ScienceBlogs response to new PepsiCo blog illustrates why Jake Crosby is dead wrong

Skepacabra is in no way sponsored by Pepsi or any other commercial enterprise.

I’ve been talking a lot lately about the flagrant hypocrisy of vaccine denialists, and particularly those at Age of Autism, who condemn their critics as “Big Pharma Shills” while ignoring their own far more serious conflicts of interest.

Now last year, young Jake Crosby started writing for Age of Autism. He was exactly what they look for over on that site. He was young, dumb, and without any medical or scientific background. Now young Jake appeared on my radar for the first time when he write a lengthy 2-part hit piece on ScienceBlogs and Seed Magazine, which maintains it. I wrote a 2-part response to young Jake’s blogs here and here. Now ScienceBlogs is home to possibly the most popular science-related blogs in the world. Among its writers are PZ Myers, Orac, PalMD, Jason Rosenhouse, Abbie Smith, and many more.

Now young Jake’s entire lengthy 2-part attack on ScienceBlogs really only made one argument, the vaccine denialists’ favorite. He called every science writer as well as the editors of the site big pharma shills (Actually, this is the only argument young Jake EVER makes against his critics. See:  here, here, and here). And his justification for this libelous accusation essentially boiled down to the fact that ads appear on the blog pages…even though few if any are related to pharmaceuticals, the ads cycle randomly and are not under the control of the writers, the writers are under no orders to hold back any criticisms of the site’s sponsors, and none of the writers on the blog make enough money off of the blogs to even make a living wage, not even PZ Myers, who arguably has the most popular English-language-speaking science blog in the world.

Now it didn’t bother young Jake that on several occasions, the bloggers over at ScienceBlogs did in fact condemn organizations whose ads appeared on their page and even expressed public outrage upon learning from readers that ads for certain institutions the bloggers despised appeared on their blog page.

He also never bothered to acknowledge the shilling done on his own website, which unlike ScienceBlogs, is covered with specific, targeted ads for products and organizations who clearly benefit from the ideology Age of Autism is selling.

But now a new blog has come to ScienceBlogs, one by PepsiCo, and big greedy shills that they are, many of the ScienceBlogs writers are expressing everything from concern to outrage over the encroachment of a commercial corporation onto their turf.

For instance, PalMD says:

The problem is not that Pepsi is “corporate” or “commercial”. This is not about “selling out to The Man.” What Pepsi produces and how it does is ironic but beside the point. The main problems are:

  1. Lack of transparency, which is somewhat improved
  2. Visual appearance, despite caveats, very similar to “real” science blogs
  3. Content produced by and for the benefit of the company that bought the space
These create all sorts of ethical problems.  It also erodes the credibility of some of us in a couple of ways, but I’ll speak only for myself.
I have spent a bit of time and energy building a little credibility with mainstream journalists, engaging them online and in person, and have started writing for a more mainstream outlet, Forbes.com.  I enjoy my role as both a writer and a physician; the more I read about journalism, the more I find myself questioning the best way to do what I do.  Given the multiple ethical challenges to what I do, I don’t appreciate being dragged into a new one with no warning.
One of the more fortunate things at ScienceBlogs has been the recruitment of experienced science writers such as Maryn McKenna, David Dobbs, Rebecca Skloot, and Deborah Blum (yes, I left some of you out, but it’s busy here tonight).  This gives me additional opportunities to learn the craft, but if they all run away from here, I lose out (as do our readers).
I have relied on a reputation (even if I were my only reader) of independence.  Ads are inevitable and not undesirable, but deceptive advertising that looks very much like my own content poses special problems for me (and for other medical bloggers).

And the always polite PZ Myers says:

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. It’s going to be boring. It’s going to blur the line between blog content and advertising. It’s going to be bloodless dull blogging that will diminish the Scienceblogs brand.

See somewhere in between these two opinions is precisely what one ought to expect from honest journalists who aren’t simply all about the all might dollar. Now with Age of Autism, the situation is far more distressing because it isn’t just any companies advertising with them but companies like Lee Silsby who sell bogus autism treatments, a product that clearly benefits from a website devoted to getting people to buy bogus autism treatments.

Now as far as amoral corporations go, I admit that I actually like PepsiCo. They’ve stood up to the bigots at the American Family Assocation and have continued to support LGBT issues with large financial contributions. So I’m inclined to think they’re a far more ethical corporation than at least BP or the Catholic Church, for instance. But that’s not the point. It is disconcerting to see ScienceBlogs give a platform for a corporation to potentially use to exploit the name of science for their own propaganda, especially since their wealth provides them with more than enough other platforms. But the important thing here is that the ScienceBlog writers have not sold out while the Age of Autism writers have never even sold in to begin with.

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3 Responses to ScienceBlogs response to new PepsiCo blog illustrates why Jake Crosby is dead wrong

  1. […] ScienceBlogs may be taking steps to ensure that the Pepsi blog is identified as advertising. Though Skepacabra discusses another angle of this that I hadn’t yet considered: the crank angle. How will this […]

  2. […] PepsiCo blog has gone flat Yesterday I reported about the highly controversial blog from PepsiCo that was to be added to the regular roster at […]

  3. […] out at Scienceblogs I’ve already written about what I think has been officially dubbed PepsiGate, where those in charge of Scienceblogs accepted money from PepsiCo in order for the company to […]

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