Preview Mode Links will not work in preview mode

Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of science... the thrill of discovery... and the agony of failed experiments... the human drama of scientific advancement... This is the Blue Streak Science Podcast!

Dec 10, 2015

What The Hell was That?An image of the COP21 Climate Summit logo

Kaitlyn Thomas of Cape Town, South Africa correctly answered last week's WTHWT challenge with the answer of: bald eagle

Blue Streak Science News

A$$#*\& of the Week

Coca-Cola’s top scientist is stepping down after it was revealed that the company was funding scientific research that minimized the role of their products in the spread of obesity.

Coke’s chief science and health officer, Dr. Rhonda Applebaum, created a group called the Global Energy Balance Network. This group consisted of university scientists, and they encouraged the public to focus on exercise and not so much about how what we eat and drink contributes to the epidemic of obesity.

Coca-Cola spent $1.5 million last year to support the group, which included a $1 million grant to the University of Colorado medical school, where the nonprofit group’s president, James O. Hill, a prominent obesity researcher, is a professor. Coke’s financial ties to the group were first reported in an article in The New York Times in August, which prompted criticism that the soft drink giant was trying to exert undue influence scientific research on sugary drinks.

This story appeared in the New York Times on 24 November, 2015.

The university returned the money to Coca-Cola this month after public health experts raised concerns.

Dr. Applebaum, who is a food scientist with a Ph.D. in microbiology, had been Coke’s chief scientific and regulatory officer since 2004. In that role she helped spearhead the company’s efforts to work with scientists as a way to counter criticism about sugary drinks.

At a food industry conference in 2012, Dr. Applebaum gave a talk about Coca-Cola’s strategy of “cultivating relationships” with top scientists as a way to “balance the debate” about soft drinks.

“Balance the debate”? I call that doing what you can to create the impression of false equivalency...something we often see with climate science deniers, too.

Coca-Cola has said that while it offered financial support for the Global Energy Balance Network, the company had no influence on the group or the scientific research it produced. But reports show that Dr. Applebaum and other executives at Coke helped pick the group’s leaders, create its mission statement and design its website, findings first reported this week by The Associated Press.

The AP also published a series of emails between Dr. Hill and Coke executives that revealed the initial strategy of the Global Energy Balance Network. Dr. Hill proposed publishing research that would help the company fend off criticism about its products by shifting the blame for obesity to physical inactivity. Dr. Hill told executives at Coca-Cola that he wanted to work on the company’s behalf to improve its public reputation. He also wrote to executives at the company that it was “not fair” that Coca-Cola was being singled out as “the No. 1 villain in the obesity world.” He added: “I want to help your company avoid the image of being a problem in people’s lives and back to being a company that brings important and fun things to them.”

In an interview in August, Dr. Hill insisted that Coca-Cola did not speak for him or his organization. “They’re not running the show,” he said. “We’re running the show.”

In a statement on Tuesday, the University of Colorado School of Medicine suggested it did not see any problems with Dr. Hill’s relationship with Coca-Cola. “The school of medicine does not prohibit faculty members from communicating with governmental, for-profit or nonprofit entities that provide funding for initiatives intended to improve individual and public health. The school does expect such efforts to be hypothesis-driven and designed to answer questions and not to advance a specific point of view.”

Michael F. Jacobson, the executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer advocacy group, said it was concerning to see “how a major corporation is using a professor to propagate their views.”

It is tempting to give this week’s award to several people in this rogue’s gallery. However, I’m sticking with just one, and it is Dr. James Hill of the University of Colorado.

You are Blue Streak Science A$$#*\& of the Week!