as a corporate blog. This job was not good enough. The next morning (less than 24 hours later) Adam sent another email saying that PepsiCo’s Food Frontier blog was cancelled.

In my own mind, I viewed the cancellation as a coup. Yes, I also agree with Abel Pharmboy that everything could have been done better from the start. But Adam’s reversal of his decision could not have come easily and was something profoundly democratic — in a similar vein to what happened on my.barackobama.com after President Obama changed his vote on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (in that case, the people did not get their way, but they also were not silenced; for more on this point, listen to this talk by Clay Shirky). Perhaps feeling the power of social media, Adam even opened his own blog.

And yet I continue to see this mass exodus from scienceblogs. I don’t know if this is for the best (i.e., some people are using PepsiCo as a way out of something they wanted out of anyway). Or, rather, if I am missing something. But my main concern is that the system is punishing someone/an institution that ultimately (and quickly) gave in to the system. That doesn’t seem fair. It certainly doesn’t seem compassionate.

Unless I am missing something, I believe we should all stay. And those who have left should come back. Changing one’s mind is the best proof you still have one.

Comments

  1. #1 Tim
    July 12, 2010

    Wow, it’s a pepsi-harbor-gate-ageddon blog post that I actually agree with. A win is a win.

  2. #2 Martin Robbins
    July 12, 2010

    Talking to the people who have left, I think the problem is that ultimately this wasn’t just about Pepsi.

    Everyone who left has their own reasons for doing so, but many of them have pointed to this being the latest in a series of things that have made them uncomfortable here. Pepsi and the way that it was handled became I think a powerful example of the erosion/compromising of editorial standards, and a general lack of understanding or respect from Seed (many have complained specifically about Bly, for example).

    I think Pepsi, and then seein gthe first big names fall, gave people the impetus they needed to make the leap, but I think if you look back at the last year with hindsight, you can see the signs that this was coming.

  3. #3 Martin Robbins
    July 12, 2010

    ETA.. I should say in the above comment “perceived” erosion of standards and lack of respect, you know what I mean.

  4. #4 Randy Olson
    July 12, 2010

    Do you remember when Howard Dean was running a seemingly perfectly good campaign and even breaking new ground with the innovative use of the internet and then all of a sudden he said “yeehaw” a little too loud in a crowded room and his ship instantly sank?

    That was such a sad event because the next day Peter Jennings on ABC News even showed how absolutely no one in the room at the time heard much of the craziness in Dean’s yeehawing because of the crowd noise. It was only the isolated audio recording from his microphone that made him sound like a madman.

    But there was something in the existing landscape at the time that had all the people lined up, waiting to jump from his ship. They only needed that one silly cue.

  5. #5 Hal Caswell
    July 12, 2010

    I agree with you, and like the last line. As I watched it, some folks went on hiatus, some flat-out left, and some said they were concerned to varying degrees and were considering leaving. If one does any of those things in response to an event, and then the event is canceled, it seems perfectly appropriate to change one’s mind.

  6. #6 HP
    July 12, 2010

    I don’t think the decision to yank Food Frontiers was made solely by Adam Bly. I think that PepsiCo had perfectly valid reasons for wanting to withdraw as well. I suspect that phone call couldn’t connect fast enough for either party. (Why a corporate entity would want to speak, as a corporate entity, in a medium where they don’t control the message, is anybody’s guess. I blame consultants.)

    Bora has been teasing us with hints (in comments elsewhere and on his own blog) about his position on the matter. Check this cryptic post, for example, as well as the following comments. I think he’s up to something. He’s got the enthusiasm of an evangelist, the negotiating skills of a lawyer, and the rigor of a scientist. I suspect he’s going to have the last word on Pepsigate, one way or another.

