Clearly, transparency is critical but how much does the source of funding matter if it is fully disclosed?
Among the scientific community, government funded research is generally considered trustworthy and as a benefit for the public good. Still, that view is not universal. I have been accused of “taking government funding” for my research (which is funded entirely from government sources: DOE, NIH, USDA, and NSF). The person asking clearly felt that the US government was not to be trusted and therefore the research funded by the US government was not to be trusted. But what is the alternative, would my research be of a higher quality if it was funded by industry or non-profits?
Truly we would be paralyzed if all research associated with money was viewed as faulty.
And that goes for industry-funded and non-profit funded research as well. If Pepsico were to sneak in a blog under the pseudonym “Healthy for Life” touting the health benefits without any disclosure of the source of funding and salary, this would be obvious trickery. Similarly if a non-profit is funded by a company selling products for homeopathy and does not disclose this when blogging about homeopathy, this would also be a problem. This kind of stuff does go on all the time and we certainly do not want it on Scienceblogs.
However, if we can clearly see that the Food Frontiers blog is sponsored by Pepsico by a banner stating so, then that is full disclosure. Readers can take it or leave it, complain or not, but nothing is hidden.
We can make it even more transparent if the banner “ADVERTORIAL” is a bolder color combination with a larger font so viewers cannot miss it. Also, I suggest that we simply indicate “this blog was paid for by the sponsor” directly under “ADVERTORIAL”. That will make it very, very clear. Other good ideas have come in as well such as keeping the sponsored blogs fully separate. But what if one of the current Sciencebloggers leaves his/her university position to start their own company based on some of their university research?
If this is disclosed, would the blogger need to leave Scienceblogs because of the source of funding is different or is it simply sufficient to indicate the new source funding? If industry-funded research is not supported, who will take basic science inventions to the market?
After all this, I am even more interested in seeing what Pepsico has to say. Will they provide science-based information? Can such a company make a profit if they no longer sell sugary drinks? Will they actually make this move ? Can we bloggers help in this regard? It will be fascinating to see how this turns out. Many aspects of our food system need to be changed, perhaps this is a start. And if not, what have we lost? Just some reading and writing time.
In the pursuit of keeping Scienceblogs and other media dedicated to publishing science-based information financially stable, I support exploring different models of funding. I am glad to be a part of Scienceblogs. I dont mind if there is a flare-up now and then, especially if problems that come up can be resolved quickly. It is a great place to blog.