Fine Structure

ScienceBlogs and the PepsiCo Saga

Big news for science blogs: ScienceBlogs, the Seed Magazine-run and perhaps most well known science blog conglomerate, had a little falling out with their science bloggers this week. ScienceBlogs started a new blog about nutrition and health that was sponsored by Pepsi and written by Pepsi R&D scientists.

Many bloggers took it as a clear sign that Seed sold their credibility. Articles written by scientists in ScienceBlog feeds would now sit side-by-side with advertisements written by PepsiCo employees. The idea that ScienceBlogs represented pure science had been sold and no content there could be trusted as fact any longer. At least four science bloggers formerly housed at ScienceBlogs have permanently moved away from ScienceBlogs, more have gone on "temporary hiatus."

Some bloggers clearly believe that Seed was allowing an entity motivated by profits to write about health and nutrition when that entity arguably has no interest in health and nutrition. Therefore nothing that the scientists from PepsiCo posted could be taken without a few thousand grains of salt.

If I'm right about the motivations behind the anger here, it seems like some science bloggers are actually doing themselves a disservice. It's as though these bloggers told us that last week all ScienceBlogs were without an agenda and anything posted could be taken at face value. This week, with the addition of the PepsiCo blog, we would actually need to distinguish science from agenda-driven science.

But take this thought home with you today: every blogger at ScienceBlogs has someone to answer to. A home institution, a book publisher, friends and colleagues - the list can go on and on. To suggest that every blogger at ScienceBlogs is entirely correct and without an agenda is absurd. Despite the fact that ScienceBlog writers are independent and their content isn't subject to editing by Seed, they are not necessarily sources of raw information without bias.

I'm certain that every science blogger, regardless of where they host their blog, would endorse the concept of considering the source of your material. Science bloggers are not exempt from this rule themselves and readers should make use of considering the source at every given opportunity, even from bloggers who aren't explicitly sponsored or employed by a profit-driven company.

Furthermore, not everyone at ScienceBlogs matches up ideologically anyway. If anything, this should have been taken as a study on reading (what we assume to be) conflicting research and bloggers could have evaluated posts from PepsiCo's scientists. It might have taught a thing or two to budding scientists that read Seed's (formerly?) wonderful collection of blogs.

What are your thoughts on the ScienceBlog fallout?

Update: ScienceBlogs briefly mentioned that they would clearly mark the blog as an advertisement and assuage almost all concerns about the blog being mixed in with other ScienceBlog content. This would have been completely acceptable had it occurred this way the first time. However, they've now gone another step and removed the blog altogether, probably in an attempt to regain some of the lost bloggers. I doubt it'll work at this point.