Two questions about Pepsigate and #SbFAIL: Contracts, principles, and credibility

If you’re tired of talking about the debacle that was PepsiCo’s paid blog that was sprung on us here at ScienceBlogs earlier this week, please carry on elsewhere.
However, this episode is certainly the talk of both scientists and journalists. I suspect that this case will be discussed and dissected in the coming months at conferences and in journalism classrooms around the world.
Two questions have arisen in the last few days between discussion with my wife and fellow bloggers that have not been answered. One has a true answer while the other is more of a value judgement:
1. PepsiCo’s Mehmood Khan, MD, put up a post at the existing corporate home of the Food Frontiers blog about their 36-hour presence at ScienceBlogs:

Earlier this week, PepsiCo’s blog, Food Frontiers, was added to so we could begin open discussions about the role science can play in finding solutions to global nutrition challenges.
Since the announcement of our participation in, we’ve heard some very candid feedback from the ScienceBlogs community. As many of you have undoubtedly heard by now, the Food Frontiers blog has been removed from ScienceBlogs. In hearing the community’s feedback, we agree with this decision and feel that the best approach is to take a step back and first examine the role industry scientists, such as myself, can play in the discussion about nutrition science within the larger scientific community.
We knew going in that there would be real differences among scientists within and outside of industry. Our intent is to embrace that conversation, share what we’re doing, and have open discussions to learn from one another as we move toward real solutions. We look forward to engaging in those discussions in communities such as ScienceBlogs as well as here on Food Frontiers.

The specific wording that the blog “has been removed from ScienceBlogs” raises the question as to whether ScienceBlogs management canceled their contract with PepsiCo or whether PepsiCo realized they didn’t want to stay with all of the turmoil associated with their presence. While we remaining bloggers at ScienceBlogs were not privy to negotiations at Seed Media Group’s New York City offices, a contract between the two entities had to be dissolved.
Therefore, do you think that ScienceBlogs management initiated discussions with PepsiCo to cancel their contract or did PepsiCo actually initiate the discussion?
2. There has been much congratulatory commentary regarding those bloggers who were “principled” and left ScienceBlogs in protest. Many of the folks who left I consider dear friends as do I consider those who made such congratulatory statements to others. Some discussion has focused on the fact that professional journalists and book authors had no choice but to leave lest they strike a blow to their long-term credibility. Some bloggers feel that the debacle is outside of their personal blog mission to provide science content (i.e., they do not consider themselves professional journalists).
However, is it implicit that those of us who remain at ScienceBlogs are “unprincipled” or are otherwise lacking in credibility?
I’ve been trying to get a Polldaddy survey to render here for both of these questions but there appears to be some technical difficulty. And, as you might guess, there is no technical support person to contact here to help. Looks to me as though the Polldaddy widget works just fine in my backed-up blog at WordPress.
So, in the meantime, let us know in the comments what you might think about these two queries.

Follow-up on links and citations to primary literature in legacy media

Yesterday, we wrote and all discussed PalMD’s pet peeve about mass media outlets not using journal citations when reporting new science, health, and medicine stories. A lively comment thread ensued here and there.
But, as usual, I am reminded that blogfather, Bora Zivkovic, discussed this issue several times in the past at A Blog Around the Clock:

  • Ethic of the Link (13 June 2009)
  • Why it is important for media articles to link to scientific papers (3 March 2010)
  • Why is some coverage of scientific news in the media very poor? (3 June 2010)
  • Of these three, I would strongly encourage those in legacy media to read the second post because Bora writes it from the standpoint of his role as Online Discussion Expert for PLoS, the open-access journal collection of Public Library of Science. A point not made in previous discussions is that some journals like PLoS want to know and thank journalists who cover publications from their journals.

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    Do arrogant, condescending, and dismissive attitudes contribute to the journalism crisis?