  7. #7 Joseph Hewitt
    July 12, 2010

    I think not all the reasons given for leaving are compatible with coming back. As you said, several of them were thinking of leaving anyhow and this was just the straw that broke the camel’s back. Several bloggers mentioned the issue of trust- this episode may have been resolved well, but they suspect it won’t be long before there’s another similar bruhaha. Some have also mentioned the issue of respect- they don’t feel like SEED values them or takes their opinion seriously. I think a bit part of it is that blogging and the SB network have different meanings for different people.

    As a reader, I’d be ecstatic if most of the bloggers returned. Agreed with HP about Bora- I want to see what he’s up to.

  8. #8 razib
    July 12, 2010

    “scibling” always sounded like a disease to me, so your’e not the only one wary of the term :-)

    i think many people had already divested from the institution of ScienceBlogs.

  9. #9 Greg Laden
    July 12, 2010

    Nicely put.

  10. #10 "GrrlScientist"
    July 13, 2010

    since when have we gotten proof that adam plans to run SMG/ScienceBlogs as anything more than his own private fiefdom? where is this promised conference call where he was going to answer our questions and listen to our concerns? that conference call was supposed to take place “early this week,” which i interpret to mean either monday or tuesday. well here it is, late monday night in NYC where adam lives, and there’s not been a sound about this promised phone call, not even an acknowledgment that he made such a promise. the sound of crickets in NYC is deafening.

  11. #11 Kobayashi Maru
    July 13, 2010

    Nice platitude. Does that mean you’ll be changing your mind then, and see the side of those who went on hiatus or left? Or just continue with the Kumbaya b.s.?

  12. #12 JG
    July 13, 2010

    Thank you for putting so elegantly what so many Science Blogs readers (a component of the whole enterprise too often forgotten) have been thinking. The remarkable thing about the whole episode was that here, almost uniquely among modern management, Bly was prepared to climb down rather than cling defiantly to a bad decision as if to prove a macho point.

  13. #13 Frank Y
    July 13, 2010

    As far as I am concerned, the news that SB did not run an article on Bhopal because they were trying to get an advertising deal with Dow Chemical is much, much more damaging than the Pepsico fiasco. I am glad the Pepsico blog was ended. But have people considered what the implications of rejecting the Bhopal article are? What is says about Seed Media, the company that owns SB? People are still dying in Bhopal as a result of Dow not assuming liabilities (it purchased Union Carbide, the operator at the time of the accident). This is a reflection of the very low character of the groups that runs SB – profits over human rights. They should be run out of business…….

  14. #14 IanW
    July 21, 2010

    I don’t think it’s ever been about Pepsi per se. From the reading I’ve done it’s about a host of things and Pepsi was simply a convenient trigger; then everyone decided they didn’t want to be the black sheep and so the trickle became an exodus.

    But for a blogger to claim it’s about scientific integrity when their blog consisted largely of anecdotes, rants and other non-science trivia is rather hypocritical. ERV has a great blog expressing a similar sentiment. For me it’s this: if you’re not going to be blogging largely (not solely, but largely) about science, why be on Science blogs in the first place?

    But I’ll make you the same deal I made Chad: you keep blogging the science, and I’ll keep reading.

  15. #15 Buffoon
    September 1, 2010

    Companies, large and small, do most of the “real science” in the world, because their profits are often tied to the quality of their research. The best universities emulate this relationship with similar motives, but do so from the culturally-deified position of “educator” and not “corporation,” even though when taken on merit the two are virtually indistinguishable.

    An auditable, public platform for an enormous company? A mere advertising page, or the next step forward in the evolution of company/customer interaction? Just more internet trash, or the wave of the future?

    The greatest service man can provide in humanity’s path forward is a proper mix of the two most important human traits: skepticism and creativity. Anti-corporate mythos and bedwetting has no place in logic, reason or by extension science.

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    December 6, 2011

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    But for a blogger to claim it’s about scientific integrity when their blog consisted largely of anecdotes, rants and other non-science trivia is rather hypocritical. ERV has a great blog expressing a similar sentiment. For me it’s this: if you’re not going to be blogging largely (not solely, but largely) about science, why be on Science blogs in the first place?

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