Oh, Pepsi, What Hast Thou Wrought?

By Carl Zimmer | July 7, 2010 5:48 pm

Duct-tape_Moving_Van[Updated! See bottom of post.]

As I continue to bake today, yearning for just a few minutes in Senator Inhofe’s igloo, I’ve been keeping tabs on a saddening train wreck over at my old haunt, Scienceblogs. Before I brought the Loom to Discover, I blogged at Scienceblogs, which was hosted by the folks behind the now-defunct (?) Seed Magazine. There was a lot I enjoyed about that time, and I still keep tabs on a number of excellent bloggers still at Scienceblogs. Except that, as of today, a lot of them are no longer there.

Here’s the quick story: the powers that be at Scienceblogs thought it would be a good idea to sell Pepsi a blog of its own on the site, where its corporate scientists could tell the world about all the great nutrition science Pepsico is doing.

Yes. Really. I’m totally sober as I type this.

I first heard about this in a post by Peter Lipson, a doctor who writes a blog at SB. He offers a common reaction from a lot of the bloggers there: they don’t like what Pepsi stands for, and they don’t like Scienceblogs giving the company an opportunity to dole out their PR to readers alongside blogs that have built up their reputations for years, for the most part for very little pay.

Here’s a response, of sorts, in the form of an email sent to the bloggers after the story made its way all the way into the newspapers, from the editor, Adam Bly.

Yes. Really. After. I swear, I am still sober.

It’s not an inspiring reply. For one thing, Bly tells us how hard it is these days to make journalism pay. Um, you don’t have to tell bloggers that. For another, Bly seems to justify the Pepsi affair by saying Scienceblogs has hosted blogs from corporations before. Somehow that means this new situation is okay. I can’t stop thinking of the line from As You Like It, “More villain thou.”

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. John Rennie and Paul Raeburn explain this Journalism 101 lesson.

What I find particularly galling about this whole affair is that bloggers who don’t want to associate themselves with this kind of nonsense have to go through the hassle of leaving Scienceblogs and setting up their blog elsewhere. The technical steps involved may be wonderfully easy now (export files, open account on WordPress, import), but the social steps remain tedious. Take it from me, someone who has moved his blog three times over the past six years: your readers lose your trail, and it takes a long time for Google to start helping them. These folks did nothing to deserve this irritation.

So let me do my small part here. Over the next couple weeks, I plan to build a list of bloggers who refused to drink the Kool Aid Pepsi who left [failed joke!] and tell you where to go to read them now. Please let me know about bloggers not yet on the list in the comment thread. And I will update my blog roll when I have a free minute.

[Update: I’m trying to keep up with the exodus, but you may also want to cross-check with Skull in the Star’s list.]


[Note–On August 2, a bunch of bloggers from scienceblogs and elsewhere formed a new network called Scientopia. I’ve marked some of them below, but be sure to see the full list of Scientopia bloggers here.]

A Blog Around the Clock: Be sure to read his epic farewell.

Adventures in Science and Ethics: On newly formed network, Scientopia

Deborah Blum. (There goes SB’s Pulitzer, set to Tennyson…) Update: Now at PLoS

Causabon’s Book Update: She’s back at Scienceblogs.

David Dobbs Update: Despite the end of Pepsiblog, Dobbs ain’t coming back.

Drug Monkey: Scientopia

Eruptions: Now at Big Think (although not due to Pepsigate)

Good Math/Bad Math: Mark Chu-Carroll is definitely leaving. Will post his destination soon. Update: On Scientopia.

GrrlScientist Follow her at @grrlscientist. Update: On Scientopia. Update: Now at the Guardian.

Highly Allochthonous: On hiatus, trending towards escape. Now here.

Jonah Lehrer: Moving to Wired this summer (a plan that was in effect before Pepsi popped on the scene)

Peter Lipson: In his farewell, he says he’ll blog at Forbes and Science-based Medicine. Update: Home at last on WordPress. Update on update: On Scientopia.

Matthew Nisbet: Now at Big Think (although not due to Pepsigate)

Obesity Panacea Now at PLoS

Primate Diaries: Gone. You can follow Eric Michael Johnson for now on Twitter until he starts blogging elsewhere. Now at Primate Diaries in Exile.

The Quantum Pontiff

Questionable Authority Follow him @questauthority. Update: On Scientopia


Science After Sunclipse

Rebecca Skloot: TBA. (You can follow her for now on Twitter) On her own site.

Superbug: Maryn McKenna’s beef: indifferent editors.

Brian Switek, Laelaps: TBA. (You can follow him for now on Twitter) Now on his own site.

Terra Sigilata: Goodbye. Hello.

Thus Spake Zuska: Update–On Scientopia.

Voltage Gate: On Scientopia

Alex Wild

[Image: Wikipedia]

UPDATE 7/8: While I was taking my daughter to swimming lessons this morning, news arrived that Scienceblogs has shut down the Pepsi blog. You can get the details from PZ Myers and Paul Raeburn.

I’m curious if this will cause some people who simply put their blogs on hiatus to stick around at SB, or if some bloggers will even return from self-imposed exile. Or perhaps this was the last straw for some. Please tell your story in the comment thread, and I’ll update this list as necessary.


