Symbol Stacks And Science Communication In The Scienceblogs Pepsigate Scandal
    By Hank Campbell | July 6th 2010 11:27 PM | 43 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Hank

    I'm the founder of Science 2.0®.

    A wise man once said Darwin had the greatest idea anyone ever had. Others may prefer Newton or Archimedes...

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    I happened to be reading Howard Bloom's book The Genius of the Beast when I saw something odd happening in social media - there was a minor blow up on a science blogging site called over a new column that would be written by people from Pepsi, which threatened to become a major blow-up because of social media, and it got me thinking about re-purposing and symbol stacks.

    Re-purposing is nothing new - anyone who has turned a milk cartoon into a baseball glove, as I watched Sammy Sosa do one time, understands that re-purposing works.  And sometimes it is necessary.    Conditions change and, as Howard notes, we all dance to the 'pendulum of re-purposing'; we begin life as an embryo and then dramatically change to an infant and dramatically change into a child, a young adult and so on until we finally reach our ultimate sort of re-purposing - a corpse.

    Those are all big physical changes, of course, and we have just gone through a big economic and cultural one in the recession of 2008 and drastic changes lead to vibrations in our 'symbol stacks'.   If you are familiar with C or a programming language, you know what a symbolic stack is; it is a virtual path backwards when you debug a program.   In an economic context, a symbol stack is something different.   In the beginning, if you had vegetables and I had meat, we would establish a value and trade.    Over time, as markets grew and more people had more goods, a first order symbol stack was created, a precious metal like silver and gold.  Its value in goods was established  and over time, as it worked, the symbol became interchangeable with the item, part of society's "scaffold of habit."

    Obviously you can extrapolate that out to currency as a second order symbol and then credit cards as a third order symbol - the benefit being the higher order symbol you use, the more creativity you have in transactions.   The higher order the symbol, the bigger lever you have to make things happen.    But it also becomes more abstract, and harder for most to understand the pitfalls.   How many of you are experts in credit default swaps and US dollar index future contracts?   Not me.  So when changes happen that shake our faith in symbols, re-purposing can be dramatic.  I had a programmer ask me to pay him in gold a year ago.   He wanted a lower order symbol than currency.   At least he didn't ask me for sheep.
    How does that relate to science communication?    There is a scaffold of habit in science communication too, and it has been erected by the audience and by some writers and it goes like this; scientists write and get paid, the audience reads for free and sees advertisements and we are all ethical.  In economics, when a symbol stack like the dollar fails, there is a panic and re-purposing happens.(1)  What happens when a symbol stack fails in science communication?

    You expect me to say Science 2.0 emerges like a phoenix from the ashes of multi-million and billion-dollar companies, right?   No, but good guess.   I don't think the 'symbol' here has failed to any extent that re-purposing will happen in science communication, but there may at least be some transparency we gain.  And some honesty about what getting paid means.

    Question:  If you get paid from a corporate marketing budget to write what you want to write, is it materially any different than if you are paid based on corporate R&D to write what you want to write?   The issue at was a new blog (2) written by employees at Pepsi on (don't laugh) nutrition.    They haven't even written an article yet but two bloggers are threatening to walk because they feel like they are selling out if Pepsi employees write there.
    Now, Pepsi is a for-profit corporation but paid writers are paid writers.   Scienceblogs people were positively gushing over the fact that similar corporate blogs written by CERN, Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), the SETI Institute, the Weizmann Institute of Science and Brookhaven National Laboratory set up shop there - and the list of public relations blogs there is longer than that.  What are those people going to write about that is ethically any different than Pepsi?   No idea, Pepsi has not written anything yet but the implication is that whatever Pepsi writes about will be unethical, so Scienceblogs paid writers do not want to be associated with Pepsi paid writers, but blogs written by paid writers from HHMI, CERN, etc. are all completely fine.

    And Scienceblogs has hosted plain old corporate-sponsored blogs before, like Collective Imagination (GE) and Next Generation Energy (Shell) along with Invitrogen, L'Oreal, Dow Chemical and Schering-Plough.  How is this different?   It isn't.

    It's disquieting to label someone unethical because they happen to work for a corporation.  There are plenty of unethical researchers working in academia and plenty of "non-profit" institutions that happen to have tens of millions of dollars in the bank.

    Where does that taint of suspicion end?  What about researchers who get corporate funding?  Right here in California, at U.C. Davis, we published an article because Mars,Inc. funded 20 investigators and created a chair in the nutrition department, spending $10 million on research just at UC Davis since 1997.  The article was written because there was an entire "Neurobiology Of Chocolate" panel at the AAAS meeting that year and only one of the researchers was not funded by Mars. One of the panel's organizers was Harold Schmitz, a visiting professor at UC Davis and the Chief Science Officer of ... Mars, Inc.

    If Schmitz wrote under a UC Davis brand rather than Mars, Inc., what would be the difference in the content?   

    The fact remains that writers at Scienceblogs are not for sale any more than someone working for Pepsi is, nor any less - both are paid, some at Scienceblogs get paid thousands of dollars per month.  Are they unethical?

    Not to me, but none of us write there.    And I am betting no one there re-purposes to Nature Networks, when they realize they would be writing for free.(3)

    Other takes on the issue updated continually until people stop talking about it:

    Scienceblogs: Pharyngula - Say hello to…PepsiCo??!? WTF? - it does not matter what anyone else writes, PZ is 50% of their traffic and is the number one science blogging site all on his own if he walks, so the fact that he came down against this means Pepsi is gone.

