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Science Bloggers Outraged by PepsiCo-Sponsored Nutrition Blog

Pepsi cans

Corporations sponsor blog posts all the time. It's a reality of the world of online journalism—corporations can provide the big bucks necessary to keep the figurative lights on. Why, then, is the scientific community so riled up about Food Frontiers, a new PepsiCo-sponsored blog on the ScienceBlogs network?

The blog, launched this week, will purportedly offer insight on science, nutrition, and health policy—with information on PepsiCo's "nutritious" products sprinkled in. But ScienceBlogs made a big mistake: In the first iteration of the blog, a sidebar explained, "All editorial content on the blog is overseen by ScienceBlogs editors." It didn't explicitly mention that the blog was sponsored by PepsiCo.

ScienceBlogs realized its blunder, however, and changed the sidebar to read "This blog is sponsored by PepsiCo. All editorial content is written by PepsiCo's scientists or scientists invited by PepsiCo and/or ScienceBlogs. All posts carry a byline above the fold indicating the scientist's affiliation and conflicts of interest." But many ScienceBloggers are still displeased, arguing that every post from Food Frontiers should be labeled as an advertisement at the top—perhaps even with a giant PepsiCo banner logo.

Unlike many corporate-sponsored blogs (including ones already hosted on ScienceBlogs) that feature independent writers, all posts on Food Frontiers will come from PepsiCo-scientists or PepsiCo-approved bloggers. And that's a big part of the problem. ScienceBlogger Josh Rosenau explains his concerns:

Why am I more pissed about this than about the Shell-sponsored energy blog run at SB a while back? Partly because the bloggers for that project were not Shell employees. The blog itself was created at Shell's behest, but the bloggers were established people who know about energy policy and energy research. Shell had no editorial control over the content.

Seed editor Adam Bly defends ScienceBlogs' decision, however, claiming that this kind of corporate-sponsored blog is necessary to keep the site running. As an added benefit, PepsiCo could even provide some insight:

Are we making a judgment about PepsiCo's science by hosting a blog for them on SB? No. (Nor are we making a judgment about your own research for that matter). Are we saying that they are entitled to have a seat at the table? Yes. Do they know that they are opening themselves us to debate? Absolutely. You may disagree with the substance of their posts (as you do on any other blog). You may even call into question their presence on a public forum dedicated to science. It will be up to them to respond. Better yet, it will be up to them to listen and take actions. The sustainability of this experiment lives or dies in the establishment of a transparent dialogue.

Both sides have fair points, but perhaps it makes the most sense to hold back on judgment for the moment—Food Frontiers hasn't even put up its first post.

Ariel Schwartz can be reached on Twitter or by email.

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  • Chris Reich

    Yes, everyone has a "right" I suppose to consume whatever they wish. Wait. Do we have that 'right'?

    I don't have a right to make meth at home for my own use. I can't grow a marijuana plant, a naturally occurring part of nature, and enjoy a relaxing smoke after a long day's work. I would have a hard time obtaining marijuana legally even it helped me medically.

    And you say we have a 'right' to drink Pepsi? We can drink it but it's no right.

    The heart of this story is that companies are not really interested in ethics or morality. Pepsi isn't going to caution you about over consuming their product unless, as with cigarettes, they can also make it difficult for you not to consume their product. Remember nicotine enhancing?

    So if Pepsi wants to blog about Pepsi, great. When they play science, let me know the payers work for the company. I have a right to know what's in the product whether I understand the consequences of those ingredients or not.

    Chris Reich

  • Mark DeKoster

    It is the right of an individual to imbibe whatever they want, isn't it? If science and scientists are supposed to be the final arbitors of what is right then whether they work for PepsiCo, Big University or Big Government is immaterial. Your other option is that they are all biased, which I believe to be true. Personally I'll take an expert who works for a company making food products to have more credibility about food than an expert working for the government or a "non-profit" special interest group.

  • Bill Young

    Mark I am afraid you are being naive. In your world, then, you would take BP's opinion over the opinion of an independent oil industry expert on say, the rate of the spill?
    Notice I did not suggest a government expert's opinion either. They are one and the same as the BP expert, since BP controls the government's opinion experts, they are one and the same.

    I have met and debated many so called T-partiers or misguided "Liberty Lovers" who argue for a make believe world free of "Guberment."

    They, like you, are under the misguided assumption that corporations or "free enterprise" is the answer to our problems in spite of the overwhelming historical evidence to the contrary.

    Do you realize that corporations are legally mandated by the court ruling "Dodge Vs Ford" 1916 to put shareholder profits ahead of any other consideration? Management is criminally negligent according to this ruling if they put society, country or even God as a priority over profits! Isn't it obvious in the behaviour of BP, the drug companies, car companies, etc that this mandate leads to damage to everyone else besides them? They shift or "externalize" costs to us citizens so to protect their profits and their government puppets, like Obama, let them get away with it. Watch and see who really pays for the Gulf Oil Volcano ("spill" my ass!)

    If it were not for principled, (not under control of corporations or their lobbyists) government; slavery, child labor, segregation, poor houses and sweatshops would still be the norm?

    I am not saying that government is the answer, it has its inherent problems that can be worked out by truly free citizens, but expecting Dracula (AKA Dick Cheney) to guard the blood bank or BP to pay for its criminal negligence is just plain ignorant.

  • vince rubino

    This is an example of corporate branding picking up advertising tricks from George Orwell's Big Brother. Imbibing soft drinks is one of the nastier things Americans, in particularly large numbers, do to their increasingly swelling bodies.