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Shilling for the Soda Industry

10:41 AM PDT on September 12, 2011

You get what you pay for.  Or at least that is what the soda industry thought when it hired a University of Alabama "scientist" to do its bidding, questioning the incontrovertible link between soda and obesity.  I thought being a scientist meant abiding by an ethical code to interpret research data objectively and free of bias.

Apparently I was wrong.

Just watching the excellent Consumer Watchdog segment aired September 1st on ABC News confirmed for me what I had always suspected about researchers who take money from the soda industry and use the patina of their university affiliation to veil their paycheck-inspired research findings.  The University of Alabama must be very proud to have David Allison, AKA Joe Cola, on its faculty.

What’s refreshing in a Madison Avenue soda ad sort of way about this mainstream media piece is it is just that.  A mainstream media piece on a news broadcast not known for its heavy lifting.  And what’s more ABC News is where most Americans get their news.  Scratch that.  Most Americans get their news from Jon Stewart and The Daily Show, but ABC is an actual news broadcast rather than a late night comedy hour.  What moved the network to run the piece.  Who knows?  Perhaps the boys and girls at ABC News were watching Mad Men and had a sudden pang of guilt about the industry spokesman statements they too often take as gospel.

The ABC piece carefully lays out the evidence against Professor Allison's bias thoroughly discrediting him and the shameless industry that pays his mortgage, flies him first class to conferences and funds the so called "research" he conducts on the connection between obesity and soda consumption.  Manufactured facts I call them because that is what they are.

These are tough times, and we all need to make a living.  But shilling for the soda industry on an issue as important as America's diabetes and obesity epidemic is beyond the pale.

ABC's outing of Professor Allison is a welcome development for a medium not known for pushing hard against lies and the hired guns who get paid handsomely to utter them.  Thanks to the network for taking a hard look at Allison and the industry that relies on shills like him.

Joel Epstein is a Los Angeles-based strategic communications consultant focused on transportation, public health and other critical urban issues.  Visit

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