Comments (140)

Links to this Post

  1. Rethinking the PepsiCo / ScienceBlogs affair « CMBR | July 7, 2010
  2. Blogger vs. Pepsi, Science vs. Shill: Wie ein Wissenschafts-Blog-Netzwerk sich selbst zerstört | Werbeblogger – Weblog über Marketing, Werbung und PR » Blog Archiv » Blogger vs. Pepsi, Science vs. Shill: Wie ein Wissenschafts-Blog-Netz | July 7, 2010
  3. ScienceBlogs + PepsiCo: Are we overreacting? | Cosmopolitanaut | Dave Mosher: Science Journalist, Web Nerd | July 7, 2010
  4. *gurgle* Scienceblogs *gurgle* « a simple prop | July 7, 2010
  5. on science and ethics | supernaut | July 8, 2010
  6. Pepsi, We Hardly Knew Ye! | The Loom | Discover Magazine | July 8, 2010
  7. Neuron Culture - Why I’m Staying Gone from ScienceBlogs | July 8, 2010
  8. [Avian Flu Diary] Solidarity For Science Bloggers | Influenza Virus Mashup | July 8, 2010
  9. Oh, Pepsi, What Hast Thou Wrought? | The Loom | News | July 8, 2010
  10. Pepsi, We Hardly Knew Ye! | The Loom | News | July 8, 2010
  11. The Future Of - Blogging as Scholarship | July 8, 2010
  12. Soda [The Frontal Cortex] » iThinkEducation.net! | July 9, 2010
  13. No-Brainer « Occluded Sun | July 9, 2010
  14. Pepsigeddon: why bloggers shouldn’t be paid | July 9, 2010
  15. The Scienceblogs fiasco and the future of Myrmecos « Myrmecos Blog | July 10, 2010
  16. Ataraxia Theatre » Archive » The Reaction | July 11, 2010
  17. Neuron Culture — Where the ScienceBlog exodees went | July 12, 2010
  18. Setting up camp « Brian Switek | July 12, 2010
  19. The PepsiGate linkfest « A Blog Around The Clock | July 18, 2010
  20. Herding cats, ethically « Evolving Thoughts | July 19, 2010
  21. Word of the day: Advertorial « info-fetishist | July 20, 2010
  22. An Open Invitation to Seed’s Ex-Sciencebloggers | The Intersection | Discover Magazine | July 20, 2010
  23. An Open Invitation to PZ Myers | Thinking Critically | July 20, 2010
  24. [Avian Flu Diary] Maryn McKenna’s New Digs | Influenza Virus Mashup | July 20, 2010
  25. Reimagining Science Networks - The Quantum Pontiff | July 20, 2010
  26. The end of an era? « I Love Science, Really | July 20, 2010
  27. ScienceBlogs has good blogs | Gene Expression | Discover Magazine | July 20, 2010
  28. the amazing, shrinking science blogging network « weird things | July 20, 2010
  29. Yawn! Yawn! Yawn! Yawn! Yawn! Contagious Yawn! [The Thoughtful Animal] » iThinkEducation.net! | July 20, 2010
  30. #SBFail « Evolving Thoughts | July 20, 2010
  31. Opining Online » Reason #18 For Not Blogging Regularly | July 21, 2010
  32. The Word You are Looking for is “Exodus” « The Finch and Pea | July 23, 2010
  33. Blowout at ScienceBlogs | Giovanna Di Sauro | July 26, 2010
  34. Science blogs and ecosystem disturbance « Wild Muse | July 28, 2010
  35. What Life Science Social Media Marketers Can Learn From ScienceBlog’s ‘PepsiGate’ | Biotechnology and Life Science Marketing Consulting: Comprendia | July 30, 2010
  36. Letter from SciFoo: The joys and sorrows of the Unconference | The Loom | Discover Magazine | August 3, 2010
  37. I’m a Scientist and I’m Boycotting Pepsi « Science and the Media | August 8, 2010
  38. I’m a Science Blogger Boycotting Pepsi « Science and the Media | August 8, 2010
  39. I’m a Science Blogger Boycotting Pepsi « Philosophically Disturbed | August 8, 2010
  40. Networks Upon Networks! | The Loom | Discover Magazine | September 1, 2010
  41. Science blog networks now officially kudzu-esque | The Loom | Discover Magazine | September 15, 2010
  42. The Effect of Pseudonymity on Blogger Credibility « CMBR | February 23, 2011
  43. Blogs a science communication student might like | through the looking glass | August 11, 2011
  44. Evolutions in Scholarship – Blogging as Scholarship | May 15, 2012
  45. Keep shouting. You never know who is listening. | This View of Life | May 31, 2012
  46. Signifying interest | | July 20, 2012
  1. khan

    Thank you.

    I have no dog in this fight.

    But find it interesting that SB did not consult or even inform their bloggers.

    Beyond all else (to me) this shows a total lack of respect.

  2. So SEED *sold* Pepsi a blog? Officially *sold* the space?

    [CZ: Yup, this is a sponsored blog]

  3. More casualties from the Cola wars…

  4. I’ve been watching this unfold over the last 24 hours or so, and have just been astonished at how poor a decision it is on the part of Seed/Sb Overlords. The “responses” from the managers have shown such a tin ear that I wonder how they were ever to put together such a good product in the first place.

    Thanks for your perspective, Carl.

  5. This is indeed sack and irksome. Thanks for keeping us updated about the blogging refugees, Carl.

  6. SteveF

    Get Brian Switek signed up here at Discover.

  7. Peter is Lipson, not Lipkin…

    [CZ: Thanks!]

