ScienceBlogs trashes credibility: Leaked response from editor.

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Outrage over the decision by ScienceBlogs to run a blog produced by Pepsi–see my post earlier today–continues to grow. Best-selling author Rebecca Skloot has now announced her resignation from the site; her Culture Dish will reappear elsewhere. And the Guardian has published a confidential letter from Adam Bly, Seed’s founder and CEO, in which he attempts to justify the decision to give Pepsi a blog.

Excerpts from Bly’s letter to his bloggers:

The bloggers who blog on ‘corporate blogs’ on SB are necessarily credentialed scientists (we make sure of that), in some cases highly credentialed scientists who have published extensively in peer-reviewed journals. The fact that they work at a profit-making company does not automatically disqualify their science in our mind…

Of course we recognize – and of course so does PepsiCo! – that they’ve made a lot of money selling soft drinks and chips. But they also recognize that their future will be troublesome and time-limited without addressing the real and connected issues of obesity and under-nutrition in the world…

For a guy who doesn’t work for Pepsi, or sit in on their corporate board meetings, Bly seems in an odd position to be vouching for Pepsi’s foresight and wisdom. Or maybe Bly does sit in on those meetings–in which case, let’s hope for a leak on that, so we can report it.

We could have a discussion, I suppose, about the quality of science produced by Pepsi’s scientists. One might guess that while some Pepsi research is published and defensible, other studies showing the ill effects of soft drinks might not actually reach the publication stage, or become public at all. Ya think?

Worse, the blog itself does not claim to be about science–it says flat out that the aim is to promote the company:

…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.

Yikes. If that isn’t corporate promotion, what is?

But hey, this isn’t about credibility, says Bly. This is about generating revenue to keep the site alive! Who could disagree with that?

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.

So, selling ads and making money is hard. How long has this guy been in publishing? He’s just figuring this out?

And did I miss something above? Something about the “corporate bloggers” on ScienceBlogs. You mean there are others?

“We started experimenting with sponsored blogs a couple of years ago and decided to market long-term sponsorship contracts instead of sporadic advertising contracts,” Bly writes. Really. This is news. Which of the blogs on ScienceBlogs are sponsored blogs?

If the credibility of ScienceBlogs was in doubt this morning, it has vanished this afternoon.

– Paul Raeburn