    Knight Science Journalism Tracker: ScienceBlogs trashes its bloggers’ credibility - "The American Society of Magazine Editors has fought this fight for decades, working hard to establish standards for advertising in magazines."  and "Sometimes old media has something important to say to new media. This is one of those times."

    Guardian Science Blog: Scienceblogs, we have a problem - "Much of the reaction is focused, unsurprisingly, around the potential for conflicts of interest. PZ Myers wastes no time in being diplomatic. "

    Scienceblogs: Laelaps - A Pepsi-Induced Hiatus - "The launch of the PepsiCo blog sharply underscores my mounting frustration with SEED. The SEED management team has repeatedly failed to treat me and my fellow bloggers with courtesy and respect, and this latest event goes beyond disrespect into actively undermining our credibility."   While PZ Myers is The Guy at Scienceblogs, he has a certain wit and doesn't mind blowing people up, whereas Brian Switek is more the moral compass there, so this is not good.

    Scienceblogs: ERV - SciBlogs caves to hysterics - "In 2008-2009, we had a sponsored blog here by Invitrogen. As far as I know, Invitrogen had no apparent editorial control over what got posted there. As a result, the blog turned into an EPIC TRAIN WRECK, when several SciBloggers took it upon themselves to post anti-GMO rants. Now, none of these SciBloggers had any experience with GMOs in the lab. There was no science content in these posts. This was simply a platform for these people to use their position of privilege at ScienceBlogs to push a political agenda, completely devoid of science."   Whaaa?  Scienceblogs put its progressive agenda ahead of science?   Forget looking for Pepsi And Shell, someone should ask if the Democratic National Committee has been funding the site the entire time.

    Knight Science Journalism Tracker: ScienceBlogs trashes credibility: Leaked response from editor - "If the credibility of ScienceBlogs was in doubt this morning, it has vanished this afternoon."  They may be a little too delighted at the threatened and real departures.  Blogging is not journalism and their writers are, for the most part, not journalists, so some of this could be Old Media "I told you so".   Paul seems to think Scienceblogs is all of blogging, though he can be forgiven for that, since Scienceblogs people think the same thing.  They are 1/3 but the rest of us do just fine without "long-term sponsorship contracts".

    Southern Fried Scientist: Blogging with integrity - "It’s about trust. You trust us, or you don’t ... But the network matters too. The network lends credibility. Informally, many readers who trust our opinions also trust that we read well informed, honest blogs as well."  Here's a bit of reality from the many millions who did not trust the Scienceblogs network long before today - no one joined there because of trust, they joined because it is popular.   And it is popular because it is controversial, not because the science is better than many other places.  7 people have said they will leave, 4 likely will.  And they will be replaced rather quickly because readers may care about trust but writers there want to be read.

    Forbes blog: Pepsi Enrages Science Bloggers - "greatly diminishes the credibility of ScienceBlogs by providing a corporation with a platform to advertise to readers without actually calling it advertising"

    Guardian: Letter from Seed editor Adam Bly to contributors - "We think the conversation should include scientists from academia and government; we also think it should include scientists from industry."   But academic institutions can write for free because it increases prestige, whereas industry scientists need to write a check?

    Rennie's Last Nerve: Teetering “Chinese Wall” Falls on Scienceblogs - "As someone who spent almost 15 years as the editor in chief of science magazine where these kinds of conflicts between editorial and advertising always threatened to rear their head, I’m not unsympathetic to the bind that Sb found itself in."   "Unfortunately, in this case, Sb chose poorly, and the uprising among its bloggers is the result."

    Guardian: This isn't the first time Seed has sacrificed editorial independence - "As for Bhopal, it's a cautionary call on our part as we're in the midst of advertising negotiations with Dow (who have been inspired by Seed's photography in their own brand campaigns)."  No surprise that they tried to spike stories that would harm them.  They have tried to spike entire sites that might cost them some money.

    The Scholarly Kitchen: The Pepsi Syndrome: Did ScienceBlogs Sell Out, or Was This Just Business As Usual? - "One of ScienceBlogs’ most prolific bloggers is an employee of the Public Library of Science, and a huge amount of what he writes is advertising for their journals. Bora is an interesting and compelling writer, but many of his posts are merely copy and paste listings of papers released in PLoS journals and their abstracts. He’s using ScienceBlogs as a marketing platform for his employer, promoting their content, adding valuable links to help search engine optimization, and actually gaming PLoS’ own system for article level metrics".  Look for Bora to respond with "But ... but ... they're CONSERVATIVES" to rally a defense for the companies that pay him.   Like the other site he uses 'conservative' as an insult for, though, this one is not involved in payola for blogs and killing stories for advertisers.

    The Consumerist: PepsiCo Buys Its Way Onto Science Blog Network As A Food Nutrition Expert - "Yesterday, PepsiCo placed a full-page, semi-permanent advertorial on the ScienceBlogs network. Or actually, it created a micro-site within ScienceBlogs to provide compelling user-centric content that builds PepsiCo's position as a thought leader in the field of nutrition. Or wait, no, it's actually a blog, just like all the other science themed blogs on the network."

    Wandering Gaia: Why I exposed Seed - "My reason behind telling this tale is that some people think that the ScienceBlogs fiasco has been a lot of fuss about nothing...Those who left the security of ScienceBlogs may not have jeopardised their entire earnings, but it was a brave decision and I want to let them know that they were right – this is not some one-off by Seed, the company is grubby and without integrity. And it should be revealed as such."

