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Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Why can't Pepsi blog on ScienceBlogs?

Pepsi would like to blog about science and nutrition.

(For background, see here and links therein.)

This is surely a Good Thing.

If Pepsi are crap or biased, then we can call them out on being crap and biased.

They are exposed to a huge reputational risk by seeking to blog in the full glare of the blogosphere.

ScienceBlogs have agreed to host this blog.

However, it would seem this is a Bad Thing and really should be opposed.

Why?


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42 comments:

Edgar said...

PepsiCo don't have a scientific reputation to risk; but ScienceBlogs are risking the reputations of all of their other contributors.

The issue is not over PepsiCo's right to blog – of course they can if they so wish – the issue is with ScienceBlogs giving them a platform.

ScienceBlogs' reputation is for independent, impartial, quality science news & opinion. Its bloggers contribute under that assumption. The ScienceBlogs management are undermining all of their other contributors by giving a what appears to be corporate PR platform the same status as their independent science bloggers.

Impartiality & a good reputation is important to scientists: especially if they're maintaining a public profile. Surely you can see why the SB crowd feel somewhat betrayed?

Perceval said...

As I have already said on Twitter, Scienceblogs hosts many high-quality health and public health blogs. It's not the blog per se, it's the platform.

Several of the health bloggers engage online with CAM - if they share a platform with a corporate Pepsi blog, this will damage their credibility and make them vulnerable to attack. Did you follow the recent kerfuffle where autism activists contacted David Gorski's employers to highlight "undisclosed" conflicts of interest?

All of the health bloggers are highly critical of the nutritional content etc. of Pepsi's products. Drugmonkey reposted a critical post on aspartame. For some of them, it's like asking Le Canard Noir to share a site (!) with a woo-friendly Integrative Medicine blog.

As John Dupuis, a librarian on Scienceblogs, notes, the Pepsi blog is not appropriately flagged as an advertorial which is potentially subject to massive conflicts of interest in reporting. Here is the blog entry

The blog is effectively a "Sci-Bling", part of the supposed close knit community of bloggers that Scienceblogs tried to foster, at least in its early years. And this cuckoo was planted in the nest without warning or consulting the other science bloggers.

I suspect that if the blog had been placed in a dedicated advertorial space, and bloggers had been consulted beforehand, there wouldn't have been nearly as much fuss.

Edgar said...

Here's a first-hand description & explanation of that sense of betrayal:

http://scienceblogs.com/grrlscientist/2010/07/sucking_corporate_dick.php?utm_source=selectfeed&utm_medium=rss

jdc325 said...

"However, it would seem this is a Bad Thing and really should be opposed.

Why?"

I have no idea why the various people concerned about this development are worried (because I'm not psychic), but I guess some might fear 'guilt by association'. If the sciencebloggers are pessimistic about the blogposts that will be published by Pepsi, they might be worried about how people's perception of them (the sciencebloggers) will be affected. I often see criticism of people along the lines of "x shared a platform with y (who is bad), therefore x is untrustworthy". I don't necessarily think such criticism is fair, but I can see why some might be concerned about being on the receiving end of it.

Maxine said...

Are there any other sponsored blogs on this platform? Like other commenters here, it seems apparent that what has upset the Science Bloggers is not the presence of a corporate sponsored blog but a corporate sponsored blog about nutrition research, where the sponsor provides a nutritionally challenged product. Labelling the blog as sponsored by a company does not seem to be sufficient, in the minds of the other bloggers on this platform.

One of the commenters there drew an analogy with the "research" on smoking funded by the tobacco industry. Commercial research has quite a bad track record in withholding results/data that do not suit its corporate goals and only publishing that which supports them.

As a seasoned editor of a journal that does publish sponsored content, my view is that so long as the relationship between content and sponsor is clearly stated, there is no big deal. As you state in your post, any posts on the Pepsi blog can be called out. (As an aside, the comments on the blog itself are strangely measured and grammatical, and not profane, compared with a standard Science Blogs comment thread, particularly about this development, which makes me wonder if the PepsiBlogMan is editing and filtering his comments. Again, this is not a problem, so long as he states in his blog description that this is what he is doing.)