  8. Well if Pepsi got the blog because R&D is a science & SEED was looking for more industrial science bloggers to add to the roll, that would be one thing. Actually selling the blog space is a whole other ball game. ~thumbs down~

  9. CW

    What if Coca-Cola sponsored astrologyblogs or homeopathyblogs? Then maybe could we look at this in a different light? 😀

  10. @6 “Get Brian Switek signed up here at Discover”

    One of the most sensible things I’ve heard all day…

  11. Thanks for the link love, Carl. Considering I only left WordPress 3 months ago, leaving the old site as an archive, it is no trouble to move back. The blogroll is even still reasonably current. I don’t envy the long time sciblings though.

    Plus, it’s WordPress!!! I might not shill myself for Pepsi, but after three godawful months mashing everything through moveable type I’d name my firstborn after WP.

    And, I’ll third the vote for moving Brian Switek to Discover. An excellent match!

  12. Chris Rowan and I are considering our options for Highly Allochthonous, but I think it is unlikely we will remain at Scienceblogs much longer.

  13. Not that I’m a Discover editor, but Laelaps seems like Discover material. Seriously, Discover Overlords. His writing meshes well with the content and style here. Many of us do not write in ways that would fit this place, but Brian does.

  14. Add Chris Rowan to the list.

    I’m dyin’ here, man. I don’t know what’s going on with the management at Seed, but I want to get a hypo and slam some adrenaline into somebody’s heart, just to get the corpse to twitch.

  15. Thanks, Carl! It’s been a rough day on us all.

    Also, Discover should TOTALLY take Laelaps. :)

  16. Thanks for the link, Carl, and thanks to SteveF, Ed, and Alex for the votes of confidence. :) I still don’t know where I will end up, but there are so many exciting stories that I won’t be silent for long. Tonight, though, I need a drink – time for some homemade margaritas…

  17. Working on my options… too jetlagged to make good decisions right now.

  18. I want to get a hippo and have it slam into a corpse to see it twitch.

  19. HP

    Hippos are deadly, Bora. When can we expect your post on the subject?

    As far as twitching corpses goes, I’m a big fan Galvani’s experiments in the 18th century.

  20. I’m getting confused with Bora now? Jeez, the brand has really gone down the tubes.

    [CZ: Sorry, I was out at dinner with the family and lost the thread here. So…when exactly did PZ turn into a hippo?]

  21. Take it from me, someone who has moved his blog three times over the past six years: your readers lose your trail, and it takes a long time for Google to start helping them.

    Ha! Unbeknownst to you, I am immune to this irritation — I HAVE NO READERS!!! Moo hoo ha ha.


    [CZ: Sorry, but I feel obligated to send a few your way.]

  22. This really is a terrible situation. It’s sad that SEED built its base on great science blogging and then sold the credibility of its science writers out to a corporation. I’ve run a small science news site for a while and have recently asked a couple of my fellow scientists on twitter to write blogs. We’re a small community, we are 100 times smaller than SB, but we have fun and love what we do. Any SB defectors are welcome to pitch a tent over at my site while they figure out where they want to end up. The door is open, write whatever you want, you control the ads and revenue, and you have 100% control over the CSS. All I ask is the blogs keep a science spin, the rest is up to you!

  23. HP

    Not confused, PZ. You said “hypos” (#12), Bora punned “hippos” (#17). I responded to Bora’s substitution of the occasionally necessary adrenaline with the always disastrous hippopotamus, and then gave him a dig because he hasn’t yet posted his official response.

    Bora’s always insightful, and knows perhaps more about online science communication than anybody out there. BATC hasn’t weighed in yet. I want to know what he has to say.

    If Pharyngula is the Elder-Beerman’s of the ScienceBlogs Mall, Blog Around the Clock is the Zayres at the other end. You need both, otherwise you’re stuck with just Radio Shack and Hot Topic and the Sunglass Hut.

  24. “What I find particularly galling about this whole affair is that bloggers who don’t want to associate themselves with this kind of nonsense have to go through the hassle of leaving Scienceblogs and setting up their blog elsewhere. The technical steps involved may be wonderfully easy now (export files, open account on WordPress, import), but the social steps remain tedious. Take it from me, someone who has moved his blog three times over the past six years: your readers lose your trail, and it takes a long time for Google to start helping them. These folks did nothing to deserve this irritation.”

    That’s really the only reason I haven’t left yet–I am on hiatus as of this afternoon though. Time will tell.

    This is particularly damaging to Sbers (like me) who aren’t full time, professional writers, for whom the recovery process would be longer (if it occurs at all).

    Ultimately, I think this stems from Seed’s and Bly’s desire to be in the magazine business, as opposed to the blog business (ironic, since most scientists I know recognize Sb much more frequently than Seed Magazine). This has led to neglect of the blogging side of things. Whether that’s good business or not, I don’t know (I don’t have access to the financials), but several patterns at Sb lead me to think that the blogs are seen as an adjunct–which, over time, has hurt both the blogs and the magazine.

    Sad, but fortunately I have friends with large galumphy dogs, so not all is lost.

  25. Left_Wing_Fox

    Ah, you do Blake. I just lurk a lot. =(

    It’s the big advantage of SB and Discovery. I like the fact that I can usually find posts by bloggers I’m used to and read often, but I can get a diversity of information about subjects that might otherwise be off my radar.

    It’s forcing me to update my bookmark list though.

  26. HP

    Ooh, you know who else hasn’t weighed in on the Pepsico fiasco? Ed Brayton. How will “the thinking person’s Libertarian” (/*looks askance at Penn Gillette*/) react to blatant corporate overreach?

    Have I mentioned that I haven’t watched TV in years? I get my reality show/soap opera fix reading Sb. The only problem is that every time they have a blowup, I have to update all my feeds.

