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The Joe Rogan Spotify Experience

I’m seeing a lot of people defend Joe Rogan and Spotify and screaming bloody murder about “discussions”. So, as a Spotify subscriber since 2017 (that predates Rogan on Spotify), I thought I’d throw in my unsolicited opinion.

First, I don’t listen to Joe Rogan, don’t listen to podcasts on Spotify, and am not likely to do either of those things anytime soon even though I am a podcast addict. I’ve heard clips of Rogan and have generally heard him described as a libertarian who doesn’t want government interference, but he also supported Bernie Sanders and favored universal healthcare. So, like a lot of young white males, who make up the majority of his audience, he has no effing idea what he actually stands for. He wants it all and he doesn’t want rules. Check.

Second, the clips I have heard of him, especially with respect to Covid 19, viral replication and other “sciencey” things, indicates that he is not a science nerd. And that’s ok. Not all of us are predisposed to like long Latin words and systems biology. I get it. In this respect, he is not unlike the vast majority of Americans who don’t know an antibiotic from an antiviral. I fault the US education system for this. I think it should be a requirement of graduation to have a basic understanding of infection control and epidemiology. You shouldn’t be able to get your diploma without taking and passing a randomly generated test with 100%. No exceptions. You keep taking it and taking it and TAKING IT until you pass it. Start taking it as a freshman. Then you won’t be stumbling over words during your podcast and will know the difference between a “discussion” and an “informed discussion”.

Third, I don’t know what it is about these multimillionaire podcaster and radio hosts that make them think they know who to invite on their shows as far as science and medicine are concerned. They ain’t no Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Samantha Bee or John Oliver. THOSE guys actually seem to do their homework. Colbert’s dad was a medical doctor who specialized in…

… wait for it…

immunology and infectious disease.

Does that mean that knowledge of these subjects is passed from father to son by genetics? No. But it does mean that there was probably a culture in his family where thinking critically was passed by aerial osmosis.

In other words, there are some funny people in the media who have credibility because their sense of irony has a solid foundation of critical thought.

Rogan does not appear to be one of these people.

He invites outliers on his shows and gives them the same degree of credibility as the vast, vast, VAST majority of scientists and medical professionals. And this is where we run into problems because that VAST majority of scientists and medical professionals “discuss” stuff in a way that challenges all assumptions. Anyone who has been in a research meeting knows what I’m talking about. In addition to the attention seekers who ask irrelevant questions just to get brownie points for asking questions (you know who you are), there are your peers and mentors who ask you why you didn’t do this or that experiment or how could you draw that conclusion given that you don’t have data on X,Y and Z. It’s unsettling. It takes some time to get used to. It’s not to make you feel bad about your work, unless you keep getting asked the same kinds of questions after five years. It’s supposed to help you learn how to think through a problem and plan the right experiments so you can answer the right questions.

The scientific method has been our working model since the scientific revolution of 17th century Europe. It’s how we innovate. It works so we’re not chucking it out any time soon.

With Rogan’s “discussions”, you get none of that. And his guests are counting on that. THEY look smart compared to the guy who is having problems with sciencey words because his high school let him get his diploma without a minimum understanding of public health issues.

To have a real discussion of alternative theories, he would have to invite people on who would be able to challenge the other guests, in a respectful way. And we need to have guests who can accept that challenge in a respectful way because they have done the research and can back it up. You got a good theory that contradicts 99.9% of scientists out there? Great! Let’s hear it. How did you come to this conclusion and where is your data? You’re never going to hear this on a Rogan show. He’s not really capable at this time of moderating a discussion like that.

Fourth (or fifth, I’m losing track), one person’s opinion is not always valuable during a public health emergency. I see a lot of comments from spacey, new age, hippy types to the effect that Revolutionary Breakthroughs frequently come from renegades on the edge who can’t get no respect. But we’re not talking about Gallileo here who had a couple of centuries of astronomers who laid a foundation of information for him to synthesize. Robert Malone, the guy who worked in the area of mRNA would have been one of the giants upon whose shoulders subsequent mRNA vaccine discoverers stood to base their work. But science is primarily a team sport. We all cooperate and publish and discuss and occasionally someone will come along with some insight that will lead to a revolutionary breakthrough. Everyone is important in the process. That’s what all the footnotes and citations are about. You are supposed to read them and use their experiments. It doesn’t mean that the one guy who did one thing 25 years ago is responsible for everything and when he doesn’t get the recognition he thinks he deserves, he goes all contrarian.

But I digress.

What really curdles my oatmeal are the silly hippy types who think “natural” molecules are somehow different from synthesized molecules and believe that scientists are greedy, evil, nefarious meanies who are trying to poison us.

I’m reminded of the video poem “Storm”, by Tim Minchin. He shreds this kind of thinking expertly. One of my favorite lines from Storm is: “Do you know what they call alternative medicine that has been proven to work? Medicine.”

Come to think of it, Storm sums up everything that’s wrong with the Joe Rogan “discussion” problem. It’s worth watching. So here is is.

There are plenty of people who are having magical thoughts about their perfect immune system or ivermectin or monoclonal antibodies during this pandemic who don’t need any additional help in their pursuit of holistic medicine or quackery. They also don’t seem to understand their role in prolonging the pandemic that they claim to hate and all the restrictions that come with it.

Do they think the rest of us enjoy having to return to our car to fetch our masks, staying away from movie theaters and restaurants, and canceling important family get togethers or having to give up careers to stay home with angry toddlers 24/7? No. We also find it annoying AF. That’s why the rest of us are infuriated at the people who are not taking this pandemic seriously. They are dragging it out for the rest of us.

And here is Joe Rogan, blithely claiming that “he don’t know nothin’ bout stopping pandemics”. He’s just a comedian who wants to have discussions.

Great! Have discussions about funny things. Just don’t act like you’re presenting something of value to the rest of the world on a global health crisis. Stop telling 21 year olds that they don’t need to get vaccinated.

That goes for Spotify as well. You have a huge global microphone but instead of using it for good, you are further deteriorating the discourse around public health by lazily allowing “discussions” to be presented as carrying equal weight with the rest of the scientific community. With great power comes great responsibility.

As a Spotify subscriber, I have alternative streaming music providers to choose from. Some even have better quality audio. I don’t need to give money to Spotify to in turn use it as start-up funds for their podcast portfolio to generate additional ad revenue. They can use someone else’s money for that. If they had the only music streaming service in the world, I might have to tolerate allowing another willfully ignorant, wildly overpaid white male (it’s always males 🙄) get away with spewing misinformation cloaked in the guise of “discussions” because he’s making the company a killing.

Luckily for many of us around the world, we don’t have to put up with that. That’s money I can put towards other more worthy subscriptions that I’ve been putting off until I could get rid of a subscription service that no longer serves a useful purpose.

We’re not f#%*ing around.