Coke’s bogus research: Everything old is new again

Growing old isn’t without its advantages. Here’s one: I remember stuff that happened long ago, so that I recognize it when I see it happening again.

This morning’s paper brings news that the Coca-Cola company has created a nonprofit foundation dedicated to funding research. The purpose of the research? To show that lack of exercise, not excessive calories, is reponsible for people being overweight.

It brings to mind the Tobacco Institute (TI), which famously in the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s supported research refuting the growing scientific consensus that smoking tobacco causes cancer. Even after U.S. Surgeon General Luther Terry reported in 1964 that smoking and cancer were definitively linked, the TI kept up its campaign through reports and magazine articles. The TI, of course, was founded and sustained by the leading cigarette manufactures of the day.

Now it’s Coke’s turn. I’d say that sugar isn’t the only thing Coke is full of.

Coke slogan: Helping Families Get Fit (with "fit" changed to "fat")

Image source: Coca-Cola Foundation video, via the New York Times

For what it’s worth: I’ve used and enjoyed Coca-Cola products all my life. I’ve accepted the health risks and tried to exercise moderation. But what Coke is doing is just as inexcusable as what the tobacco companies did.

I’ve said this before and it bears repeating:

Most of the articles in my blog are about leadership and technical communication. They both depend on truth — truth that’s not relative and not subject to interpretation. A cornerstone of good leadership is trust, and you can’t earn trust without fidelity to the truth. Good technical communication demands accuracy — which is synonymous with truth.

Coke’s new research initiative was concocted to distort the truth. Besides misleading the public, the published results will undermine the credibility of all technical communication. After all, if a research report about diet and exercise is based on distortions, then why should I trust anything I read?

What’s next? Well, don’t be surprised if you see advertisements in which doctors — or, more accurately, actors pretending to be doctors — extol the health benefits of drinking Coke. The cigarette companies tried that tactic too. Although I’m a little young to remember them, I find the old ads to be engrossing and appalling at the same time.

Old cigarette ad: More Doctors Smoke Camels

Image source: National Institutes of Health

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