The Public Health Advocacy Institute (PHAI) is an organization we have much respect for.
Its latest blog post written by Cara Wilking, JD, looks at Coca-Cola’s tactic of spinning science, framing public health advocates as ‘detractors’ and essentially writing its own rules on science communication.
- “The Coca-Cola Company’s pouring of millions of dollars into the Global Energy Balance Network (GEBN), a front group focused on exercise as opposed to diet to combat obesity, has crystallized an issue that the public health community has long been concerned about: the role of industry funding to research and develop solutions to public health threats.”
- “Coke’s funding of GEBN is part of a well-articulated company strategy it calls “Balancing the Debate.” Coca-Cola’s chief scientific officer, Rhona S. Applebaum , PhD, laid out the Balancing the Debate strategy at a 2012 conference for the sugar industry. The strategy seeks to discredit what the company calls “detractors” in the scientific community like Kelly Brownell, Dean of the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University (formerly of Yale University), and public health organizations like Center for Science in the Public Interest.”
- “To that end, Ms. Applebaum, shared Coke’s strategy to “Balance the Debate” by using three interdependent steps: “Cultivate Relationships,” “Collaborate Research,” and “Communicate Results.” These steps, if properly taken, will result in a balanced debate that will “Address the Negative” and “Advance the Positive” for the food industry.”
- “To add a gloss of legitimacy to Coke’s vision for funding science to serve its agenda, its chief scientific officer, Ms. Applebaum, co-authored two papers: one in 2009 with guiding principles for industry funding of food science and nutrition research, and one in 2012 with guiding principles for establishing panels of scientific advisers.”
- ” With respect to funding food science and nutrition research like that conducted by GEBN, Ms. Applebaum co-wrote the following guiding principles, stating that ‘In the conduct of public/private research relationships, all relevant parties shall:’
- conduct or sponsor research that is factual, transparent, and designed objectively; according to accepted principles of scientific inquiry, the research design will generate an appropriately phrased hypothesis and the research will answer the appropriate questions, rather than favor a particular outcome;
- require control of both study design and research itself to remain with scientific investigators;
- not offer or accept remuneration geared to the outcome of a research project;
- prior to the commencement of studies, ensure that there is a written agreement that the investigative team has the freedom and obligation to attempt to publish the findings within some specified time frame;
- require, in publications and conference presentations, fully signed disclosure of all financial interests;
- not participate in undisclosed paid authorship arrangements in industry-sponsored publications or presentations;
- guarantee accessibility to all data and control of statistical analysis by investigators and appropriate auditors/reviewers; and
- require that academic researchers, when they work in contract research organizations or act as contract researchers, make clear statements of their affiliation; require that such researchers publish only under the auspices of the contract research organizations.
- “These guiding principles clearly were not adequately followed in the case of Coke’s funding of the GEBN, and it remains to be seen what other research it has been cultivating as part of its effort to “balance the debate.” Moreover, the whole concept of funding “defensive and offensive science and research” is completely at odds with the principles of objective research design contained in the guiding principles.”
Again we have to ask: why does the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics think Coca-Cola — which has, time and time again, been shown to actively fight public health policy and market sugary beverages to children — makes an appropriate sponsor for a nutrition organization? The answers we have always heard from Academy leadership are a repetition of Coca-Cola’s talking points about “working together” and “communicating science”. Why is science on the harmful effects of soda ignored?