    To begin, I’m not necessarily saying these are attitudes of journalists but perhaps may be of some editors and media business decision makers.
    This post was stimulated by an interesting comment thread is developing over at The White Coat Underground – a fine blog written by practicing internist colleague, PalMD. Pal wrote a short post on one of his pet peeves: the lack of journal citations in mainstream media articles of recent science and medicine stories.
    On one hand, the space taken by such a citation in print would be perhaps a line or two more than the text, “Researchers at Highfalutin University…” But in online editions, where space is endless, would simply require a hyperlink to the original publication.
    A reader named Joanne who is apparently in the journalism industry wrote back to PalMD and commenters here, here, and here (< those are cost-free hyperlinks to the original content) where she suggested that the average reader doesn't care about the original story, the idea wouldn't fly, is "ill-advised from a business standpoint," and that those of us who are interested in original sources should just use PubMed and the author names.
    Now, I will admit that I have never been at an editorial meeting of a major market news organization. But I fail to see how adding another couple of lines in print is going to harm circulation and advertising revenue.
    For example, newspapers have increasingly added to the end of long-form articles a list of non-byline contributors. Correct me if I’m wrong but that may serve the writers more than it does the reader – but I’m sure there must be a business reason as well.
    Well, here’s what I wrote in response:

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    The Florida Keys are Oil-Free!

    KEY WEST, FL – Key West News Alert 06.23.10.jpgAfter a few days of work and research discussions here, it’s time for a couple days of true vacation. The Family Pharmboy chose to leave the 101°F of North Carolina for the cooler and breezier climes of the gorgeous and peaceful Florida Keys. We’re here to right a wrong and to also dump this year’s summer vacation cash with some of our old and new friends who are currently being adversely affected by the terrible news on the northern Gulf Coast.
    However. There is no BP Deepwater Horizon oil in the Florida Keys.
    Repeat: There is no BP Deepwater Horizon oil in the Florida Keys.
    Key West Citizen 06.23.10 No Oil.jpg

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    Diluting a Disease?. . .Or Deluding Yourself?

    My clinical counterpart, surgical oncologist Dr David Gorski, has an excellent post up today at Science-Based Medicine on the irresponsible and misleading information being provided at The Huffington Post during the current H5N1/2009 influenza (“swine flu”) outbreak. The Huffington Post’s War on Medical Science: A Brief History” provides a cautionary tale for us in embracing web-based news sources as our excellent print newspapers are going by the wayside.
    Within the post, Dr Gorski shows that he is even more familiar with my writing than myself by citing a post at the old Terra Sig on the last time the press proposed the use of homeopathy to combat the then-avian flu outbreak.
    I am extremely concerned that a similarly misleading stories put forth by HuffPo’s “health and wellness” experts who lack any credentials in science-based medicine and are either authors of books on enemas or practitioners of the repeatedly-disproven practice of homeopathy. Among these stories and blog posts propose treating H1N1/2009 influenza with massage therapy, colon cleansing, liver cleansing, and detoxification.
    Dr Gorski deals with these cases in a systematic manner but I specifically take issue with any “detoxification” protocol. I have yet to have an alternative practitioner tell me when challenged what exactly are the toxins for which we are being detoxified? Chemical structures? IUPAC names?
    In my original field of drug metabolism and toxicology, detoxification referred to the oxidation, reduction, or conjugation of hydrophobic or chemically-reactive metabolites by enzymes in the liver, kidney, and elsewhere. I have never been given a satisfactory explanation of what “detoxification protocols” do for our bodies than what our intrinsic physiology of the liver and kidney already do for us.
    Off soap box.
    In any case, I thought I would unearth the post of mine to which Dr Gorski describes, when an article in Ode Magazine suggested that homeopathy might be used to treat avian flu. It’s fun to read the old stuff but I am also reminded that we keep revisiting the dangerous side of pseudoscience with this irresponsible journalism.