  27. @Mike, What are the legal ramifications of exporting your SB work and porting it over to your personal site? What copyright control does SB retain in such a move? Can you delete all of your entries, or do they get to keep them in the database? That seems like it could be a sticky situation. Especially for a revenue driven media company when its content base decides to jump ship. I’d double check the agreement you made with SB before you go cutting and pasting or deleting :(

    [CZ: Speaking as a former SBer, I can say that I had the rights to my own stuff. Still do. No one should give those away for blogging!]

  28. HP

    @ Mike the Mad Biologist: Some of us have been reading you since before you joined ScienceBlogs. Just say the word and we will continue to do so.

  29. HP: thanks
    Brian: Carl’s correct; I have the rights. But if I leave, I really don’t mind leaving my stuff there (I would back it up though). I’m not angry at Sb, as much as sad and disappointed.

  30. Seed is defunct? We subscribed for a year, but found it not that great (other than PZ’s column). Of course, we also dropped Discover after getting it for a few years ;-). (But we also dropped SciAm after 20 years, when they dumbed it down too much. We get Science News now.

    [CZ: Defunct (?) is how I put it, and I think this page justifies that description. The latest issue came out a year ago.]

  31. Yes, Seed does many things exactly right: we own our blogs, there is no obstacle to ripping up stakes and moving elsewhere, they’ve been excellent about maintaining a non-interference policy, and we get paid for our work. Like Mike above, I’m just disappointed with the latest turn of events, and I want to stay…but the other big problem there right now is this kind of friendly neglect of all the cash cows, with poor tech support and barely any acknowledgment that we exist, let alone contribute to the bottom line. The poor maintenance means Seed is getting kinda seedy in the infrastructure department, and I think the constant irritation is merely erupting right now around this one cause celebre.

  32. but the other big problem there right now is this kind of friendly neglect of all the cash cows, with poor tech support and barely any acknowledgment that we exist, let alone contribute to the bottom line. The poor maintenance means Seed is getting kinda seedy in the infrastructure department, and I think the constant irritation is merely erupting right now around this one cause celebre.

    if you let the pressure build….

    the whole time i was at SB it was evident that besides the people tasked to run SB directly SEED didn’t really care. all fine if they kept the platform running, but it was a nightmare by the end. the lack of any warning or heads up is of a piece with their pattern of behavior. it’s coming to bite them in the ass now.

    re: ed brayton. i think it goes to show that different bloggers are in different positions. someone who talks about public health or nutrition is going to suffer a lot more by association than someone who discusses more general political/policy issues.

  33. @CZ, @Mike, That’s great that they didn’t facebook you into a content corner. I totally agree that the content should be in all cases the property of the creator.

  34. The whole idea of “selling” a blog to a corporation is pretty upsetting. And I can certainly see why people are leaving. However, a few things should be noted:

    1) Those of us who did not quit Scienceblogs during the first 24 hours of the startup of “Food Frontiers” (PepsiCoBlaog) have not “drunk the Kool Aid.” That is, Carl, a little tiny bit insulting, though I’m sure you did not mean it that way. By the same standards, the authors of Highly Autochthonous are not as committed to the cause of good journalism as, say, SciCurious, because the former are on hiatus and the latter totally gone.

    2) This is the fourth of fifth or so “special blog” at Sb (as in non-standard) and the third one that is “corporate” in some sense. The last two, however, were done very differently, and seemed to be acceptable, as in palatable without a Kool-Aid chaser. There are probably already science blogs written by people who work for institutions or companies that can to some extent control their blogging (though this is not the case to any extreme of which I’m aware on Sb) and Sb recently added institutional blogs which seem acceptable.

    I note these things because it more accurately represents scienceblogs as a constellation of things, not just one kind of blog, and the nether reaches of that constellation extend towards (though do not reach, by a long shot) the concept of a bought and paid for blog. This is important context.

    3) The policy was annonced earlier today and partly implemented that should meet most of the specific, stated concerns that were voiced earlier in the day. As PZ notes, we Sblings often feel rather ignored, and that is a situation that is only getting worse. But somehow today’s outcry turned into actual policy at least partly implemented:

    The blog is now labeled as “Advertorial” (a word I don’t like but everybody else seems OK with it). Personally, I think they need to have that marking a little more prominent, but this is a good start.

    The corporate logo and identifiers are more clear, and the statement of what the blog is made more clear and prominent.

    The blog’s posts will be in the firehose feed (which is the feed for everything, and thus, well, has EVERYthing) and will be labeled in that feed as an Advertorial. The blog will in varoius ways that remain to be seen taken out of or limited form the other feeds, and will NOT BE PART OF THE GOOGLE NEWS FEED. (That last part is especially important.)

    So, if I pick up a copy of some major written for the public magazine like Nat. Geo, I might find a 23 page supplement bought and paid for by the Saudi Business Bureau or the Greater Arlington Chamber of Congress or whatever. Or GE or some other corporation. Magazeeny looking stuff of roughly a similar style to the publication it is inserted in but clearly marked and consisting of corporate content. Such a thing at Scienceblogs does not make me happy, but it does seem acceptable. Is there some way in which that is not acceptable?

    The new policies are more than just part way towards where they need to be, but they are impressive.

    [CZ: Greg, thanks for joining the discussion. I didn’t mean for the drinking joke to be insulting. I just meant that some people felt okay with the Pepsi blog in their midst and some didn’t. But I can see that I didn’t set the joke up right, so I apologize for that.

