“What troubling activity is Coca-Cola up to this week?” you ask. The company that funded pro-soda research that made audacious health claims for months after the fraud was exposed has turned to borderline-intimidation tactics: The Sydney Morning Herald got hold of internal emails that reportedly lay out a “secret plan to monitor research” by anti-soda groups and other academics “of concern.” Known sugary-beverage hater the Center for Science in the Public Interest is one of the groups, and the paper lists two researchers in particular (though hard to imagine there aren’t more) — a University of Sydney health-policy professor named Lisa Bero, and NYU professor and Soda Politics author Marion Nestle.
Nestle says Coke has essentially sent spies to observe her when she’s giving speeches, and in one email that was ultimately sent to Coke’s global vice-president for public affairs, a PR consultant advises that a “key action” should be to “monitor research project outcomes” tied to Bero’s work. That monitoring should include keeping close tabs on anything about the “treatment and prevention of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease,” a topic Coke has near-obsessive interest in, for some weird reason. Notably, one of Bero’s claims to fame is that she helped expose Big Tobacco’s shady marketing techniques — and now that she’s turned her attention to Big Soda’s influence on public-health policy, Coke can’t be thrilled. (The latest batch of hacked Clinton emails shows how wide the company’s tentacles actually stretch: A member of Coke’s communications team is also working for Hillary’s campaign.)
Sydney University tells the Morning Herald that they “do not condone any form of intimidation against our researchers, whether in person or covertly, and fully support Professor Lisa Bero’s work,” with the head of her research center adding that while the monitoring is hardly surprising by now, it’s definitely still “kind of creepy.” Nestle says that as far as she’s concerned, “I assume that someone from Coca-Cola is taking notes at every talk I give and reporting in to headquarters.”
As usual, Coke purports to have no idea why anybody might feel alarmed. In its statement, the company argues the monitoring is no more nefarious than a friendly interest in “keeping abreast of research project outcomes when that research is published.”