At the end of the day, these are only blogs, not published content, so I do wonder at the extent and extreme defensiveness of the reaction to this Pepsi blog. Your post is the most objective one yet I have seen on this topic.

PalMD said...

It's not just "guilt by assn" but the lack of transparency, the COI, and the fact that it LOOKS like all the other, non-corporate scienceblogs. Previous corp-sponsored sbs have not been corp-controlled content.

gimpy said...

Well, the way the blog was presented was particularly hamfisted, and the lack of clear statements of various conflicts of interest would shame the pill peddlers in the Daily Mail. However, I think blogs from companies should be positively encouraged, the nature of the internet is such that any attempt to control a tight PR line would inevitably fail and serious engagement would be rewarded.

However, bloggers at Science Blogs do so out of choice and for little financial reward it is clear that the ethics and standards as set by the community act as some sort of cohesive force. In many respects it is these bloggers who hold the power in their relationship with Seed as the site would not exist without them. Now Seed have managed to damage, if not yet destroy, this community with a clumsy commercial deal. The Science Bloggers clearly have their own ethical code and it's at odds with the platform that invited them, so a lot are now leaving. Their choice and the only people they need to justify it too are themselves. They'll take their readers with them.

The nature of online communities is that it is the users who make them, not the owners of the platform.

Tom said...

Surely having a greater variety of scientists in the public eye like this might encourage a stronger public interest in science, would get more people involved in science and perhaps in the long run even mean companies such as Pepsi and governments alike would have a better calibre of scientists to hire from!

teekblog said...

Interesting. I agree that if Pepsi were to post anything unsuitable they'd be called out, which if anything presents a great opportunity for bloggers to scrutinise them. Problem for me though is not so much guilt by association, as having scienceblogs' brand and standing lowered by having Pepsi amongst their ranks.

Tricky one, I do side with those who are uncomfortable with having Pepsi there - but I have to say some of the vitriolic reaction is unnecessary and pretty sad really

Steve Jones said...

Blimey - what a lot of kerfuffle. To read some of the stuff about, then anybody would have thought the devil been asked to contribute a guest column for the Catholic Herald. The sense of betrayal is palpable.

I think there's some sort of perspective needed here. Unlike tobacco (which some rather excitable people have likened PepsiCo), fizzy, even sugared drinks, are not bad for you in moderation and they are not addictive in any technical sense.

No doubt obesity is a problem, but it may be old fashioned (or what Ben Goldacre tends to think of as dangerously libertarian), but this is primarily a lifestyle issue and personal responsibility has a part to play (speaking as somebody whose self-discipline isn't what it ought to be). We aren't eating more calories than we used to (overall), but we are a lot more sedentary. Despite this we seem to be managing to live longer thereby causing severe strain on national resources as we live ever longer into an old age.

Anyway, food technologists get a lot of stick among the puritans, and precious little recognition for the fact that, in general, we are less likely to be poisoned or eat adulterated food than we have at pretty well any time in history. I for one would like to learn how food technologist go about their aims. However, I rather suspect that any big corporate is going to get assaulted by their critics on the comments area and will probably retire hurt anyway. Personally I think the best approach is to encourage openness from big corporations, not keep their operations secret.

mattheath said...

That Pepsi are going to be engaging with people that have the skills to smack them down is a good thing but blurring the line between advertising and "proper" content is a real problem. The service Seed are selling on SB is (roughly) a certification that the blogs are of a certain standard. Anything that damages their reliability in doing that is a reason fro readers and (especially) bloggers to be pissed off. Ifa company can buy their way through the filter compromises it in the same way that PR firms more-or-less directly buying coverage in the press compromises papers' status as useful filters of information.

Dr. Brian Blood said...

