I suppose I have to say something about the Great Pepsi Blog Controversy, because it’s sucking all the oxygen out of science blogging right now. I’ll try to keep this short and self-contained.

At this time, I have no intention of leaving ScienceBlogs over the paid PepsiCo blog. I’m very sorry to hear that several of the other bloggers here have decided to leave, but they have their reasons, and it’s their decision.

Ultimately, I suspect that the reason I am relatively unperturbed by this whole mess comes down to a fundamental split between how I view blogging and how they view blogging.

The controversy centers around whether the PepsiCo blog as originally presented violates journalistic standards. I think it pretty clearly did, but I also think that problem has largely been fixed with subsequent edits to the format.

More importantly, though, I do not consider myself a journalist. I do not consider what I do here to be a form of journalism. I’m a physicist, a college professor, and an author, and I write this blog on the side as a kind of hobby, shading into promotional activity. I don’t see my relationship to ScienceBlogs as being like that of a journalist to a newspaper or magazine. ScienceBlogs is a hosting platform for my personal blog, and that’s it.

My credibility as a scientist comes from my undergraduate and graduate degrees, my research publications, and (a distant third) from my affiliation with Union College. My credibility as a blogger comes from my track record of posting here and at my own site before ScienceBlogs existed. I don’t feel that my credibility is significantly derived from the ScienceBlogs name or network. Frankly, if I felt that the quality or credibility of my blog was negatively affected by anything written on a completely different blog on the network, I would’ve left a long time ago, as there have been many things done by ScienceBlogs bloggers that I would rather not be associated with.

Thus, I am not terribly concerned that there is a blog on the network that may or may not someday contain material promoting PepsiCo products (remember, this whole thing blew up before any content beyond a welcome message was put on the blog in question). In much the same way that I am not deleting my Facebook account because there are profiles on there that are just fronts for commercial concerns, or abandoning Twitter because there are Twitter users who are PR flacks for one company or another. In my view, ScienceBlogs is a hosting platform for my blog, in the same way that Facebook and Twitter are hosting platforms for my personal accounts, and the accounts I created for the dog to help promote my book.

I can understand, though, that people who consider themselves primarily journalists, and their blogs an outgrowth of their journalistic careers, would find the PepsiCo thing an outrageous violation. I don’t share their view of what these blogs are, so I don’t share their outrage, but I understand why people who see things that way would choose to leave.

So, I’m not going anywhere just yet. Does that mean I’ll never leave over some decision made by ScienceBlogs amangement? No. It’s possible that they’ll do something in the future that pisses me off enough to leave, but this isn’t it. Does that mean I wouldn’t jump ship if Discover or somebody made me a better offer? No. If you’ve got a network of science blogs and would like a low-energy physicist and his talking dog, I’ll listen to what you have to say. But this particular incident is not enough to make me want to leave.

And that’s all I have to say. If you have something to say to me about the Rock’n’Roller Cola War, this is the place to say it.

Comments

  1. #1 Cherish
    July 8, 2010

    I don’t know if it’s about journalism so much as people being concerned about the integrity of science blogs in general and ScienceBlogs in particular. I think the same thing happened when…hmmm…was it Shell Oil? was doing a blog on energy.

    Providing a blog to a group who will obviously be biased in their research due to corporate interests harms the integrity of science communication. Not two days ago, I was having a discussion on my blog about issues surrounding things like whom one should believe about science issues (global climate change being the perfect example). The person with whom I was discussing said that he has gotten to the point that he doesn’t know who to believe, so he has stopped believing either side. I imagine his response is going to be quite common outside of science.

    Pepsi, like most other soft drink producers, is currently embroiled in a big controversy because there have been several studies showing harmful metabolic effects related to the consumption of high-fructose corn syrup. Using HFCS is cheaper, however, so several groups have launched a campaign to claim that HFCS is safe as shown by several groups of corporate-funded scientists. I imagine this will be an issue they’ll discuss…and the science they present will likely be questionable. It’s meant to confuse people and discredit the people doing the science who have concluded it’s harmful.

    Journalists have given climate change deniers a big microphone, and they’ve managed to confuse and mislead a lot of people. It seems like ScienceBlogs is doing the same thing. Journalists do it because they don’t know better and feel obligated to tell both sides of the story, not realizing the other side is full of hacks and corporate interests. ScienceBlogs, however, should know better.