    I am certainly not passing judgment on the decisions of each blogger, even if I do have my own opinions about the appropriateness of the Pepsi blog. But I don’t see how previous corporate-tied blogs justify this new one, and I guess I don’t get your argument on that particular point. And as for advertorials in traditional media: if a reader can’t tell that it’s an ad, then it’s bad. You won’t get me to defend unethical magazine publishers.]

  35. Still blogging after all these years… without a tiny drop of PEPSI !

  36. llewelly

    I intend to wait and see what sort of content turns up on Food Frontiers. Also, all the blogs that have so far moved are worth following in their right. However, it is important to keep in mind that we have a social duty to preserve the ability to protest, and I encourage others to view this as an additional reason to subscribe to each of the blogs that has moved (as I have done), to help blunt the impact moving has on the bloggers.

  37. llewelly

    Greg Laden Says:
    July 7th, 2010 at 10:38 pm :

    The blog is now labeled as “Advertorial” (a word I don’t like but everybody else seems OK with it)

    A ridiculous word that helps remind us that content on the blog should perhaps not be taken too seriously.

  38. William Furr

    For the record, Jim Jones and his followers drank Flavor Aid ™ not Kool Aid.

  39. Ichthyic

    I would think a more appropriate title for this entry would be:

    “Oh, Seed Media, What Hast Thou Wrought?”

    Pepsi is just doing standard PR work. It was Seed’s decision to start whoring to inviting corporations to blog.

    I read the letter by Bly.

    nope, sorry, not buying the “we can’t do sciblogs without this cashflow” argument.

  40. CZ:But I don’t see how previous corporate-tied blogs justify this new one, and I guess I don’t get your argument on that particular point. And as for advertorials in traditional media: if a reader can’t tell that it’s an ad, then it’s bad. You won’t get me to defend unethical magazine publishers.]

    Regarding the previous corporate blogs and related points: They do not justify the Pepsi-Vert. But, what one sees when one looks at scienceblogs is a bunch of people saying very little about institutional control and related issues, then suddenly, a dozen people resign all at once. This implies that there were no issues at all before and suddenly a deal breaker issue. I know the implication is all in the interpretation, but it is there.

    We added two or three “institutional” blogs, and the question of control of content did not come up at all. I spent the weekend with a colleague who works as an academic and administrator for a major research university, and is not allowed to blog at all about either administrative or research issues unless the blog posts are pre-approved by the Dean’s office. Just like Pepsico. n Another colleague works for a major British non profit reseach quai-governmental organization and has similar restrictions. How do we know these new Institutional blogs don’t do that? We don’t. The question was not asked.

    A sober reasoned view of a situation like this is not about justification, but about scale and proportion. I’m sorry if this offends anyone, but I saw very little that was in proportion today. The fact that some Sblings quit scienceblogs before the changes that were demanded were even made is not too cool. (I assume, I quickly add, that the bloggers that quit right away were kinda on the edge of doing so anyway, and in fact, at least one departed blogger explicitly said that.)

    Yes, the Advertorial has to be very clearly marked as Advertorial (can’t we find a better word??!???) and otherwise isolated (as in on feeds, etc.). Sb made a bad mistake. I’m not sure if it was death penalty level, though. If it is fixed.

  41. HP

    Re. “advertorial”: Over on Josh Rosenau’s place (at least for the time being), I suggested “adsploitation.” You can use it if you like.

  42. The thing I don’t like about “advertorial” aside form its overall ugliness as a word is the second part. The blog posts on something like Pepsico’s blog are not going to be editorials, according to the apparent plan. Well, some are, perhaps, but I was under the impression that these were research scientists talking about research. Perhaps they will be biased, hamstrung, straight jacketed and gagged, but the last thing they are going to be is editorial.

    It is really more like a trade magazine.

  43. Jacqueline Ashwell

    You might be amused to read this:

    I wasn’t so much amused as outraged. Pity that scienceblogs rolled over to this kind of stuff.

    Greatly enjoyed your sad (but amusing!) post.

  44. Interestingly (or at least to this lit major) “advertorial” has a definition according to the OED: “An advertisement written in the form of an editorial, which purportedly provides objective information about a commercial or industrial subject.”

  45. what pepsi think when they do thing like this

  46. Bee

    Thanks for the explanation. I missed most of the story and was wondering what’s going on. I wish all of those who are leaving Scienceblogs good luck, I think they’ve made the right decision. Unfortunately, this story is indicative of much deeper problems with the financial structure of the internet. I’ve written about that a few times on my blog, these problems are bound to occur and reoccur as long as advertisement is the dominant mode of income on the internet, it corrupts even best intentions, and let’s not even mention the cases when the intentions are not the best. There are alternatives, but they’re not going to happen without collective action which is always a big hurdle and sometimes one that cannot be overcome. It is worth trying though, as it’s clear where it will get us if it goes on this way. So all I want to say, think about where the root of the problem is. You’re all smart guys, you’ll figure out a solution.

  47. csrster

    Greg- the only institutional blog I’ve really noticed is the new(?) one from the Weizmann Institute – and what a stinking load of monkey-droppings that is. However its only offense is the waste of good bytes represented by its tedious institutional-news-speak.

  48. There are hoards of institutional science blogs out there, including several here at my own soon-to-be-erstwhile institution. Though I’ve struggled myself to decide whether to do some of my blogging there, I do think they have their place. The important thing is that people know when they’re reading an institutional blog that they’re getting the corporate line. The PepsiCo blog belongs on the PepsiCo website not on ScienceBlogs.

