Pharyngula's PZ Myers pissed at PepsiCo's ScienceBlog [UPDATED]

Categories: Media beefs

Pepsi.jpg
Image courtesy of Svadilfari on Flickr
Updated: ScienceBlogs has decided to ditch its PepsiCo blog.

PZ Myers, the opinionated biologist at the University of Minnesota, Morris, -- and author of the hugely popular Pharyngula blog -- contributes regularly to ScienceBlogs, a well-respected site run by Seed Media, which publishes Seed Magazine. Lately, he's been pissed because PepsiCo was given a sponsorship deal to blog right along with him and other contributors to the site.

The PepsiCo space was to be called Food Frontiers.

Here's what Myers wrote in a post he called "Say hello to...PepsiCo??!? WTF?:

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?

Myers wasn't the only one wondering why a corporation spending kazillions promoting its products should have a voice on the blog. Already, two bloggers have quit in protest. And the controversy spilled out into the open through newspapers like The Guardian.

Pepsico offered these disclaimers: "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."

ScienceBlogs' Evan Lerner introduced the new Pepsico blog this way:

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.

And Seed editor Adam Bly attempted to flatten the big fizz in a letter to ScienceBlogs.com contributors. Here's part of the letter:

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.

Carl Zimmer, writing at Discover Magazine, begs to differ:

Even if you set aside the paradox of Pepsi telling us about eating right (Step 1: maybe put down that 10 liter bottle of Pepsi?), this just doesn't make editorial sense. If you want to sustain respect and trust in readers, you simply can't do this sort of thing.

Evidently ScienceBlogs had a change of heart after the outcry:

We apologize for what some of you viewed as a violation of your immense trust in ScienceBlogs. Although we (and many of you) believe strongly in the need to engage industry in pursuit of science-driven social change, this was clearly not the right way.

Hat tip: Gary Schwitzer's HealthNewsReview.

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