    Decision Tree:  PepsiCo at ScienceBlogs - "Whether we like it or not, the prepared food industry will be a major player in our food supply in the near future. We need to find novel ways to engage these companies to improve health and nutrition in society."

    Scienceblogs: Neuron Culture - A food blog I can't digest - "Hoo boy. I never thought I'd have to resign a blogging position in protest. But so I find."  Dobbs is a serious writer so blogging is not his primary income but is he taking an ethical stand or abandoning a place he loves when he needs it most?  Tough call.  If he does not change his mind, check him out at Neuron Culture.

    Scienceblogs: Respectful Insolence - Blindsided by my corporate overlords and PepsiCo - "There's a problem brewing and ScienceBlogs, a disturbance in the Force, if you will, and it's a doozy."   The Force?   Don't they call themselves The Borg?  That's a completely different show.

    Scienceblogs: Thus spake Zuska - "Perhaps a more interesting question is, should I be outta here now anyway? If an enterprise like ScienceBlogs cannot be funded except by taking money from sources that you and I, Dear Reader, deem offensive and unethical - why should I continue to contribute? "

    Scienceblogs: Causobon's Book - "But I'm asking that they separate out the Pepsi blog, and put Pepsi in the logo, and make it clear it falls in a different category than all the other blogs. Otherwise, my blog will be departing."

    Scienceblogs: Observations of a Nerd - "What bothers me far more than the presence of this sponsored blog is the mindset of commenters and non-Sciblings who have now decided to boycott ScienceBlogs for this."

    Scienceblogs: Good Math, Bad Math - "For now, I'm suspending my blog for a few days. If Seed decides to back out of this spectacular stupidity, then I'll start posting here again. If not, then I'll go looking for a new home for GM/BM."   Discover is going to be laughing all the way to the bank.   No one would leave for the same money, but if you make them mad, they will leave for less.

    Scienceblogs: Culture Dish - Culture Dish Doesn't Live Here Anymore
    - "I'm now on a Pepsi-Induced Hiatus, however like like David Dobb's and Blake Stacy's, my hiatus from ScienceBlogs will be permanent."

    Adam Bly rightly appeals to diversity, though for the wrong audience, while reminding them they are big and one writer or another bolting won't change that.  And maybe disclosing more than writers who chose to turn a blind eye to the obvious wanted to know:

    "Finally, let me address the economics. SB, like nearly all free content sites, is sustainable because of advertising. 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. We started experimenting with sponsored blogs a couple of years ago and decided to market long-term sponsorship contracts instead of sporadic advertising contracts."

    Scienceblogs: Common Knowledge - Of Pepsi and ScienceBlogs... - "...perspective means that the choice is understandable, not that the situation was handled well. If a site like SB is going to do this, then the entire process must be painfully transparent. I've watched as sites I love, like and some of the various Gawker blogs, began to accept sponsored links - but they are LABELED as such. "

    Discover: The Loom - Oh, Pepsi, What Hath Thou Wrought? - "Over the next couple weeks, I plan to build a list of bloggers who refused to drink the Kool Aid and tell you where to go to read them now." 

    Scienceblogs: Speakeasy Science - Jet Lag -  "So my questions at this point are mostly selfish - is the remaining community still a comfortable home? Some of my favorite bloggers have chosen, after all, to stay. Is this the right place for a chemistry and culture blog still? Was I wrong to give up the pure pleasures of a personal blog where I'm responsible for no one's mistakes but my own?"   It depends on why she went there.   I assume she read it prior to joining, so she likes their in-your-face attitude.  Or she liked the size and the audience.  Neither of those things have changed.

    Scienceblogs: Science is Culture (Adam Bly started a blog) - Referring to Wandering Gaia above, "If that's an email that came from someone here, then it reflects an isolated mistake. I would suggest asking Ms. Vince's other previous big employers in science media if they've made any." I guess he doesn't understand what science is, since he insists it is culture, but that is a different matter.    It is interesting that after nearly 5 years he finally started a blog.  The knock on him was always that he wouldn't respond to anyone on Scienceblogs, making them feel like they were just a marketing arm to sell Seed subscriptions.   Now it is the only thing that gives the company value.

    DC's Improbable Science: Pepsigeddon: why bloggers shouldn’t be paid - "Seed pay their contributors per page view, though I haven’t yet been able to discover how much (will anyone tell me?)"

    Scienceblogs: Abel Pharmboy - PepsiCo blog, Food Frontiers, is an affront to those who built the reputation of ScienceBlogs - "When I joined ScienceBlogs four years ago last month, I was contractually promised complete editorial control over my content, including the right to ridicule anything ScienceBlogs does, and have never once been asked to adjust any of my writing. Never. Not once. Nor has a single blogger I know ever been asked to alter content. I specifically point this out because the Food Frontiers blog lists Evan Lerner as ScienceBlogs editor - he does not edit my content or anyone else's."    I have to wonder that there is any legitimate discussion at all of the transparency of Pepsi researchers when the critic doesn't use his real name.

    Scienceblogs: Abel Pharmboy - Two questions about Pepsigate and #SbFAIL: Contracts, principles, and credibility - "There has been much congratulatory commentary regarding those bloggers who were "principled" and left ScienceBlogs in protest...However, is it implicit that those of us who remain at ScienceBlogs are "unprincipled" or are otherwise lacking in credibility?"  - It's a good question and, if it turns out the people who stayed are paid the most, self-answering.  He has a technical issue which prevented him from doing a poll on the issue but we are happy to help.   Typepad or whatever that thing is, is still PHP so we can get him set up in minutes.   In their defense, the people who staying may be the ones who realize now is when Scienceblogs needs them most - conduct Scienceblogs ridicules Catholics for regarding abuse scandals, etc.