  49. ponderingfool

    Greg what do you think of the previous Food Frontiers on the pepsicoblog.com domain?

  50. Actually, I haven’t decided yet what I’m going to do. I’m at TAM8, which is a good time to chill and think about things. I can say, though, that I’ve had more than a few people come up to me already with a huge WTF is ScienceBlogs doing? However, I may be one of the ones who goes.

  51. John Kwok

    @ Ed Yong –

    Yes Brian Switek’s blog has been consistently among the best I have seen, especially with respect to paleobiology, and, given its content, would find a most suitable home here. Hope you and Carl will be most perusasive in urging the online management of Discover Magazine to consider seriously this suggestion.

  52. John Kwok

    @ PZ –

    Have you thought seriously of finding a new home for Pharyngula at DailyKos? Given the “gladiatorial” style of discourse which you have celebrated all too often there, then I thihk Daily Kos would be a far more suitable online venue.


    P. S. Contrary to your protestattions, neither Chris Mooney nor Sheril Kirshenbaum were objecting to “coarse language” posted by your acolytes at Pharyngula. It was, sadly, something far, far worse, and I find it quite reprehensible that you still view it as a “joke”:


  53. Greg:

    I think the biggest difference between the prior institutionally-sponsored blogs and Pepsi involves the source of the content. With the GE- and Shell-sponsored blogs, there was (or at least seemed to be) a clear distinction between the sponsor and the content. Those companies were paying for blogs about certain subjects, but the company itself was not providing (and didn’t really get) content that directly advertised their own products/commitments/etc.

    In the case of the Pepsi blog, Pepsi has purchased a space that looks just like ours to basically stick ads in. I realize that they have yet to publish anything besides the intro, but a quick look at the prior incarnation of that blog on Pepsi’s own space, combined with their own description of what they are planning for the space, makes that pretty clear.

    It can be argued that there’s not a huge distinction between Pepsi and (say) Brookhaven when it comes to sponsored blogging. I disagree. Yes, not-for-profits and government research institutions want to promote their own work and show themselves in the best possible light, and so does Pepsi. But there the similarity ends. Not-for-profit research centers are mission-driven. They are working toward specific ends, and promoting what they do both to try to get more resources and to try to stir up more interest in their mission. Corporations, particularly publicly-traded multinats, are driven by profits, and are advertising themselves in order to try to make more money. The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and Pepsico might both conduct research that focuses on the effects of obesity on the health of children, but the reasons for that research are going to be very different, and one of the two is much more likely to want to avoid publicity of any kind for research that doesn’t go their way, while simultaneously trumpeting research that does. JDRF is invested in stopping a disease, and research that shows that something isn’t a big factor in that disease is going to move them closer to their goal – even if it’s not as close as they’d like. Pepsico is invested in selling their products. Research that shows that their products contribute to disease hurts that process. Research that shows that their products do not contribute helps them. Which are they going to publicize, and which are they motivated to suppress?

    As far as why people are leaving goes, I would agree that it’s slightly more complex than just this single incident. The roll-out of the Pepsi blog, with the lack of transparency or even any crystal clear indication that the content was going to be corporately-provided, was a big screw-up. But ScienceBlogs has survived big screw-ups in the past without huge numbers of bloggers leaving. Unfortunately, getting through many of the past (and in some cases ongoing) issues has required Seed to spend their stores of blogger goodwill. They’ve done nothing to replenish those stores, so now, when they really need it, they have none left.

  54. DRK

    Thanks for posting the links for the Scibloggers who have fled teh Pepsi. It’s nice to have them in one location for linkage.

    This is a sad story unfolding.

  55. Oyveh

    Oh great – Kwok is in the house Quick, everyone! Pool your money! He’s going to be demanding expensive video equipment in seconds!

  56. outeast

    My first instinct was really that everyone has been overreacting; but I just looked at FF’s inaugural post and the stress that’s put on how wonderfully worderful Pepsico is for Global Health made me throw up a little in my mouth.

  57. Dan

    Greg: “The thing I don’t like about “advertorial” aside form its overall ugliness as a word is the second part. The blog posts on something like Pepsico’s blog are not going to be editorials…”

    To clear things up a little, there are different definitions of “editorial” depending on which side of the newsroom door you’re on. I think you’re thinking of editorial, as many people do, as AN editorial, that is, an opinion piece (and you’re right in that Pepsi, according to the current plan, probably won’t do much of that) written by a staff member of a publication. In journalism-speak, though, editorial, without, the modifier, is simply all the content in a mag/paper or on a website that isn’t advertising. Phrases like “‘editorial staff”, “ad-edit ratio” and “advertorial,” distinguish or blend the two components.

  58. I’ve been following this story pretty close and it’s clear management screwed up royal. But the back story is that Seed seems to see the bloggers as an adjunct to the published mag, when Sb is now more visible in every way I know of than the mag. That might have been justifiable at one time, but given the bloggers’ success in creating their own brands, nowadays it ought to be the other way around. Or at least fully symbiotic.

  59. I just got word that Food Frontiers is being removed from Sb. A nice gesture, but given SEED’s track record and their slow time to react, I’m still out.

  60. Gaythia

    To those who are leaving: Your readers (the real ones) value integrity and we will find you.

    Thanks to Carl Zimmer for being willing to help in this process.

    Best wishes to all of you!