    The following appeared originally on 18 Feb 2006 at the old Blogspot home of Terra Sigillata:

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    Today’s Drum: Positive Black News

    Todays Drum.jpgAs of late, I’ve not been particularly good at responding to those of you who’ve been so nice to comment on the blog. So, I spent a little bit of this morning going through your comments and looking at your blogs and websites, especially those of you with whom I was not previously familiar.
    Among these was commenter Keith, co-founder and editor of an online zine called Today’s Drum. Keith was kind enough to write a couple of notes on both our Diversity in Science carnival submission on NIGMS’s Dr Geraldine Pittman Woods and the 65th anniversary of the first interracial college basketball game in the South.
    So, I went over to learn a little more about Today’s Drum, winner of the Best News Site from

    Today’s Drum is the premier news organization dedicated to providing people from all walks of life with a daily dose of the most positive, motivational and inspirational information and news stories affecting Black families and communities across the globe. Positive black news.
    Everyday, people from all walks of life logon to to celebrate the wealth of success and accomplishment in Science & Technology, Business, Art, Politics, Education, Sports & Entertainment, Civil Rights, Health & Fitness and Philanthropy empowering people of all backgrounds to make a difference in their lives, and the lives of others.
    Today’s Drum is here to serve you. We are social entrepreneurs and agents of change driven to inspire minds, one story at a time. We are the alternative to the negative images and stereotypes that unfortunately dominate most media outlets. We strongly believe that providing our communities with access to useful information and inspirational stories of achievement and success are some of the essential tools necessary in rebuilding the spirit of hope, confidence and ultimately, self-determination and action.
    Join our movement today! We need you to be an example of greatness in your home, school, office and community. Today’s Drum will continue to support you and your efforts. You are not alone in this struggle. There are millions of Black people across the globe continuing the legacy of greatness, each and every day. Today’s Drum will provide you with many of those stories as a way to feed your mind and energize your soul. Help us make black history!
    Expect the best!
    Co-Founders and Editors: K. Foxx & D. Smith

    The zine aggregates the best stories from various sources in a manner similar to that of Ode Magazine or the Utne Reader.

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    WSJ Health Blog and NYT ‘Well’ Tie for 2nd Place in AHCJ Excellence Online

    Just a quick note of congratulations to friends of Terra Sig (FOTS, if you will) on earning 2008 Awards for Excellence in Health Care Journalism from the Association of Health Care Journalists (AHCJ).

    FIRST: M.B. Pell, Jim Morris and Jillian Olsen, Center for Public Integrity, “Perils of the New Pesticides”
    SECOND (tie): Tara Parker-Pope, The New York Times, The “Well” blog
    SECOND (tie): Scott Hensley, Jacob Goldstein and Sarah Rubenstein, The Wall Street Journal Online, The Wall Street Journal Health Blog
    THIRD: Randy Dotinga, Voice of San Diego, “Suicide Magnet” [Part I, Part II]

    You’ll recognize Scott Hensley as the subject of my post the other day on his departure from the WSJ for greener pastures (I almost spelled it, “pasteurs.”), leaving the blog in the hands of Jacob and Sarah.
    Tara Parker-Pope, formerly of The Wall Street Journal and now at the NYT, is an avid reader of many blogs in the network and has linked to us on occasion – even responding to comments.

    The awards will be presented at a luncheon April 18 at Health Journalism 2009 in Seattle. Princeton University health policy expert Uwe Reinhardt will be the keynote speaker.

    Continuing in the “I Can’t Believe My Life Happens to Me” files, I ran into Uwe Reinhardt at Duke two years ago when he was trying to find a Board of Trustees meeting – we ended up sitting down over coffee where he gave me a personal tutorial on health care economics and the quality-adjusted life year (QALY). A complete gentleman and amazingly clear instructor of this health policy-challenged blogger who had no idea who Reinhardt was until I Googled him afterward.
    Back to the matter at hand: I congratulate all of our online health communications colleagues, of course, but especially those who have been our supporters through the years.
    h/t @ivanoransky