    Scienceblogs: Observations of a Nerd - Why I'm Staying
    - "I couldn't see a reason to be more pissed at this instance than any other. After all, Seed has put a blog from Shell on here - let's be honest, a year ago, that could have been BP and no one would have blinked, even though now bloggers would be up in arms about it. There seems to me to be a bit of a double standard, that certain corporations are OK and others aren't."

    Scienceblogs: Brookhaven bits&bytes - A clarification - Kendra Wilkinson clarifies that "There's no money being exchanged between Brookhaven and ScienceBlogs.   Of course, we see this as a good public relations opportunity. But that doesn't mean that this space will only be used to redistribute press releases (and I hope our first posts have shown that)."    Well, those of us outside Scienceblogs do not doubt anyone in science outreach in advance, but that goes for corporate bloggers as well as institutional ones.    The fact remains that an independent blogger might be able to criticize Brookhaven and this blog will not.   So the only real difference is that Pepsi was forced to pay for access to the Scienceblogs audience.

    Cocktail Party Physics: growing pains - "I did note the World Science Fair and US Science&Engineering blogs when they appeared, and felt a twinge of dismay at the recent inclusion of blogs by specific research institutions rather than individuals. I just assumed this was part of an education and outreach effort on the part of SEED Media. Now, in the wake of Pepsipocalypse, I'm not so sure. I, personally, would really like to know which blogs are paying to be there"  ... well, we know that the World Science Festival and USA Festival barter advertising and we know that Weizmann, Brookhaven, etc. pay no money.   The fact remains that independent bloggers could be critical of any of those organizations if they choose whereas PR blogs, for-profit or not, whether we like them or not, cannot be anything but PR.

    True Slant: 'PepsiGate' Rocks the Science Blogging World - "PepsiGate may be over, but the questions it has raised about the commingling of marketing and journalistic content are just beginning to swarm in the blogosphere. And, clearly, much damage to the credibility of SEED and ScienceBlogs has already been done."

    SkeptiFem: Pepsi '10 - "...many people pointed out how other corporate blogging of the past on SB went on without outrage. Most people were unaware of it. It isn't like this was a one time lapse in judgment on the part of SEED on this issue, it has apparently happened a few times before, something you completely failed to mention in your defense- while in the next breath accusing the writer of the gaurdian article to be "unbalanced" for not reporting things that illustrate SEED's journalistic integrity."


    (1) What symbol should have fallen during the 2008 recession?  Credit cards.   Because they are not 'real' money the same way dollars were not real 100 years ago, unless they were backed by gold - a lower symbol.  But injecting $8 trillion into banks kept them from collapsing and so a new symbol has survived.

    (2) Also new, they went a little Science 2.0 and figured out that our supercategory toolbar was cool.
    Scienceblogs toolbar

    (3) Though they might start their own confederation of blogs and make a go of it.   Selling advertising is hard work and they would have a greater appreciation for what Adam Bly does over there if they had to do it and not just snipe the company that pays them.   As the CEO of another science media company joked to me one time, "I am convinced media buyers went into that business because they hate science."


    Right here in California, at U.C. Davis, we published an article because Mars,Inc. funded 20 investigators and created a chair in the nutrition department, spending $10 million on research just at UC Davis since 1997. 
    Obviously I am not knocking UC Davis or Mars for funding studies.  Just the opposite, in fact.  If I have a choice between taxpayers funding studies on candy and Mars doing it, I want Mars.   Likewise I think if Pepsi wants to discuss its nutrition efforts, I think this is a good move.   I just think they didn't read the site they were joining before they joined it or they would have seen this coming.
    I knock a lot of science writing, including scienceblogs, for a kind of fundamentalist addiction to a world-view that simply disallows the existence of a lot of reality that the discipline is simply not structured to be able to look at. and the accompanying hubris. and like politicians basing all decisions on re-election, doing science on the basis of funding or tenure or reputation.
    there is a reason for the saying, science proceeds on the basis of funerals.
    as for pepsi ... toxic crap

    I agree about Pepsi, though I am not knocking them for being any less ethical than partisan shills who write science through their political or cultural framework and get a check every month but rationalize they are superior.   Scienceblogs has its market and they do it well but it is a marketing-driven group.

    They seem to be jockeying for all those institutional blogs to make themselves immune to Discover poaching their good writers.  Like I said in the article, there will be some saber rattling but no one there will leave and go back to blogger.  They like the money.