  61. Let’s see, so far we’ve heard from the bloggers in this thread about a pattern of neglect, a tin-eared response, and the squandering of whatever reputation the site has left. I suppose this means Seed’s staff has finally shrunk to the point that it can no longer shield the outside world from Seed’s leadership.

  62. DPSisler

    @Johhn Kwok: Still railing about being banned, eh? Your PS is inappropriate on this thread.

  63. Cromercrox

    I believe the adverblogtoriole has been removed. I drink green tea, myself, when I can’t get the old battery acid and iron filings.

  64. khan

    Lat news: they’ve killed the Pepsi blog

  65. @Mims:

    I’ve got no idea if the staff has shrunk to the point where they can’t continue to provide a shield, or if the shield has simply suffered too many perforations over the years to be maintained any longer.

  66. It should be noted that Brookhaven has just published a note at their Sb blog that clarifies things somewhat – they aren’t paying for the space.

  67. John Kwok

    @ DPSisler –

    Perish the thought. To be perfectly blunt, I couldn’t care less about my relationship with PZ. But I do care when PZ allows his blog to become an online venue in which someone could post a death threat against two other science bloggers, Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum, and claim, after an ensuing uproar online, that it was actually meant as a joke (And PZ is so utterly clueless that he thinks the uproar has to do with coarse language, not with the sad fact that he’s allowd his blog to degenerate into an intellectual cesspool that would condone the posting of a death threat, as long as the one posting it would claim later that it was a joke.).

    [CZ: Attention, shoppers. This will be the final comment in this particular Kwok-vs-PZ digression. I will delete any additional ones that continue to veer this way. Let’s focus on the Pepsi affair.]

  68. Steve Moyer

    So … instead of leaving and disrupting each of your blogs, why not stage a boycott/protest? Include a note at the beginning of each post that recommends NOT purchasing PepsiCo products. Even better would be recommending a drink that is actually good for you (Milk? Water?).

    Then you can all stay put and (theoretically) happy:)

    [CZ: FYI, as some folks have noted above, Pepsi has already left the building.]

  69. Just to add to the list, Eruptions is back to blogging on SB for now after FF was pulled, but after some of the tone deaf responses by management and a general feeling of neglect (aww), I’m pondering what to do next. Of course, it helps to be heading out into the woods for a while to let this little tempest settle some.

  70. Hey all — thanks for pulling together this list of who’s where, Carl. I just moved Culture Dish to my site at http://rebeccaskloot.com/culturedish and put up a post explaining my future plans for it (which, in short are: Who knows what’s going to happen). I may move my blog onto another media blog site (like … oh … say … this one maybe?). Or I might leave it on my own site and blog independently. Haven’t decided yet, but either way, you can follow Culture Dish via RSS feed on the new site, and I’ll post about future moves there.

    [CZ: Thanks, Rebecca. I’ve updated the list.]

  71. It seems that the GE blog has been pulled down as well. Anyone know the names of the other old corporate blogs, are they also gone?

  72. All four corporate blogs are gone.

  73. Well, shoot, I was hoping to see them take on the science, like this from sciencenews:

    “Fructose sweeteners may hike blood pressure
    Human study confirms trend seen earlier in animals
    By Janet Raloff
    Friday, July 2nd, 2010…
    … The more fructose American adults add to their diets, the higher their blood pressure tends to be. … If the new data are confirmed, they might go a long way toward explaining a more than tripling in hypertension rates over the past century — a period when “fructose consumption has increased dramatically in industrialized nations including the United States,’ the authors say…”

  74. Also, Adam Bly started his own blog: http://scienceblogs.com/scienceisculture/
    In trying to figure out how not to moderate comments (default setting) he may realize we need tech support…

  75. Indeed. I was just thinking about asking him if this is a good time to discuss the pitfalls of MT. But it somehow seemed too cruel…

  76. Stephen Wells

    The URL still has “hath” instead of “hast”, which thou knowest to be bad grammar, dost thou not?

    [CZ: I dunno…do spelling mistakes in URL’s really count?]

  77. From what I’ve seen, the people most critical about SEED’s conduct have been the journalists.

    This is pretty far from a good thing. It’s the flipside of what happens when a magazine like New Scientist runs sensationalistic dreck on their cover: knowledgeable scientists, who could and should be part of spreading the word about their subject, don’t trust the media and don’t want to work with them. Now, people in the business of covering science will look askance at everything the SEED Media Group does. They’ll have to wonder how any new blogger got their job: merit, or cash on the barrelhead? Yes, a few long-runners with established histories might be safe, but what about the folks who haven’t built up a reputation for being forthright and irascible?

    SEED managed to arrange syndication and link-exchange deals with entities like National Geographic and the New York Times. How will negotiations like that go when everybody in publishing thinks that SEED has no regard for the separation between editorial and advertising?

    We’ve had enough troubles sorting out the relationships among the different organizations and professions involved in the science communication biz. I can only see this making it worse.

  78. I despise Pepsico and expected to finish your article with a Yah Man!!

    But, after reading both your comment and their explanation, I am 100% on their side. I agree both with ScienceBlog’s rationale that all smart people should be able to communicate their ideas and all sincerely concerned professionals involved in the topic should want to know them. I also totally sympathize with their economic need. If everyone takes a cynical view of these sort of interactions, even when they include fairly serious efforts to make sure that objections are answered, we will have no science publications. We almost don’t, already.

    Sorry. You don’t have this one right.

  79. I agree both with ScienceBlog’s rationale that all smart people should be able to communicate their ideas

    And when was that ever in contention? Congratulations for buying into somebody else’s strawman.

