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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.