    Regarding your last part, science is about explaining the world according to natural laws so attributing things to something else would be unscientific.    It may be hubris though I think plenty of astronomers, for example, appreciate the beauty of the universe even if they cannot define 94% of it.
    Amateur Astronomer
    "anyone who has turned a milk cartoon into a baseball glove" Was that a carton? I don't object to Pepsi writing blogs, especially when they put their name on it. They could very easily send some prestigious person to write a blog without the logo. That happens a lot in business. Would the other blog site object if Pepsi was offering to sponsor the site and put the messages into a paid advertisement? I don't think they would object. There are issues right now in a hate campaign waged against corn sweeteners and the products that use it. Then there are issues about fat and salt in corn chips. Pepsi's opponents are having a cheap shot at the company in articles and blogs that pretend to be objective. Maybe some of it is objective, but the history of disinformation in other topics is suggesting that At this point I should say that I have a vested interest in the corn business, and have friends in the top management of PepsiCo and Frito-Lay Division. Health warnings have to be taken with a bit of moderation. Five liters of Pepsi a week might make me fat, but four liters seems to be a safe level. Corn chips might make my chili safer to eat, unless I eat twice as much as the usual amount. I find a lot of fault in the popular recommendations for a healthy diet. The advice to drink lots of water, eat mostly fiber, little carbohydrates or protein, and no salt or fat would be fatal to about half of the population. For one thing the fluoride in many water supplies would be a fatal dose if the advice on drinking water was taken everywhere. In fluoride poisoning some people take cola and salty corn chips as the antidote. Other people take salty meat and starchy potatoes as the cure. Moderate eating with a balanced diet is probably best. A little fat can prevent hunger between meals in some people. There is a movement in state governments to put a surcharge tax on convenience foods that use corn products. They need to get more money somehow. The hate campaign that goes with it is very offensive to corn producing regions. Remember corn producers in USA are supported by 32 Senators, maybe more by election time. In scientific terms, the sugars in corn sweeteners, dextrose and fructose are the same chemical structures as sugar from some other sources that are not under attack. The corn product is just lower in price and dominant in the world market. If Pepsi wants to blog and put their name on it, I suggest that they should be welcomed on Wow! I just noticed you changed the URL. It looks great. If Pepsi wants to sponsor the site, I suggest that would be a good idea too.
    It was indeed a paper carton.  He was a poor kid in central America and had no money so they had to re-purpose.  On film, and in maybe 45 seconds, he showed how to make a darn functional baseball glove.

    It is unclear why they objected to Pepsi and not Shell or GE, on the for-profit side, or HHMI and CERN and the rest on the non-profit side.  They are still only doing uncritical public relations for their companies.

    Pepsi can advertise here, though I imagine if Pepsi signs up and starts talking about how nutritious their product is, that would likely get the same response from the audience that they are getting over there - but the difference is it would be about the data and not the fact that Pepsi scientists wrote it.   A distinction between us and more militant sites is we show the studies documenting that calories are calories and corn syrup is no worse than any other sweetener.    What does make Science 2.0 different is, because we are not owned by a magazine or media company, we don't have to go to institutions and offer to do this kind of thing for them.  So various bloggers can talk all they want about ethics while they cash checks but we walk the walk.
    Although I'm fairly liberal and don't buy much in the way of processed foods (especially in the summer when the farmer's markets are out), proposing extra taxes on things with high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) or other corn products is something I completely disagree with. Aside from the social engineering aspect, am I the only one who considers it insane to take tax money to subsidize corn farmers to make their product dirt cheap, and then taxing it again on the back end to make it more expensive?

    One other quick point, I've seen the commercials for HFCS that talk about how chemically it is the exact same thing as regular sugar, but I know just recently I saw a study (and forgive me for not having the link, I can track it down if need be) that made the claim that it's still worse for you because the bonds between the molecules are already partially broken down from the processing the corn goes through. In essence, it takes less work for your body to digest HFCS than regular old sugar, which means it is more easily stored as fat.

    Fair enough, but that's the point. We could (and would and do) publish both.  If another site that claims to be progressive is intolerant of all industry researchers they're not providing the scope of science knowledge that actually exists, they're instead just engaged in a cultural agenda.   

    The audience, and fellow contributors here, are smart people so they see through hoopie, whether or not it has peer review slapped on it or if it is from academia or a company that makes money selling soda.
    Don't mistake my intentions, I agree with your article and the premise of your argument. :)

    These blogs are not straight news, and most never claim to be. As long as the data is there for everyone to see (or shown to be readily accessible), construct your opinion whichever way you choose.

    By the way, here is the HFCS study if anyone is interested:

    "High-fructose corn syrup and sucrose are both compounds that contain the simple sugars fructose and glucose, but there at least two clear differences between them. First, sucrose is composed of equal amounts of the two simple sugars -- it is 50 percent fructose and 50 percent glucose -- but the typical high-fructose corn syrup used in this study features a slightly imbalanced ratio, containing 55 percent fructose and 42 percent glucose. Larger sugar molecules called higher saccharides make up the remaining 3 percent of the sweetener. Second, as a result of the manufacturing process for high-fructose corn syrup, the fructose molecules in the sweetener are free and unbound, ready for absorption and utilization. In contrast, every fructose molecule in sucrose that comes from cane sugar or beet sugar is bound to a corresponding glucose molecule and must go through an extra metabolic step before it can be utilized.

    This creates a fascinating puzzle. The rats in the Princeton study became obese by drinking high-fructose corn syrup, but not by drinking sucrose. The critical differences in appetite, metabolism and gene expression that underlie this phenomenon are yet to be discovered, but may relate to the fact that excess fructose is being metabolized to produce fat, while glucose is largely being processed for energy or stored as a carbohydrate, called glycogen, in the liver and muscles. "

    I find PZ meyers' outrage over this adorable.
    Oh, and I don't care what the Supreme Court said. Corporations aren't people. I read blogs written by sentient beings, not committees of shills.
    Reminds me of Tim Robbins in Team America.
    It's an odd balance.  He likes the money he makes (who doesn't?) but has to dislike the corporations who pay him.   I can tell you, servers are expensive.   