    I also totally sympathize with their economic need.

    And their lack of business ethics?


  80. Blake, I’m not sure what you are trying to say here. It sounds like you think I am an idiot and that my judgement on the matter is stupid. You shouldn’t talk to me that way and you shouldn’t make such flip judgements about my analysis.

    And no, I’m not buying a straw man. Nobody ever did contradict freedom of speech. However, I join ScienceBlog in feeling that it is a benefit to allow these people into the conversation and it is an important value. Pepsi’s apparent desire to have their contributions branded is a requirement to be balanced against that premised. You might disagree, but you apparently haven’t actually thought it through, either.

    I am impressed that your dismissal of the economic issues comes with an equal lack of meaning. I don’t see how their business ethics are compromised. As best I can tell, the Pepsi section is well identified. People made other suggestions about how to make it clearer and reduce any potential appearance of journalistic malfeasance, and they have responded. I don’t see how your sarcastic, “Sheesh.” is either respectful or helpful.

    In the grand scheme of things, I continue to think this is actually a good thing. Now we know where to look for Pepsi’s supposed ‘scientific’ viewpoint. If it’s stupid, let the flame wars begin. It will be nice to have a URL to point to documenting the stupid stuff. I’m pretty sure they have a huge R&D budget. Perhaps they have some sincere people there that will say interesting things.

    And, of course, it’s also possible that some science guy at Pepsico is sitting at home, disappointed that the coup he engineered at work, getting this gigantic, heartless company to direct some money into a decent online science publication, is being viewed with such cynicism by people he used to like. (I imagine the earlier conversation, “Honey, you will never believe it. I got those knuckleheaded PR guys at work to support, get this, ScienceBlogs!”)

    Blake, I honestly think you owe the readers of this page an apology for dumbing down the discourse. Nobody comes to Discover Magazine, or ScienceBlogs for that matter, for sarcasm and innuendo or interpersonal insult.


  81. A bunch of self-important bloggers (one of whom works for freqent Internet censor Google, and another whose blog was nothing more than a long-running advertisement for her insipid book FFS) pitch a hissy fit over a food blog and take their ball and go home. Good riddance, as far as I’m concerned. Science Blogs is better off without them. Many of them were posting unscientific dreck anyway.

  82. Highly Allochthonous has officially departed scienceblogs for our own domain: http://www.all-geo.org/highlyallochthonous. We hope readers will follow us to our spiffy and completely self-controlled home.

  83. I left Sb 2 months ago after four years there and a year and a half at Blogspot. Most all of that time was great. Great readers, no interference, a lively group of colleagues. I left for my own reasons. But if I were still there, I’d be leaving over these reasons. Once, some years ago SMG thought it would put up a DoD column. I strongly objected and they didn’t go ahead. This has been the pattern. They do something dumb, the bloggers revolt and they back down. The problem is that they keep doing stupid things because they don’t have a blogger compass to know which way to go. Clueless.

    Newsflash. The world has changed. The power of the press used to mean the power of the person who owned the press. No longer.

  84. hohohhoho go Pepsi.. :)

  85. We at SciFri have been contemplating opening up our blogosphere to more bloggers. This may be a good time to move ahead.

    If you would like to be blog for us, please contact me at: iflatow@sciencefriday.com


  86. icee

    Holycrapiraflatow! I hope what he said happens.

  87. As Carl has so kindly noted above, I have left Sb as of this morning and am returning to my old site at Blogger.
    Was: scienceblogs.com/superbug
    Now: superbugtheblog.com

    The amount of discussion and support here is formidable and inspiring. I feel confident the Sb diaspora will remain connected and strong.

  88. Thanks Carl, for writing this. As a professional journalist and an avid reader of the scienceblogs, it is the pause that refreshes.

  89. MosesZD

    DeGaulle once said “The graveyards are full of indispensable men.” That’s what I call a humility quote.

    So, for all the outrage and petulant quitting, I suspect this will be a #failprotest. Nothing more than a bump in the road. Simply because there are more good bloggers than space for Science Blogs to host them. So those that left, like all the graveyards full of indispensable men, will be replaced by other indispensable men. And so it goes, time marches on…

    And while a few of the ones I read, I will follow (The Frontal Cortex, The Primate Diaries) the fact is that I didn’t even notice most of the blogs that left. Heck, I didn’t even know most of those blogs existed. In fact, for me, is the whole blow-up actually got me to explore ScienceBlogs even more as I got curious as to who left, and the manner of their leaving, and discovered a bunch of new, high-quality blogs.

    I suspect that will be true for many others as well, and I bet some of Jonah’s posts at The Frontal Cortex can even tell us the benefits of these kinds of changes and getting out of ruts… Maybe I’ll ask him to write one, if there isn’t one…

    Anyway, we’ll see what happens. But as a Science Blogs user… It’s a been a boon. The blogs I like, I can still follow AND I get the benefit of additional exploration and new venues.

  90. Thanks, Carl. I just got back from a month at sea and couldn’t figure out why my Google Reader was so empty. I really appreciate the handy list.

  91. Fizzle
  92. I’ve moved my blog to Ira Flatow’s operation at ScienceFriday.com. Just starting up.


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The Loom

A blog about life, past and future. Written by DISCOVER contributing editor and columnist Carl Zimmer.

About Carl Zimmer

Carl Zimmer writes about science regularly for The New York Times and magazines such as DISCOVER, which also hosts his blog, The LoomHe is the author of 12 books, the most recent of which is Science Ink: Tattoos of the Science Obsessed.


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