I would urge readers to review this letter:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2010/jul/07/scienceblogs-blogging-pepsi-bly-letter

Clearly, commercial blogs are not new.

PepsiCo is more than just Pepsi Cola - it is a vast conglomorate including, for example, Quaker Oats.

The difficulty with blogs that restrict or ban sites involving commercial businesses (even though, as the letter referenced above points out, the same editorial policy is to be applied to these blogs as is already applied to non-commercially sponsor blogs) is that this impedes the possibility of open debate with industry.

There are many occasions when one does want to debate with industrial or commercial firms and blogs are a very good way of managing this.

This is about discussion - not about forcing change.

The response of many bloggers to this matter seems, to me, irrational; rather like those who damn paywall sites just because they (the bloggers) believe all access should be free.

There will be various models tried on the web including non-commercial and commercial blogging and which will flourish and prove financially sustainable will be determined by the users, that is, by all of us.

If the PepsiCo blog fails to get any respons from bloggers it will just wither away and become 'one hand clapping'.

The important thing is to insist that commercially-sponsored or commercially-run blogs be clearly marked as such and that any editorial management follows the same set of 'rules' commonly met with on other blogs.

From what I can understand from the letter referenced above, this is what the blog managers intend.

PalMD said...

"At the end of the day, these are only blogs, not published content,"

Whaaa?

Perceval said...

Replying to some of the concerns raised above:

- Nobody said PepsiCo shouldn't have a platform. They in fact did have a platform, on their own corporate site, where it belonged. We are talking about an existing corporate blog that is moving communities.

- Food Frontiers does not appear to be a blog like e.g. In the pipeline, where a chemist working in the pharmaceutical industry discusses chemistry, drugs, and drug development. It's a blog where the content is designed from a marketing perspective. Of course, the pharma blog has constraints, as well, but as far as I know, Derek Lowe's content is not vetted or sponsored by the blogger's employers, and the potential conflict of interest is clear from the side bar. I'd LOVE to see a blog similar to In the Pipeline from a food technologist, but I fear Food Frontiers is not it.

- Although the blog is now marked as advertorial, it was not marked as such when it was first introduced.

- Most important here though is the sense of community that gimpy mentioned. It appears that in the past, sponsored blogs have been discussed with the existing bloggers, and that's very important, because as I've said in my first comment, health bloggers need to be very careful about who they associate with, or there will be consequences. See here for David Gorski's recent run in with some lovely antivaccination activists. Gorski may or may not be associated with Science Blogs ;)

- Also worth thinking about what would happen if a magazine/newspaper you trust would have agreed to host Food Frontiers, conveniently forgetting to label it as advertorial. The Grauniad wouldn't have gone there, and neither would the German Spiegel or Zeit.

Steve said...

Conflict of Interest. Doesn't go with science, it really doesn't go. Scienceblogs is to me ( as a regular reader) a whole plethora of independant opinions and reports on science from volcanoes to quarks. If you believe that Pepsi will produce independant and unbiased nutritional blogs when it clearly has a commercial interest in the field than i would like to offer you the Brooklyn bridge for sale. Kosher.

Commercial interests do not trump everything, science is damaged by commercial interests.

CW said...

I think it's fair to ask the question. The downside that I can see with Pepsi on scienceblogs is that the casual/new reader may conclude there's a perception of endorsement by all the contributors. Regular readers of scienceblogs know that the bloggers will have disagreements with each other, but there is a sense that it's respectful disagreement and there's inherent trust. But, casual readers or new readers may see the Pepsi blog and suspect inherent bias in all the participant bloggers. Especially, when topics from health/nutrition to climate change are discussed.

Joe D said...

The bloggers at SB are the "artists": as they see it, they're the ones making the product--the art. They're the ones who have done the work to built up the SB brand and reputation -- their brand. The people in the office at Seed are their support staff, doing their IT and marketing for them. After all, it's the blogger's name on the page, not the director of sales'.

The people at Seed obviously think the reverse -- it's Seed's product, Seed's brand, and the bloggers are Seed's bloggers. The brand and reputation belongs to Seed and Seed can do what it likes with it.