    But to outsiders, Scienceblogs can look like 'committees of shills', except shills for progressive and atheist culture - it is not exactly a warm and fuzzy place for conservatives or people of faith.    That's their market and they are hands down number one in blogging so the conservative in me says "yayyyy, capitalism" but it is always ironic that they dislike the very thing that makes them money.
    Gerhard Adam
    Actually that Supreme Court ruling is one of the dumbest things the high court has done.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Becky Jungbauer
    I don't object to Pepsi writing blogs, especially when they put their name on it.
    I think Jerry's point above, and Hank's that Pepsi is somehow considered unethical while non-profits like CERN are not, are spot-on. Do I unconsciously hedge a bit if I see a for-profit corporation's logo on a press release? You bet. I think that's just part of being skeptical. Do I unconsciously give the benefit of the doubt to a place like CERN because it is respected? Sure. I think that's just part of heuristics. However, this does not mean that one should be skeptical of the data for one and not the other. Their motives, maybe, but not necessarily the data (although this, too, can be manipulated by either side). At least if the name is on it, we can identify the source (like you always do with News Staff articles), so it isn't just regurgitating PR.
    It highlights a key difference between various writing cultures; we don't think the audience is gullible whereas some sites do.   And obviously some writers are a lot more militant than others about a veneer of impartiality even though they happily cash checks.

    I don't think Pepsi researchers are shills any more than I think HHMI PR people writing corporate blogs over there are shills - but their writers think there is a huge difference.
    Amateur Astronomer
    The Pepsi issue is about the rising price of corn in Chicago. There is competition tooth and nail for corn supplies between food processors and fuel grade ethanol refiners. I work for both groups. The clue is that energy prices are expected to rise. The statement was made in a recently quoted speech from the US president. Higher fuel prices mean that ethanol will start depleting the corn reserves again, unless the public can be influenced to consume less corn sweeteners. It's a choice between food or fuel. Pepsi Cola is just easier to criticize than some other food companies. It doesn't happen by chance that the research reports all arrive just at the right time to argue one side of the question or the other. There is too much at stake to leave the price of corn to chance. Everyone will meddle in it. Corn is serious business on a large scale. A few years ago corn was selling for around $2.25 per bushel. Then it went up to around $7.90. Recently it was around $3.50, but today it was closer to $3.70, closing near the high. At the lower price 100 big corn mills in USA, each used several million dollars worth of corn every day. A one penny change in corn price is enormous. The price a factory pays means life or death of the business. On the Pepsi topic I would suspect that there is more motivation than just the professionalism of a journalist. Readers might find a big ethanol company working behind the scenes. Everyone has a stake in the corn issue.
    Pepsico owns more sites than most people own furniture.  They have enough blogs already: already they are blogging!

    The question is, why would they want to start blogging at scienceblogs?

    I am always very suspicious of people who want to post the same 'facts' on multiple sites.

    Maybe funding should be double-blind: money should be donated to science per se, rather than to a special area of science.

    Or maybe an industry could be allowed to fund any studies as long as they have no connection with that industry.

    Maybe the world would be a better place if the oil industry funded nutrition studies and the food industry came up with a double-monster-extra-fillings-family-sized-gorge-burger big enough to stop that darned wild well.
    My assumption is they got sold on the idea.  It isn't the first over there.  It isn't even the 10th.  It is non-traditional marketing, and so a lot more valuable than the kind of simple banner ads we do.

    If Pepsi talked to me and asked me if they could pay to have a blog here, I would tell them no.  But they can have one for free.   We'd judge the research on its merits, not give them a free pass because they pay money.
    they can have one for free.

    I think that's a great idea.

    We'd judge the research on its merits,

    That is what I like about writing here.  Personal attacks are few and far between.  Most comments are civil and on-topic.  And there is always plenty of room for a bit of friendly banter - a thing you never get to see in peer-reviewed literature. :-)
    In spite the fact that I am annoyed by Pepsi forcing my favorite restaurants to only serve Pepsi, and not Coke which is my 'drugs', I do not see why they shouldn't be allowed to maintain a science blog. There's a lot of science going on in corporate world, actually, not only at Universities and Research Institutes. Need I remind you of IBM who've won Nobel prizes?

    Like you indicate Hank, as long as they stay on topic and contribute with quality and/or (serious) entertaining popular science, that is all fine and dandy. :-)
    Bente Lilja Bye is the author of Lilja - A bouquet of stories about the Earth
    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    IBM may have won Nobel prizes but they are also a very strange company. They once rejected me as a graduate trainee after giving me an aptitude test because my IQ was too high, which was a backhanded compliment. They said that they never employ people with IQs over 150 because people with high IQs are too difficult to control. Before that in an earlier interview they told me that if they employed me I would have to 'eat IBM', breathe IBM and think IBM'. I think I had a very lucky escape. About 10 years later I had the misfortune to be employed by an insurance company that used IBM mainframes and I have to say that their computers were the clunckiest dinosaurs that I ever encountered.
    My article about researchers identifying a potential blue green algae cause & L-Serine treatment for Lou Gehrig's ALS, MND, Parkinsons & Alzheimers is at
    Ooops! I pushed the "IBM button". :-)
    Bente Lilja Bye is the author of Lilja - A bouquet of stories about the Earth
    Gerhard Adam
    About 10 years later I had the misfortune to be employed by an insurance company that used IBM mainframes and I have to say that their computers were the clunckiest dinosaurs that I ever encountered.
    While I'm no apologist for IBM, I would have to argue that your description of mainframes is inaccurate.  There's no coincidence that IBM essentially drove most of the competitors out of the mainframe market, and it wasn't for producing multi-million dollar clunkers.

