How Joe Rogan Can Help Science
Shouldn’t we be helping him embrace science rather than pulling his plug?
The pitchforks and torches are out, and the digital mob has circled Spotify. Neil Young, a man espousing many non-scientific positions, has pulled his catalog from Spotify, while selflessly promoting his other online catalog. Other artists followed suit. Spotify’s share price dropped and subscribers canceled. The masses screamed epithets of derision against Joe Rogan, the comedian and MMA announcer turned podcaster, the personality hosting a wildly popular show.
Rogan has earned some appropriate criticism. He provided his powerful platform to pseudoscientific interests that threaten public health. His willingness to promote contrarian views not based in evidence breaks the trust in science that we all need to navigate and escape this pandemic.
That said, does it make sense to unforgivably trash Rogan, or can we use this watershed to develop him into an advocate for science?
I was fortunate to be a guest on the Joe Rogan Experience in 2015. At the time I had ranging feelings about Joe. He was a great standup act, and he made beautiful people in swimsuits chug smoothies made of maggots and pig brains on Fear Factor. Pure gold.
At the same time, he helped kill the beloved Man Show and had wacky views on moon landings and other topics. Still, I was glad that he invited me to set the story straight on genetically engineered crops.
When he opened the door to his studio there was not a single wisp of arrogance or attitude. It was genuine interest in the topic, in me personally, and my views as an expert. Speaking with him was like bullshitting with an old friend, and he asked great questions that were spawned of his concerns. Three hours of interview disappeared in minutes. This is his decorum with every guest, unfortunately even those that do not represent positions grounded in scientific consensus.
My feeling is that he wants to know, and he wants to get it right. He’s on a personal journey across an interview table with two microphones, and he lets millions of listeners share that experience.
The problem is not Rogan per se, it is the problematic guests that he books. Many of these folks hit JRE after a stint with Alex Jones or Coast-to-Coast AM. These are the darlings of pseudoscience that creep into a national spotlight, and Rogan’s stage is the ultimate prize to peddle their nonsense.
Joe is a smart guy, but these folks are experts in deceiving smart people. They pitch a sweet-sounding story, come from credible backgrounds, and maybe hold positions that seem like they speak from legitimate authority. And sadly, a flaming controversy is more interesting to listen to than mundane reality.
The problem is that with the power of a massive audience comes a responsibility to get it right, and especially not provide fuel to conspiratorial thinking that crushes trust in science.
Should we punish Joe and weaken his platform? Should we burn it down, or build him up?
Rogan doesn’t need to be censored; he needs a scientific advisory board. His podcast, popularity and sincerity could be a nucleus to disseminate the best information. His everyman curiosity, fears and skepticism could help build the trust lost throughout this pandemic — not only from his suspect guests, but from communications foibles in our own government agencies.
Joe Rogan is a poster child for calling in, rather than calling out. We need to help him fortify his filter, ask him to vet his guests more stringently. It will bring even more success to his remarkable visibility.
We need Joe Rogan to talk more, not less — just in a manner consistent with science.