PR 1

PR, Research, and Transparency

PR, research, and transparency keep crashing together with unpredictable results. One outcome is an ample supply of indignation, but a relative trickle of pragmatic critical thinking. The indignation comes from activists certain that nothing good could ever come from Big Food. Indignation also comes from folks from within Big Food who find themselves under siege by activists who are aided by reporters only too happy to stir up a sensational story whenever the opportunity arises.

The sensational story about Coca-Cola funding a scientific forum on energy balance seemed to get everyone going. Newspapers around the country took turns condemning Coke for yearning to bring attention to the importance of physical activity. Those reporters and commentators never paused for a moment to think that — as a matter of fact — physical activity is important.

Coke seems unable to accept that, in the context of public relations, the importance of physical activity will never, ever work for them. Never. It will always look like a dishonest diversion. McDonald’s figured this out a decade ago when they trotted out physical activity as a key message point on obesity. They dropped it. Coke should do the same.

But the larger issue is one of transparency and research integrity. Corporate financial interests get intense scrutiny, just as they did when Coke failed to be fully, proactively transparent in their support for the Global Energy Balance Network.

People would do well to remember that everyone participating in research and scientific dialog has a bias. Self-righteous people promoting their own agendas and even their own books will always be adept at pointing out the biases of others while remaining blind to their own. Personal ambitions — independent of any corporate interest — are a potent source of bias.

So transparency about potential sources of bias will never be enough to assure scientific integrity. Critical examination of the science itself is essential. Popular assumptions need to be challenged and discarded if they don’t hold up. If you want a glimpse of some people who are working hard at this, take a look at Retraction Watch and PubPeer.

The pile of discarded myths in obesity and nutrition will continue to grow

Click here and here if you care to read more about Coke’s PR debacle in energy balance.

PR 1, photograph © Oscar F. Hevia / flickr

Subscribe by email to follow the accumulating evidence and observations that shape our view of health, obesity, and policy.


September 2, 2015