    More importantly, many of the mainframes get a bad rap because of poorly written user applications and the politics of change within organizations.  So, while I don't really want to engage in the "mainframes are dinosaurs" debate, the reality is that mainframes are still the lifeblood of large scale computing and that isn't likely to change anytime soon.  However, it is unfair to characterize IBM mainframes as "dinosaurs" and "clunkers" when they have some of the most sophisticated technology available in computing.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    When I came to that IBM project management job from a Digital equipment (Compaq) background, I came to understand the hard way, why there were so many poorly written IBM mainframe user applications and why there was such political reluctance to change anything in these IBM mainframe environments. The job for me and my team was to write an add-on cover note system which would interact with the existing system and was to follow the same design structure. As is often the case, the original guru who had designed and written the system with a team of 20+ programmers working for several years, had left a year earlier after an argument, and there was nothing but hundreds of programs, 20 + programmers, all experts in a small area of the system and very little documentation. The organisation and the country will remain nameless, however eventually, with very cluncky tools (compared to DEC/Compaq's programmer interfaces) I was eventually able to work out how things hung together, and that was not an easy task, even though I had worked on a similar system before. It would have taken me about 2 weeks on Digital Equipment and instead it took me about 2 months, because the IBM programmers search and display tools were so archaic. I actually had to cut down a small forest and print out all the programs, much to everyone's amazement. Eventually, I discovered a design flaw which explained why each year a significant number of clients in certain situations simply disappeared out of the system. I pointed this out to the management who told me not to worry, just write my add-on system with the same design flaw, because it was virtually impossible to change the existing system. I refused and left, which is probably why IBM don't employ trainee analyst/programmers with IQs over 150. So that is why I formed my impression that IBM mainframes were cluncky dinosaurs. Maybe things have improved now, and without a doubt they were and probably still are very powerful machines. Like an ocean liner, they are difficult to stop and turn and they need to be steered by someone who really knows what s/he's doing and where s/he's going, preferably with good maps, otherwise smaller craft unfortunate enough to be in the way, also have a tendency to suddenly disappear.
    My article about researchers identifying a potential blue green algae cause & L-Serine treatment for Lou Gehrig's ALS, MND, Parkinsons & Alzheimers is at
    Gerhard Adam
    As I said before, poorly designed and written applications have little to do with the computing environment in which they exist.  However, I still take exception to your notion that there are " so many poorly written IBM mainframe user applications".  As I stated previously, these systems still run the world's largest corporations and despite numerous counter-claims I find few platforms that come close to their capabilities.

    Who would you argue is better suited?  Microsoft?  Sun?  Unix and all it's various flavors?  The simple reality is that if you don't know what you're doing, then you probably shouldn't be on a particular system, especially as an architecture or programmer.  There is no doubt that many companies made serious blunders in how they managed early applications, but that still is not a worthy indictment of the entire platform.
    Like an ocean liner, they are difficult to stop and turn ..
    In fairness, it is typically the management that is difficult to "stop and turn".  Admittedly when one has systems supporting millions of transactions per day, the politics of change control become a significant influence, however that is also not an indictment of the computing platform.

    It is important to note that these systems will run indefinitely if properly managed with some companies going 12+ months between "reboots".  Even then, the only reason is to integrate new changes and upgrade software or hardware.  Show me a comparable platform and you'll have my attention.

    Mundus vult decipi
    As a guy somewhat intrinsically involved in hardware back in the day because it had to run robust physics software, I can say HP was harder to program for - Sun being easiest and SGI being sort of a joke outside graphics - but users certainly never complained about any of the machines.

    In contrast to operating systems and bloatware common today, users expected our code to help them do problems faster as hardware got better - and it did.    And there were some UNIX machines that hadn't been rebooted since 1988, which was kind of a problem since we didn't develop on the older OS for those.