It's the same reason that academics like David Colquhoun get so pissed off with quack degrees, or musicians get pissed off when their music is licensed for advertising that they don't agree with -- a conflict between artist and administration each thinking that they produced, own and control the brand or reputation.

An artist or an academic has an intense and personal attachment to their work. It's quite understandable that they might get upset when somebody that they think of as their support staff does whatever they like with it, without asking.

Rebellionkid said...

The question is, does it harm the very good work Scienceblogs does in collecting good bloggers together?

This has two parts, firstly, will the other blogs in the SB network by damaged in their own content by influence, messages toned down etc, or will there be an appearance of the same that would damage the reputation of honest bloggers?

The second part, more serious, is that SB as a source will be damaged. There are many good contributors to HuffingtonPost for instance. But huge doubt is thrown on the validity of any assertions made there by association with the Deepak Chopra style new-age nutters who seem to have free run of the place. And having a source of good reliable science is important. There is so much nonsense mascaraing as science that it's useful to be able to go to someone one can trust on the topic. Which is fine on areas where you know who the expert is, but this isn't always the case. It's good to know that a page on ants I'm looking at is one written by someone who knows what they're talking about, and if I cant do that then reading about science is a lot harder.

As comparison, consider the comment pages of newspapers. If some awful individual were given a column in a national paper there are two problems, it may be that this means the other columnist could be bullied or seen to be bullied into changing their line. The other problem is that their ideas may be rejected out of hand by association.

I'm not sure that this comparison is valid though. Firstly, the assumption that this new blog will be awful is not necessarily valid. There are many corporate science enterprises with huge in-build biases, which produce bad or even false evidence. But by no means is this universal, it may well be that this is a good blog with real science and open honest discussion, they've not filtered out the barrage of negative comments on their page so far. It may be that casual readers may see this blog as being reputable by association and come to a false impression of the science of the case, but I feel that these will be counterbalanced by an army of tweeters and bloggers taking every post to shreds.

ScienceBlogs is a collection of blogs, excellent blogs, on science. Of necessity their readers are more likely to read things in a spirit of skeptical critical thought than the readers of many other kinds of blog. So I'm fairly sure that no influence of the first kind would ever be possible. But the second kind, I'm not so sure.

Tony Lloyd said...

@ Dr. Brian

Thanks for posting that link, it was very informative.

It appears that there are a number of sponsored blogs on Science Blogs. Which invites the question: why is this one an abomination? There doesn't seem to be much actual content to the objections beyond outrage that its...gasp...Pepsi! I can only think that people don't like Pepsi through some puritanical reaction against fizzy drinks and crisps.

The dire warnings may come true, then again they may not. As the decision to give them a blog is (I assume) reversible it would be best to see what transpires before having a fit of the vapours.

Anthony said...

I'd be interested in what would have happened if the head of GSK research had started blogging there.

Would they all have left then?

David Colquhoun said...

Seems that eight bloggers have already left science blogs already. I hope the rest do so soon.

Of course one would like compnaies like Pepsi to be more open. They could do that by starting their own blog,

The virtue of skeptical blogs is their independence. Sadly that means that most bloggers do it for nothing but love of the subject.

You can't have independence if your work is going to be mixed up with advertoriala from big companies whose only interest in science is to distort it to increase sales.

Anonymous said...

ScienceBlogs has been a sanctuary for clear-eyed science posts. It was easy to trust the material there. Now the "slippery slope" of influence by corporations like PepsiCo makes everything less trustworthy. It takes a lot of extra work to constantly assess the underpinnings of information on the web, thanks to sites like HuffPo. ScienceBlogs now feel like one more contaminated site. @murmur55

David Colquhoun said...

@Maxine

You say "At the end of the day, these are only blogs"

I think you have perhaps not yet resigned yourself to the influence that blogs now have. Many of them, not least on the late unlamented Science Blogs, are more critical and enjoyable than you can read in Nature. Sorry about that.