  2. #2 Matt Leifer
    July 8, 2010

    What I don’t understand about this is why anyone feels the need to join a blogging network in the first place. A company with a profit motive has to look after its bottom line and it is fairly obvious that they *might* end up doing something you disagree with in order to cover it. Since I regard online identity as fairly important, my personal choice would be to not risk the association unless it is necessary (not that I get a lot of offers for my essentially defunct blog anyway). I am tempted to say “I told you so” to all the ScienceBloggers who have left, but since I’ve never really commented on it in public I will have to make do with “I thought you so”.

    I don’t think its the same as facebook or twitter, since it would be pretty difficult to run your own versions of those sites, whereas it is not exactly difficult or expensive to run your own WordPress site. Of course, there is the money and possibly increased traffic, but I don’t know how significant they are. I guess what I really want to know is why did you join ScienceBlogs in the first place (I also want to know how much money ScienceBloggers make, but I’m too polite to ask outside of parentheses)?

  3. #3 Chad Orzel
    July 8, 2010

    I guess what I really want to know is why did you join ScienceBlogs in the first place (I also want to know how much money ScienceBloggers make, but I’m too polite to ask outside of parentheses)?

    I joined because they were willing to pay me to do something I was already doing for free. There are other reasons– a boost in visibility, offloading the tech support to somebody else, etc.– but in the end, it was that they were offering to pay me to blog.

    It’s not a large amount of money– my annual take from ScienceBlogs payments is on the order of $3,000– but it’s enough to buy a few extra toys here and restaurant meals, and it seemed silly to pass up free money.

  4. #4 James Hrynyshyn
    July 8, 2010

    Chad: You really believe that the “problem has largely been fixed with subsequent edits to the format?” Come on. Calling them cosmetic changes would be an exaggerating. Nothing essential has changed.

    I concede that a science journalist will have a different perspective than a scientist — which explains why all the journalists are leaving SB. But surely you must recognize how the new blog undermines the credibility of all SB blogs.

  5. #5 regis
    July 8, 2010

    Glad you’re staying.

    I”m not sure most people appreciate the format of scienceblogs. I love that it’s a one-stop-shop for a diverse science community. The “Last 24 Hours” button is a great feature. I hit it every day.

  6. #6 onymous
    July 8, 2010

    But surely you must recognize how the new blog undermines the credibility of all SB blogs.

    As a regular reader here, I don’t recognize that. Chad established his credibility a long time ago. Some of the other blogs under the SB banner never did, or threw it all away by spending their time in petty flame wars. Are there really readers out there who pay more attention to the SB brand than to the individual blogs they’re reading? I doubt it.

  7. #7 ponderingfool
    July 8, 2010

    Thus, I am not terribly concerned that there is a blog on the network that may or may not someday contain material promoting PepsiCo products (remember, this whole thing blew up before any content beyond a welcome message was put on the blog in question).
    ***************************************************
    It should be noted PepsiCo does already run a Food Frontiers blog:
    http://foodfrontiers.pepsicoblogs.com/
    Many of the players if I understand things would have been the same. To say that no content was available is misleading. Same company, same blog name, similar team members not a stretch to wonder if similar content will appear under scienceblogs.com as was found on pepsicoblogs.com.

  8. #8 Darksyde
    July 8, 2010

    What I don’t understand about this is why anyone feels the need to join a blogging network in the first place. A company with a profit motive has to look after its bottom line and it is fairly obvious that they *might* end up doing something you disagree with in order to cover it.

    I don’t write for science blogs, I write for Daily Kos, so I can only answer from that perspective. There’s two issues there. On the first, why write for a large commercial site, there’s several advantages. There’s added visibility, you don’t have to worry about advertising or invoicing, and you don’t have to worry as much about legal crap. There are powerful interests and crackpot orgs that would love to shut Sb down or at least intimidate them. Same for DK. As long as my writing is solid and factual, I don’t have to worry about them as much because lawyers deal with oddball legal threats and hare-brained C & D letters.

    The second is control of content. As far as I know the sciblings have complete control over their content, same as if they were on wordpress. By being here they also have access to an infrastructure of experts to look it over and help them with their content if they need another pair of eyeballs or some expertise on something.