    Doctor, doctor, give me the news*

    I’ve been having this 3:30 am (EST) insomnia for about the last two months, so I often pull the laptop up and survey the blogosphere in the still of the night. A simple look at the Last 24 Hours at ScienceBlogs and elsewhere in the blogosphere tells me that some knuckleheads in the mainstream press have taken issue with Dr Jill Biden, doctor of education, using the honorific, “Dr.”
    Keep in mind that the article in question comes from the L.A. Times – the very same paper that graces my e-mail account weekly humping their fishwrapper’s science and environment coverage. I did just look up some of these articles and while some folks are referred to as Senator or General, professionals who earned PhDs carry no honorific.
    My dear colleagues below have done a collectively admirable job on addressing the historical use of “doctor” for PhDs, even before physicians used the term “medical doctor.” (However, I do believe that while physicians in Great Britain use “Dr,” it is more honorable to use “Mr” if one is a surgeon.)
    But because my pharmaceutical and herbal medicine work causes me to straddle different worlds, here are my two contributions to raise more ire regarding who should or shouldn’t be using the honorific, “Dr”:
    N.D. – Doctor of Naturopathy
    Pharm.D. – Doctor of Pharmacy

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    The Friday Fermentable: Philip White, Drinkster, and George Aldridge, Artist, Cartoonist, and Illustrator

    Adelaide, South Australia, Australia, is a place that many have told me I must visit (although perhaps not now as they are experiencing record heat). In fact, a twist of science and friendships nearly brought me there for my sabbatical before I had a big change in my life. The University of Adelaide is outstanding (and home of colleague and Astroblog blogger, Ian Musgrave), the surrounding wine appellations are world-famous, and the mountains to the northwest would be a combination I’m told I’d be certain to enjoy.
    Therefore, I was delighted to receive the following e-mail on 3 January from renowned Australian wine writer, Philip White, who was attracted by my pseudonym:

    Dear Dr.,
    There’s a lot to be said for ersatz monikers, especially if they’re cleverly constructed, which drew me to yourn.
    You made me laugh – I glued you in my regulars, which is the place to be.
    I started writing so long ago my cover was blown by the time I was six, so I’m envious.
    I do however answer to Fellici Bianco, and to various other appellations.
    I was Filth at school. My black mates call me Whitey.
    I’m sitting inside my French windows in a beautiful vineyard in McLaren Vale, South Australia. It’s about 38 degrees Centigrade outside … the cutting horses are dozing neath the eucalypts, and all the wee berrudies are taking their arvo nap. I’m sposed to be writing about geology for money, but, well, you know, it’s Saturday, the riesling is cold, I’m too lazy to cook, and sometimes a mind sets a ramblin and takes a stroll through the big cob web. Anything to do with drugs and drinking immediately attracts my attention.
    So thanks for the humourous break you gave me.
    Keep in touch,
    Philip White.

    With that fantastic imagery, it will be no surprise to you that Mr White keeps a blog of wine stories at d r i n k s t e r, and an incredible wine-tasting notes archive at Drankster.

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    Dr Douglas Prasher reprised on Inside Edition

    We here at the Terra Sig World Headquarters have been inundated with traffic directed by search engines following our post the other day directing readers to the NPR story on Douglas Prasher. Prasher, as is now widely known, is the former Woods Hole science who cloned the cDNA for green fluorescent protein (GFP) that enabled the work leading to this year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry to at least two of the three laureates. Prasher is currently driving a courtesy shuttle for Bill Penney Toyota in Huntsville, AL, for $10 (USD) per hour. Prasher had been working for NASA in Huntsville until his funding ended.
    (A great many thanks to Jennifer C who apparently works with Prasher and says, “I really hope someone heard his story and will offer him an amazing job. He has never been anything but great to all of us that work with him.”)
    An even greater uptick in search hits yesterday led us to believe that something else has happened – that something else was additional coverage of Prasher’s story on the celebrity news and gossip program, self-described as “America’s Newsmagazine,” Inside Edition, on their Tues 14 October broadcast. Currently, the video is not yet available but there is the text of the story and a few nice still photos.

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