Marsh said...

I think I can see why the Science Blog-ers are unhappy. Take, for example, your own blog - you write great content, I'm sure your Google hits are more than respectable. Say someone saw your content and wanted to pay you to host it in a wider law blog site, with other law bloggers. Your Google hits go to them, they pay you, it's a good arrangement.

However, they then go on to use the traffic you've generated to entice advertorial content from, say, Carter Ruck (or someone who's legal practices you'd consider dicey at best). Now you're in a position where your popularity has directly led to someone whose ethics you disagree with gaining legitimacy - gaining it (partially) from your own work, no less. I can see why that would put the hypothetical you in a bad mood, as it has the Science Blog-ers.

On top of that, Science Blogs has sold the blog based on the hits generated by their popular bloggers - I take it the money paid by Pepsi won't be split evenly between the bloggers, with Science Blogs only taking an equal cut to everyone else? The bloggers provide the content and legitimacy, Science Blogs sell that to Pepsi - seems an unfair system to me.

If Pepsi's column was labelled as paid-for advertorial (as you see in newspapers and magazines from time to time), perhaps segregated or filed in a different area of the nav (ie separate 'Blogs' and 'Advertorials'), and a fair cut of the profits passed on to the bloggers (on top of their usual, small fee) then it's not quite so bad. At worst, it means Science Blogs will indulge in some in-fighting, rather than addressing things outside of their own domain (as it were).

That's my two penneth, anyway!
Marsh

Edgar said...

No offence, Marsh, but I think you're drawing a false analogy.

Independence & impartiality are – for patently obvious reasons – extremely important to scientists.

Apparently lawyers don't even understand them as basic concepts…

AndyD said...

Some random thoughts...

It seems Adam Bly should have asked sci-bloggers those questions before foisting this on them.

For me, the opening blog reads almost like a sales pitch - not a good start. Worse is the fact that almost 24 hours later, they've posted nothing more. Weren't they ready?

I'm not committed to scienceblogs but it did seem odd to throw a sponsored blog in there with very little indication it was sponsored (it seems they've made a couple of changes since). Sure, regular readers of the other blogs would know what it is but a few months from now would a casual passer-by recognise it as potentially advertorial content?

As for the "conversation"...

1: I'd like to know if the deal with Pepsi means scienceblogs can't offer a similar deal to their competition? Can Coca Cola have a blog there too? If not, it's not much of a conversation is it?

2: I'm not seeing much "conversation" from the hosts in the comments thread there (I see just one reply).

3: My most recent comment there (not profane or defamatory) still hasn't appeared after 12 hours)

4: It's not unusual for sci-bloggers to call each other out (it's happening on this issue with ERV staunchly in an opposing corner) but we see both attack and defence in articles and comment threads. Has anyone from PepsiCo commented at Pharyngula yet? Will they ever engage in a comments-based debate/conversation?

On the issue of credibility, there could perhaps be an issue with other sci-bloggers spending a good deal of their time ripping apart another-sci-blogger's articles on a regular basis. What does this do for the reputation of the site as a whole?

Jack of Kent said...

@Edgar

"Independence & impartiality are – for patently obvious reasons – extremely important to scientists.

Apparently lawyers don't even understand them as basic concepts…"

Oh dear.

Dr. Brian Blood said...

Has anyone actually visited the blog itself?

http://scienceblogs.com/foodfrontiers/

Seems pretty clear to me who the sponsor is and how the blog is going to be run.

Dr. Brian Blood said...

As regards many of the comments above, I recommend this article:

http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/?p=5627

The “pharma shill gambit”: The quack’s favorite flavor of ad hominem argument by David Gorski

Many of the comments in the posts above appear to me to be little more than the self-same ad hominem argument, to which Gorski objects, applied here against PepsiCo.

Taking up a proscriptive position before seeing the posts and before observing the editorial policy smacks to me of small-mindedness.