  9. #9 Gollum
    July 8, 2010

    Fine, you don’t worry about them damaging your credibility. That’s great for you. Have you also spent a thought on whether your presence might be adding to THEIR credibility?

  10. #10 Jeremy
    July 8, 2010

    I agree with your position, well said. As a reader, I don’t see the pepsi thing has having any effect at all on my opinion of the specific blogs that I do read on science blogs. It’s not like PZ Myers or yourself have suddenly lost credibility. Surely most of the readership of scienceblogs are fairly science literate and suitably sceptical anyway. If I do read the Pepsi blog and things are said that I find unconvincing, I’ll be sure to say so. I feel like this issue has been somehow disproportionately overblown.

  11. #11 Chad Orzel
    July 8, 2010

    As far as I know the sciblings have complete control over their content, same as if they were on wordpress.

    This is correct. The first time ScienceBlogs management asks me to edit or delete a post because of something I said about a sponsor will be the last time.

    Of course, if my email is to be believed, the whole issue has just been rendered moot, as the offending blog is being removed.

  12. #12 NJ
    July 8, 2010

    Chad:

    My credibility as a scientist comes from my undergraduate and graduate degrees, my research publications, and (a distant third) from my affiliation with Union College. My credibility as a blogger comes from my track record of posting here and at my own site before ScienceBlogs existed.

    And Emmy. Don’t forget Emmy.

  13. #13 Bethany
    July 8, 2010

    “This is correct. The first time ScienceBlogs management asks me to edit or delete a post because of something I said about a sponsor will be the last time.

    Of course, if my email is to be believed, the whole issue has just been rendered moot, as the offending blog is being removed.”

    Hurray!!

    (And there was much rejoicing, for peace had been restored to ScienceBlogs and all was right in the blogosphere.)

  14. #14 Kelly
    July 8, 2010

    Chad,

    I’ve been reading scienceblogs since the beginning and I share your “it’s a blogging platform” point of view. Each blog is clearly a independent voice. How could anyone that followed the framing science debates think otherwise?

  15. #15 Mike Olson
    July 8, 2010

    I’ve found I have to sift through a lot of shit to find something worth reading on the internet. I admit that I feel the concern, if there was one, should be that science blogs adds to pepsico’s credibility, not that pepsico would detract from a scientists credibility. But, there are threads on Science blogs, that in some instances I agree with politically, that are disturbing because of their vitriol, name calling, tone and rejection of anyone even suggesting some semblance of moderation or tolerance. I mean for fuck’s sake, if you were worried about credibility, those are the sorts of yahoos you should look out for…

  16. #16 Rhett
    July 8, 2010

    Great.

    I was going to post something about this too, but now I can just say: “what Chad said”.

    Perfect. Saves time too.

  17. #17 Hank Campbell
    July 8, 2010

    You are certainly a voice of reason in an increasingly shrill discussion. For my part, I don’t see Pepsi using this as a PR organ any differently than the many other companies and institutions who use their columns here that way, paid or not. The official HHMI blog is not exactly going to do scathing expose’s on HHMI research,

    I don’t think there is an integrity issue, I think some people don’t give your audience or Pepsi scientists enough credit. If people had given the audience a chance to school Pepsi researchers about their work, it would be portrayed much differently in the rest of the media world than it has been.

  18. #18 IanW
    July 12, 2010

    I was wondering when (and if) you’d chime in on this, since you’re one of the few remaining blogs here which still does blog largely science (as opposed to migrating from regularly blogging good science to increasingly and all-but-exclusively blogging non-science topics such as atheist rants or increasingly strident feminist tirades).

    I have no objection to people blogging whatever they want on their own blog, but I have increasingly been forced to wonder why bloggers would choose to continue to blog at sci blogs when their blog has increasingly devoid of science.

    It made me all the more curious then to see the flare-up over the Pepsi blog (I originally mistyped that as Papsi blog; I guess we’ll never find out whether it would have been pap or not now it’s been dropped!) from people who in all-too-many cases aren’t blogging much science themselves!

    Some notable exceptions are Mark Chu-Carroll and Brian Switek who constently blog on topic and who will be missed. At least one welcome, if slightly surprising note of restraint came from ERV, of whom I’ve become a greater fan than I was over this.

    Thanks for staying and thanks for exhibiting a rational approach to this in a blog group where objectivity and raitonality have ironically been tossed out the window over this matter.

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