Friday, September 24, 2010

Will Blog for Food

Welcome to the 200th post in my science blog! YAY! (insert confetti cannons here)

To mark this historic event (or just event at least) I've decided to present a story on blogging. Actually, its an editorial that is featured in this month's Nature Neuroscience. The piece centers around the topic of corporate sponsored scientific blogs vs. editorially independent blogs and the need for the disclosure of potential conflicts of interest.

You may, or may not, have heard or seen that PepsiCo sponsored a blog called Food Frontiers on the popular science website The blog was written by PepsiCo's food scientists about the company's research and was then cancelled only 2 days after the launch due to the discontent voiced by independent scientific bloggers. These independent scientific blogs (I'm gonna call them indy-blogs for short) are editorially independent, started as a grass-roots movement, are typically written by scientists and science journalists, are a way to freely share and discuss scientific matters, and are considered by some as an alternative news source. I'm sure you can see where the indy-bloggers are coming from against this whole corporate thing. Add in the fact that the blog platform is hosted by Seed Media Group, a corporation.

Should commercial blogs be allowed to share a blogging platform with these indy-blogs?

Should what are now being called blog conglomerates (, Discovery News, etc) be viewed as legitimate news sources on the web?

As to that second question at least, I do find myself going to such websites to see what kind of stories are gaining media attention. Perhaps the difference, in my case, is that I try to actively seek out the original source material (usually journal article) if I can. And so, perhaps, this is more a question about the reliability of science journalism itself, particularly with the huge cuts many media outlets have given their science journalists and the sources scientifically-untrained journalists are using. The editorial states an interesting stat to this point: "In 2009, 63% of science journalists employed by mainstream media outlets reported to have found 'stories' on a scientist's blog, compared with 15% five years earlier." Granted, the blogosphere has grown enormously in the last 5 years.

What about this growth of the blogosphere? By its very nature it is a medium which can service niche interests, provide alternative news sources, and be an outlet of opinion. But it is also a medium that imposes and regulates its own code of ethics and can be very appealing to the anonymous writer. The casual reader can be easily influenced and even overwhelmed with the information they can find in this sector of the internet. After all, when it comes to fact-checking the casual reader is more likely to just read the blog entry and move on.

Let's loop this argument back to the conglomerates, the corporations, and the PepsiCo example. Because there are so many blogs available and because blogs have assumed the role of science journalism what kinds of lines should be drawn? I mean, one of the main problems with the PepsiCo blog was that Seed Media failed to make it clear that it was corporate sponsored, especially since it was on the same site as indy-blogs. This particular opinion I happen to agree with. I see no problem with corporate blogs designed to highlight corporate sponsored research as long as the blog clearly defines that it is corporate sponsored. Should I say corporate again? Corporate corporate corporate.

Anyway, perhaps the blogosphere will police itself as it has with many other issues. Maybe we just need to give it some time.

This all made great sense in my head, if it made no sense at all to you then I encourage you to read the editorial. Actually, I encourage you to read it either way:
Editorial. (2010) Good blogosphere practices. Nature Neuroscience: 13(9), 1035. (DOI: 10.1038/nn0910-1035)

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