Doctors finally band together against junk science king, Joe Rogan
Joe Rogan’s face should be on the sides of a lot of things: cans of Manwich meat; flyers for DMT legalization; next to the encyclopedia entry for “bloviate.” But instead, Rogan has become associated by a subset of people as a catch-all cultural authority figure. It’s hard to comprehend where he gets his authority from, especially in 2022 when we’ve largely put out the bulletin that straight, white men with microphones shouldn’t be blindly trusted just because they are straight, white men with microphones. And yet the cishet, white patriarchy reigns supreme, so people everywhere dutifully put in their Airpods and tune in to Rogan’s podcast while they toil away for corporate America. But praises on high to the science gods — luckily, actual doctors are now banding together to try and stop Rogan from spreading what they deem “mass misinformation events.”
The proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back and led a “coalition of  scientists, medical professionals, professors, and science communicators spanning a wide range of fields such as microbiology, immunology, epidemiology, and neuroscience” to pen an open letter to Spotify was an episode of The Joe Rogan Experience featuring Dr. Robert Malone (#1757) uploaded on New Year’s Eve. Their letter notes that Malone has been banned from Twitter for repeated violations of policies on spreading misinformation about Covid-19, and it’s also been reported that Youtube has already taken down third-party postings of the episode to its platform. The open letter demands that Spotify, where Rogan has an exclusive deal and the most listened to podcast, address its content: “By allowing the propagation of false and societally harmful assertions, Spotify is enabling its hosted media to damage public trust in scientific research and sow doubt in the credibility of data-driven guidance offered by medical professionals.”
In the interview with Rogan, Malone alleges that hospitals receive financial bonuses for people both arriving with, being ventilated to treat, and dying from COVID. A critical detail he fails to provide is that while that may be somewhat true in that the CARES Act did implement a 20% premium, it’s for medicare payouts. Trying to manipulate that information to make is sound like hospitals are lying about COVID-19 numbers for money, as Malone does, is misleading at best. Rogan does push back a bit against Malone in that moment, stating that he’s heard the rumor that hospitals are listing COVID deaths in situations of trauma deaths, but doesn’t feel it’s true — and yet Malone doubles down saying that it is definitely true that if people die of gunshot wounds and are COVID-positive, the hospital lists it as a death from COVID-19.
Most controversially though, Malone alleges that what has been happening with COVID-19 vaccinations is akin to the Holocaust, much like some problematic politicians like Marjorie Taylor Greene. He asks, “What the heck happened to Germany in the 20s and 30s? Very intelligent, highly educated population, and they went barking mad. And how did that happen?” He then posits, “The answer is mass formation psychosis.” His definition of the phenomenon went on: “When you have a society that has become decoupled from each other and has free-floating anxiety in a sense that things don’t make sense, we can’t understand it, and then their attention gets focused by a leader or series of events on one small point just like hypnosis, they literally become hypnotized and can be led anywhere.”
As Forbes pointed out, Malone has long been blacklisted for spreading pseudoscience. In August of last year Tom Bartlett published a story with The Atlantic, titled “The Vaccine Scientist Spreading Vaccine Misinformation.” Bartlett notes a pattern: “On show after show, Malone, who has quickly amassed more than 200,000 Twitter followers, casts doubt on the safety of the vaccines while decrying what he sees as attempts to censor dissent,” and details disturbing interviews with conservative talking heads like Steve Bannon, Tucker Carlson and Glenn Beck.
Bartlett and others have also scrutinized Malone’s claim, which was even listed in his now defunct Twitter bio, that he is the “Inventor of mRNA vaccines and DNA vaccines” — an assertion that the site Logically found to be false. Science writer Rebecca Watson summed it up in her deep dive on Malone, “Dr. Robert Malone did important work on mRNA, but today he's a bitter, broken man.” And while he is not the inventor of mRNA nor DNA vaccines, Malone continues to falsely claim that the Covid-19 vaccine is experimental and can even make contracting Covid worse.
It might be easy for some to dismiss Rogan having someone like Malone on his show as simply trying to explore other perspectives, or maybe even debunk them — but the medical professionals et al responsible for the letter to Spotify make a very important point. “Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Joe Rogan has repeatedly spread misleading and false claims on his podcast, provoking distrust in science and medicine. He has discouraged vaccination in young people and children, incorrectly claimed that mRNA vaccines are ‘gene therapy,’ promoted off-label use of ivermectin to treat COVID-19 (contrary to FDA warnings), and spread a number of unsubstantiated conspiracy theories.”
The biggest problem is that Rogan blissfully ignores his impact in favor of continuing to do whatever he wants. And that has consequences. While people who are already anti-vaxxers will look to the Malone episode with confirmation bias, those who are on the fence about the vaccine, or who don’t know much about it but listen to Rogan for insight, could take it as fact. One Twitter user wrote, “All @joerogan did was ask some very intelligent questions. But some people feel threatened by that simple feat of critical thinking. Which begs the question — how are they profiting from the narrative?” And that’s the very conspiracy theorist tone that Rogan seems to love to stoke. When it comes to UFOs and cryptocurrency, sure that’s fine, but in a global pandemic where people are dying, it is reckless to continue to platform unverified “scientific” arguments that people in turn take as “critical thinking.”
To quote a favorite phrase of the cishet patriarchy, “just playing devil’s advocate here,” I can recognize Rogan’s appeal in that he chooses fascinating and alluring guests for his show. I understand why people would want to listen. I also can slightly get behind the argument of needing to listen to varying perspectives in order to establish peace in our divisive world. I myself poured over the three-hour interview with Yeonmi Park, one of the few gems amongst his contrarian fray.
But where Rogan comes easily under scrutiny is in his platforming of dangerous ideas and thinkers — which makes it feel as if what’s learned from episode to episode is learned in a vacuum. He is not discerning with his guests and the kind of information he spreads to his massive audience. And it won’t be long before his legions of followers decry the open letter as calling for censorship — which Rogan will likely love, because white men want nothing more than to be able to pretend to feel the very oppression they propel.
The open letter ends with a clear call to action: “We, the undersigned doctors, nurses, scientists, and educators thus call on Spotify to immediately establish a clear and public policy to moderate misinformation on its platform.” We’ll see if Spotify cares to answer this call to moderate their biggest podcasting cash cow. And with Rogan’s long term success having always courted controversy without ever changing course, it’s unlikely the letter will have much impact — but we commend them for trying.