At least two well-respected science journalists and a handful of scientists have canceled their blogs at the popular and heretofore highly respected ScienceBlogs.com community, protesting Seed Media Group’s decision to give PepsiCo a nutrition blog.
As part of this partnership, we’ll hear from a wide range of experts on how the company is developing products rooted in rigorous, science-based nutrition standards to offer consumers more wholesome and enjoyable foods and beverages. The focus will be on innovations in science, nutrition and health policy. In addition to learning more about the transformation of PepsiCo’s product portfolio, we’ll be seeing some of the innovative ways it is planning to reduce its use of energy, water and packaging.
Longtime members of the ScienceBlogs.com community reacted quickly and angrily to the move, arguing that Pepsi was “buying credibility” created by other bloggers on the site, and tarnishing that credibility in the process (tip of the hat to the Knight Science Journalism Tracker, which brought the scoop to wide attention on Wednesday with a post titled, “ScienceBlogs Trashes its Bloggers’ Credibility”). Announcing that he would move his popular neuroscience blog, Neuron Culture, science journalist and author David Dobbs wrote:
Call me old-fashioned, but I can’t cotton to this. With the addition of Food Frontiers, ScienceBlogs has redrawn the boundaries of what it considers legitimate and constructive blogo-journalism about science. In doing so they define an environment I can’t live comfortably in. So with this post I’m leaving ScienceBlogs. For the moment I am moving my blog to Neuron Culture, hosted by Wordpress, while considering other venues that might make sense for me.
Rebecca Skloot, the best-selling author of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, and Brian Switek, a freelance science writer and blogger for Smithsonian, announced they, too, are putting their blogs on hiatus. Likewise, Blake Stacey, a physicist and science-fiction writer who writes the blog Science After Sunclipse, Mark Chu-Carroll, a software engineer at Google who writes the blog Good Math, Bad Math, and Dave Bacon, a theoretical physicist who runs the blog The Quantum Pontiff, suspended their operations. A host of other scientist-bloggers have voiced their strong opposition to the Pepsi deal; one the community’s most popular, PZ Myers, asked:
So what’s with the corporate drones moving in next door?
They aren’t going to be doing any scienceblogging — this is straight-up commercial propaganda. You won’t be seeing much criticism of Pepsico corporate policies, or the bad nutritional habits spread by cheap fast food, or even any behind-the-scenes stories about the lives of Pepsico employees that paints a picture of the place as anything less than Edenesque. Do you think any of the ‘bloggers’ will express any controversial opinions that might annoy any potential customers?
There won’t be a scrap of honest opinion expressed over there that isn’t filtered and vetted by cautious editors before making it online, and it will all toe the Pepsi line…
The Guardian posted a leaked letter (worth reading and mulling over in its entirey) from Seed Media Group CEO and Seed magazine editor Adam Bly, which admitted that Pepsi’s blog was a strategic financial deal [links added]:
SB, like nearly all free content sites, is sustainable because of advertising. But advertising is itself highly unpredictable, as the last year has shown the industry. And securing advertising around topics like physics and evolution is even more challenging as the dearth of ad pages in science magazines indicates. We started experimenting with sponsored blogs a couple of years ago and decided to market long-term sponsorship contracts instead of sporadic advertising contracts. This is not a new idea: respected magazines have been doing the same thing for years (think Atlantic Ideas Festival going on now or The New Yorker Festival, where representatives of sponsoring companies sit on stage alongside writers and thinkers, or advertorials where companies pay to create content — clearly marked as such — instead of just running an ad). But we accept that we haven’t got it 100% yet. Should we host these blogs under a modified SB logo? Allow our readers to exclude them from RSS feeds? Establish a blogger council that signs off on the scientists who are blogging? Make the sponsor’s logo clearer on the banner? As always, I would very much welcome your feedback and suggestions so we can build a stronger SB for the future. It’s in our collective interest to ensure the long-term sustainability of a mission that we all believe is important.