Adieu to Weight Loss Ads on ScienceBlogs

i-00ecbb34b584d7c5608db10b0aa2efe9-No more ads.jpg

A few weeks ago Peter wrote about the Acai Berry Scam, and reader izzlecanoe made an interesting comment:

But I do find it annoying that alongside your posts are advertisements
for the very products you are exposing. Can science blogs be persuaded
not to allow advertising from such woo pushers.

She was seconded by Jim Purdy:

Those phony ads are infuriating. And it's even more disappointing when
they appear often on many of my favorite news sites. When a news site
carries lying advertisements, it takes away from the credibility of
their news stories.

Annoying and infuriating indeed.  Peter and I had noticed ads for weight-loss gimmicks like this and this popping up from time to time and were annoyed as anyone.  Dispelling myths about weight-loss gimmicks was one of the main reasons we started blogging.  These same ads were also the primary reason we eschewed ads on the original home of Obesity Panacea, and we weren't eager to have them on our new home here either.  So we brought it up with the good folks who run ScienceBlogs, and to their credit they decided to pull all weight-loss ads off the site.  That was a little over a week ago, and I haven't seen any weight loss ads in a few days, so I'm hoping that they are all now out of rotation.  

So first of all, thanks to izzlecanoe and Jim for forcing us to chat with the big wigs about this.  And thanks to Evan and Amy (the big wigs) who actually took them down. 

If any of you do see weight-loss ads on ScienceBlogs, please take a screen cap and send it to me (travis at obesitypanacea dot com).  I'll pass it up the line, and can also use it as blog fodder for future posts.  For that matter, feel free to continue to send us links to sketchy weight loss products you see anywhere - I'm always amazed at the crazy stuff that's out there.


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Thanks to everyone who made this happen. That's the way it should be done.

Fantastic! A science blog site shouldn't help to foster woo.

I read the combined feed from Science Blogs on Google Reader, and it's amazing how often the advertisements inserted by Feedburner are amusing in context with the actual content. In reading this entry, there was a combined ad for NutriSystem, Bariatric Obesity Surgery, and The ad for a Catholic University on one of PZ's posts was rather amusing as well.

Happy to help, everyone. Those ads definitely run afoul of the American Society of Magazine Editors guidelines on "adjacencies" so it wasn't as if it was a difficult decision.

David nails what is difficult in dealing with the advertising landscape that online publishing makes possible. Like everyone else in the industry, we're figuring out how to deal with things like Google AdWords and other remnant ad networks. Those networks are ubiquitous because they allow advertisers to dynamically place their ads next to related content, which is essentially the opposite of how things are supposed to work in print. On some levels, people have always played fast and loose with the way things are "supposed" to work, but now that the advertising game is getting much tighter for print publications, you're starting to see more things like the controversy over Ellen DeGeneres' recent Shape cover. Magazines have less of a mandate to be free of bias than, say, newspapers, but there's still (thankfully) the impression that editors will keep that kind of stuff away from editorial content.

On the digital side, however, the whole thing only works because humans aren't directly involved. This also means you'll occasionally get a situation where the search algorithm makes exactly the wrong conclusion about the relevance of the content. That arrangement entails us occasionally needing to scotch offending ads post hoc, but since these things switch in and out on a daily basis, it can be a challenge. To make it even more complicated, our ad network serves different ads outside the US--the weight loss ads that Travis forwarded me since this post went up both came from Australia--so we're often relying on readers to bring stuff like this to our attention. (Keep on sending those screenshots and/or URLs; they make their way to the Seed VP of advertising).

I realize this must seem extremely silly to our readers, but here are two illustrative examples to show the infrastructure we're dealing with :

1) When Travis first emailed me about fixing this issue, the AdWords in GMail were for similarly schlocky products. No joke.

2) I follow a number of Twitter search streams to see who is talking about what on ScienceBlogs. I came back to this post the afternoon it was posted when I saw a squadron of bots all tweet this link at the same time. This includes AnnaBlake2, who gamely represents the ideal female body image despite being born with an iStockPhoto watermark over her face. They seem to be programed to scrape related-looking content while occasionally pitching crap like this.

In any case, we do take this stuff seriously, so keep us apprised.

Alas I read your post with a two weight loss ads on the right side and another in the banner at the top.

Let the woo flow forth incessantly... There's money to be had.

Hey Mike,

Next time that happens, could you send me a link to the ad and/or a screen cap of the ad on our site? We don't want those ads on Obesity Panacea, and the best way to ensure they're gone is for people to tell us if/when they are getting through.


Great News!! This is definitely a good thing. Thanks for making it happen.

By izzlecanoe (not verified) on 31 May 2010 #permalink

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