    So she may be onto something with the poorly written apps stuff, but I can't say it is because IBM is bad or just different.  If programmers have a choice between an easier system and a more complex one that may be more powerful, they will go for easier.    I promise you, when I am Emperor of the Universe, you will all be forced to standardize on one browser and one OS.  But because I will build them, they will be awesome.   This Science 2.0 stuff will be a heck of a lot easier to manage that way too.
    Gerhard Adam
    I have no doubt regarding the awesome bit.  However, how do we know that Science 2.0 won't simply become Hank 2.0 when you're Emperor of the Universe?
    Mundus vult decipi
    Never thought about it.  I guess I am just too darn modest.  The fact that I just bought that URL is merely coincidence.
    Gerhard Adam
    Why am I not surprised, Your Awesomeness?
    Mundus vult decipi
    Becky Jungbauer
    You realize he's going to expect us to address him as that from now on... :)
    Gerhard Adam
    Do you think he'll accept the abbreviated YA?
    Mundus vult decipi
    Becky Jungbauer
    Perhaps, as long as we include a trumpet fanfare with it.
    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    It was you who said "More importantly, many of the mainframes get a bad rap because of poorly written user applications and the politics of change within organizations" I was just agreeing with you. You ask "Who would you argue is better suited? Microsoft? Sun? Unix and all it's various flavors?" Well as you've already pointed out IBM managed to get rid of most of their mainframe competitors, but Honeywell, ICL and DEC were pretty good at the time. I think that money and politics are often more important than merit in determining which of these companies were ultimately successful. The almost fanatical army of IBM staff and ex-staff also helped. You also say that "The simple reality is that if you don't know what you're doing, then you probably shouldn't be on a particular system, especially as an architecture or programmer". Well I wasn't an "architecture" or a programmer. I was a Project Manager and a systems analyst employed to analyse the current systems architecture and incorporate the relevant parts into a smaller add-on system, then to lead a team of contract programmers who were experts on that system. I had extensive prior expertise in the IT industry in this business which they valued. I soon learnt from the resident IBM experts that it was much easier to restructure the system on a DEC VAX platform than it would have been on this IBM platform, which is why the management couldn't even consider doing this, even though I had proved to them that the system was flawed. As you said "There is no doubt that many companies made serious blunders in how they managed early applications, but that still is not a worthy indictment of the entire platform".Well I'm not criticising the entire IBM platform, just the one that I encountered quite a long time ago. I was in an unusual position to be able to compare the same business and systems running on different platforms and I found the IBM platform to be a cluncky dinosaur. Are you in a position to make the same comparisons?
    My article about researchers identifying a potential blue green algae cause & L-Serine treatment for Lou Gehrig's ALS, MND, Parkinsons & Alzheimers is at
    Gerhard Adam
    ... but Honeywell, ICL and DEC were pretty good at the time. I think that money and politics are often more important than merit in determining which of these companies were ultimately successful. The almost fanatical army of IBM staff and ex-staff also helped.
    I don't necessarily disagree with some of your points, but you obviously have a real issue with IBM.  Most of the people that I knew were no different than anyone else involved in marketing or support for a vendor.
    Well I wasn't an "architecture" or a programmer.
    Afterwards, I realized how that might sound, but I wasn't meaning to imply that you were an architect or a programmer.  That was simply supposed to be a general statement about any system's required expertise.
    Are you in a position to make the same comparisons?
    Actually I am, however just to be clear when I'm referring to the IBM mainframes, I'm talking about S/360 and up.  There were certainly a number of systems that turned out to be dead-ends, but none of those would be considered a mainframe (i.e. System/7, S/36, etc.).

    Mundus vult decipi
    It's a different culture here - on the 'corporate' side, we would never take money for that but would let them write for free.  On the contributor side, people are not going to go all militant kooky unless there is a legitimate reason.

    I also predict by the end of the day most of them will be back.  Bly has already said Pepsi has withdrawn it and, let's be honest, those bloggers like the money.

    2 or 3 will stay gone but there was no 'diaspora' no matter how they tried to frame it and the people who left were, with one exception, no real traffic.  Bly said he was sorry so it's time for them to find something else to be hysterical about over there.
    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    Its great to see the bloggers making an ethical stand against something they think is wrong. However, I think they are underestimating the public's ability to assess the quality of the blogs they read. If Pepsi's bloggers write crap the public will recognise it as crap. Whenever an advertisement annoys me I make a mental note to NEVER buy that product and always stick to it, surely I can't be alone.
    My article about researchers identifying a potential blue green algae cause & L-Serine treatment for Lou Gehrig's ALS, MND, Parkinsons & Alzheimers is at
    That's an excellent point.  The audience is not dumb, but that is why we are an open community and they talk more at people.   Some of the writers truly believe by Pepsi being there is an endorsement.

    They could have let the audience deal with Pepsi based on content and instead made their site kind of a laughingstock by going nuts over something minor.
    Gerhard Adam
    They could have let the audience deal with Pepsi based on content and instead made their site kind of a laughingstock by going nuts over something minor.
    I don't think that's how it would've played out though.  That's the kind of philosophy that works only when you aren't dependent on their revenue.  Once you need their money, then you become beholden to the notion that they can't become offended.  From there it's virtually assured that it becomes an endorsement.

    I agree with your point that they shouldn't have had to pay for the blog.  Then there wouldn't have been any financial connection and if Pepsi was offended by the comments, then so be it. 
    Mundus vult decipi
    I'm the same way. I refuse to purchase products from any companies that force me to sit and watch 30 seconds of their commercial before I can watch something on Youtube. I know Youtube has to pay their bills, but when I want to see a cat playing a piano I want to see it NOW.

    Making $1.5 billion back with cat piano videos is going to be tough for Google without ads.  2007, when everyone was flush in pretend Internet money, was a lot of fun.
    Becky Jungbauer
    True. But man, that cat playing piano is awesome!
    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    Cadbury's have combined the gorilla playing the drums and the advert! Ironic really as they have chopped down the gorilla's habitat to grow the cocoa trees. See
    My article about researchers identifying a potential blue green algae cause & L-Serine treatment for Lou Gehrig's ALS, MND, Parkinsons & Alzheimers is at
    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    I like this version better -
    My article about researchers identifying a potential blue green algae cause & L-Serine treatment for Lou Gehrig's ALS, MND, Parkinsons & Alzheimers is at
    hmmm sounds a lot like if we're looking at the same image, because you're a man it's porn but because I'm a woman it's erotica.

    I don't see a difference between one corporate blogger and another - it's just a case of pretending the science corps are somehow more ethical or pure of heart than a commercial corp blogger

    it reminds me of when Starbucks opened up on a hip street in town that had a lot of Italian mom n pop coffehouses - the locals were in an uproar.

    and totally forgetting that Starbucks all over the area had been collecting postal codes to figure out where to open up new shops.

    so, if Starbucks is good enough to drink when you're in a different area of town, then you don't have a leg to stand on when one comes to your part of town.