Am I alone in reading all blogs sceptically? Who writes them is immaterial - why they write them is immaterial.

Some say that you can tell a man by the company that he keeps, but this is nonsense.

It is what they write that concerns me, that might pique my interest, that occasionally spurs me to write content of my own. If what the writer says appears wrong I say so, and hopefully, I am able to justify why.

I am not concerned with 'conflict of interest' or 'bias' because I hope that through wide reading and rigorous thinking, I can mitigate the effects of either when playing my part in the discourse.

Scepticism is central to protecting myself, as much as I can, from the bias of others and I hope it allows me to maintain an open mind - IMO, it is certainly intellectually superior to closing ones eyes or stopping ones ears for fear of seeing or hearing 'something nasty in the woodshed'.

I am reminded of the American composer Charles Ives's response to criticism of the music of another American composer Charles Ruggles. "When you hear strong masculine music like this, get up and use your ears like a man!"

Maybe we too need to be far more grown-up in this debate.

Let the enemy through the gates and, if we can justify our response, engage them in strong, rational and always thoughtful debate.

Stephen Moss said...

There is a lot of anti-pharma rhetoric in these responses, such as the comment by 'steve' that

'Commercial interests do not trump everything, science is damaged by commercial interests.'

I'd agree with the first half of this non-sequitur, but the second half is a simplistic over-generalisation. Some of my current research is supported by a global pharma company. I hope that the science I can do as a result of that support will be good (even in the tiniest way) for humanity, rather than damaging.

Harry said...

Presumably PepsiCo have plenty of websites of their own where they could host corporate blogs — or indeed they could host it at, say, wordpress.com.

I assume the reason they want to have this new blog at Scienceblogs is because they think they can gain credibility that way. So given that PepsiCo places a value on the credibility of Scienceblogs, it's hardly surprising that the current bloggers do so. Or that they are protective of it.

Stephen Curry said...

@Dr Brian Blood

Thanks for that link - an interesting (though very long article!) and for your comment - you make some strong points that I agree with.

Some of the reaction has been OTT but among the comments above I also see plenty of remarks that are well considered and deal with the real issue. It is not about preventing Pepsi from having a blog - I for one would certainly welcome more industrial science blogging that aimed to provide a window to a world that is hidden from most.

But the central issue is about reputation management, is it not? Ideally, of course, each blog would be judged on its merits. But by mixing science bloggers on Science Blogs (who do it mostly from passion plus what I believe is modest remuneration) with a blog from Pepsico who have paid for the privilege, the managers of the site have blurred an important boundary.

Yes Bly's letter does clarify the management's position and they have now taken steps to demarcate the boundary more clearly. But that letter came after the fact - so their initial motivation was very properly open to question.

Zeno said...

I think SB should invite Coke Cola as well and let the two of them fight it out - I'd pay good money to watch them fight over who was doing more to combat obesity.

Seriously, I can't make up my mind about this. I can certainly see the argument about the independence of the existing bloggers being compromised (or at least being seen to be compromised), but anything Pepsi do post will be subject to the closest of scrutiny by the very able SB bloggers (if there are any left) and I'm not sure Pepsi will like that scrutiny. (I don't know enough to be able to say whether they are likely to survive such scrutiny.)

However, surely Pepsi were very aware that that would happen?

Dr. Brian Blood said...

Stephen Curry wrote:

But the central issue is about reputation management, is it not? Ideally, of course, each blog would be judged on its merits. But by mixing science bloggers on Science Blogs (who do it mostly from passion plus what I believe is modest remuneration) with a blog from Pepsico who have paid for the privilege, the managers of the site have blurred an important boundary.

Reputation management?

Isn't that falling into the 'libel' fallacy?

That reputation should be 'protected' in scientific debate.

I would argue that reputation plays no part in evidence-based blogging (whether the reputation is claimed by the blogger or by the blog itself).

It should be about defensible versus indefensible opinion backed where possible with open-sourced evidence.

It really doesn't matter where the blog comes from (as long as that source is clear) and the response (free of ad hominem attack) should be directed at the comment never at the blogger.

That, to my mind, the spirit of blogging we need to protect.

Edgar said...

@Jack

I apologise sincerely for my comment last night: I was drunk & sleep-deprived & now see how rude & idiotic it was, and am terribly terribly embarassed & sorry.

AndyD said...

@Dr Brian, if I understand you correctly, you're effectively arguing against the very idea of atrust. If we should never trust any information, ever, then there seems little point in building such corrals as scienceblogs at all.

I'm not sure though, that we live in a world where we are all each able to equally assess every skerrick of information we happen upon, regardless of subject.

So, for most of us, it comes down to trust. Sure, not exactly sceptical in the purest, most-philosophical, of ways but for the vast majority it's the best we can hope for. That doesn't mean we just blindly accept anything on sci-blogs but that, overall, we can generally trust that we're getting valid information (where the discussion is about science, not opinion).

If a trusted site is compromised, it's a problem, for some of us.

Stephen Curry said...

@Dr Brian Blood

I agree it is a risky position and not ideal. And I agree with you that any given blog should stand or fall on the quality of its content.

But in this context reputation is still important. When we look to newspapers, TV and blogs for information on a hot topic of the day, how do we go about it? We normally have preferred sources where we would go first - presumably based on prior experience of the quality of those sources. Or recommendations from friends or colleagues whose judgement we trust.

We don't tend to look everywhere because there simply isn't the time. Nor is it practical for us all to weigh up the first-hand evidence on every topic. We rely on the digests of others. So, I would argue, we have to be selective a priori. And part of that process of selection is based on reputation of the writer or the newspaper or the blog-collective where the material is to be found.

The problem, as I see it, with the Pepsi/SB debacle is largely due to the way the introduction of the Pepsi blog was handled - namely without any prior consultation with the blogging community there who feel that they have worked hard to establish a reputation for robust independence. The mis-handled sale of that reputation to Pepsi is what has ignited most of the ire. Maybe there would have been a way to get it to work within the SB site without tainting their reputations (e.g. prior consultation, assurances from Pepsi that the aim was to provide genuine insight and not just PR puff). That way perhaps they could then have been judged on the merits of their output.

Reputation is also important because it is all to easy for lazy commenters to impugn. I was called out as a stooge of the Nature Publishing Group the other day (one a Guardian comment thread about vaccines) because I blog there - for free as it happens and with no duty to defend or represent NPG. Now of course I can easily rebut that, but it soon becomes tiresome. And my position would be made more difficult if NPG were to let a vaccine manufacturer pay to have a blog on their platform.

Aj said...

Jack refers to a huge reputational risk being run by Pepsi by buying a Science Blog. I’m not clear what that risk is.

Pepsi is a large multinational corporation whose reputation (fairly or not) rests on selling high calorie pre-packaged convenience food, aggressively marketing their products to children and being second to coca-cola.

Calling them out on any biases in a blog they paid for is not going to particularly threaten them.

Science Blogs was the one running a huge reputational risk and between their failure to be up front about what they intended to their own bloggers and some subsequent disingenuousness (“we’ve had corporate blogs before”) their reputation has already been affected.

I suspect that the reversal of the previous decision, that this could appear as just another blog, invited to be on SB because of its perceived merits, is a good indication that Seed media is aware that they may have just shot themselves in the foot.

Austin Elliott said...

What Stephen Curry said.

And both Orac and Abel Pharmboy have posted well-thought-out replies that articulate a lot of my own views.

I quite understand why the SciBlogs bloggers are fuming. Echoing what Stephen said, as a blogger in any "public science" area one gets accused of being a shill / paid minion so often that to have the blog hosting outfit give the crazies live ammunition is a real kick in the nuts. And when the management are simultanously trading on the blog collective's (i.e. the bloggers') reputation/work to have something to sell to PepsiCo in the first place, and doing it all without any prior warning...

..well, it's no wonder the bloggers are pissed off.

Was it not obvious to Seed/SciBlogs that clearly demarcating the "paid to be here" content would be an absolute necessity from day one? It certainly seems a no-brainer to me.

Which brings me to my other point. For me as a sometime editor of a science magazine, (though strictly an amateur one) what really stands out is just how appallingly badly the Seed/SciBlogs management/editorial people seem to have handled this. They are now frantically changing things about how the PepsiCo blog is presented and RSS-ed. But why didn't they do that first, or have any sort of consultation with their bloggers? As a piece of tin-eared dimness, or "Editorial Epic Fail", it has to be right up there. I suspect that that alone would make quite a few bloggers jump ship.

Austin Elliott said...

What Stephen Curry said.

And both Orac and Abel Pharmboy have posted well-thought-out replies that articulate a lot of my own views.

I quite understand why the SciBlogs bloggers are fuming. Echoing what Stephen said, as a blogger in any "public science" area one gets accused of being a shill / paid minion so often that to have the blog hosting outfit give the crazies live ammunition is a real kick in the nuts. And when the management are simultanously trading on the blog collective's (i.e. the bloggers') reputation/work to have something to sell to PepsiCo in the first place, and doing it all without any prior warning...

..well, it's no wonder the bloggers are pissed off.

Was it not obvious to Seed/SciBlogs that clearly demarcating the "paid to be here" content would be an absolute necessity from day one? It certainly seems a no-brainer to me.

Which brings me to my other point. For me as a sometime editor of a science magazine, (though strictly an amateur one) what really stands out is just how appallingly badly the Seed/SciBlogs management/editorial people seem to have handled this. They are now frantically changing things about how the PepsiCo blog is presented and RSS-ed. But why didn't they do that first, or have any sort of consultation with their bloggers? As a piece of tin-eared dimness, or "Editorial Epic Fail", it has to be right up there. I suspect that that alone would make quite a few bloggers jump ship.

Jack of Kent said...

And the Pepsi site has now been pulled from ScienceBlogs:

http://scienceblogs.com/seed/2010/07/food_frontiers.php

Dr. Brian Blood said...

If we are to believe the evidence presented by Nick Davies in Flat Earth News relatively little published in the media can be trusted without question and much fails to rise above incompetent churnalism.

My analysis of Jon Ronson's 6th July 2005 Guardian article on the McKinnon case (see JoK Further Thoughts on Gary McKinnon) suggests that even reliable and well-intentioned writers (Jon Ronson is a noted and well-respected journalist) can get facts wrong.

Einstein, despite his considerable abilities as a scientist, baulked when it came to accepting many of the fundamental principles of quantum mechanics.

So, yes - I approach all commentary and all evidence with understandable caution.

I read all the comments and any referenced material and try to assess the weight these can bear in support of an author's thesis.

I read around a topic if I do not already have a feel for it. If someone presented evidence contrary to my understanding, I would certainly examine its source carefully.

After all, I could be misinformed.

The commentary that results needs to add something to the debate - presenting better evidence, offering more carefully reasoned opinion, setting out new lines of enquiry.

Why should bloggers be any more reliable than other sources?

As the recent discussion about Gary McKinnon showed, bloggers can be spectacularly ill-informed even when presented with unquestionable facts.

'False' information spreads through the blogosphere like a virus and can become so pervasive that it is sometimes very difficult to trace it back to its source, to find the misreported paper, the unsubstantiated rumour or the unintended error.

anti-vaccination campaigner rely on 'bad' science and 'false' information and when engaged, I find myself spending as much time educating them to the real facts and the most reliable evidence, as setting out the logic that justifies a pro-vaccination position.

Of course, a great many bloggers make thoroughly rational and well-thoughtout contributions to blogs and some can be said to be 'experts in the field' but since we often move beyond the evidence to express opinions these, before they can be accepted, must be scrutinised and justified.

Scepticism is, in my view, the only route to greater knowledge, knowledge however, that remains alive to the possibility of error.