Joe Rogan: Celebrity Turned Pseudoscientist
Our current generation might be familiar with a celebrity who has a large social media platform, Joe Rogan. Rogan is well known for comedy, commentating UFC and hosting a podcast. The podcast, The Joe Rogan Experience, has become a popular outlet for a wide audience. The host interviews guests of all political, professional and educational backgrounds that vary in career choice and expertise. Some may argue that this podcast offers a deeper understanding of the guests, an opportunity to gain more knowledge of these people behind the scenes. For example, during the presidential election, Rogan invited a few presidential candidates to interview them about their candidacy. The host also invites guests ranging from scientists, psychologists and other contributors to the science community. This would make his platform seem like an all-encompassing, responsible and unbiased source of information. Inviting speakers from all backgrounds would encourage listeners to create their own opinions after receiving information from these sources. His influence became strengthened with the presence of these types of guests, accumulating more followers and listeners.
One might assume a host with a weighted platform would attempt to remain unbiased and remain a sense of integrity with his fanbase. As COVID-19 news spread like wildfire, individuals sought information that would put their fears at ease. Social media, in general, plays a critical role in the spread of information; however, we must evaluate the same role in the spreading of misinformation. Rogan’s personal beliefs about the virus began seeping through his platform. Some might argue that the podcast is his, suggesting listeners to avoid his social media if they didn’t agree with his opinions. As a counterargument, others approach the topic with a widespread sense of responsibility when it comes to a voice as influential as Rogan’s. Comparing it to an average person, who may have a handful of followers on social media, would not hold the same weight as Rogan’s hefty follower count when attempting to spread scientific information about the virus. A proper evaluation about why people dedicate value to the voices of underqualified individuals should be an evaluated study for today’s pseudoscience phenomena. While interviewing professionals in the science community might allude to Rogan’s vast knowledge, it doesn’t. He is not a medical professional and has not received the proper education to give advice to the masses.
Subtlety of Pseudoscience
Rogan had contracted COVID-19 recently and decided Ivermectin would be an appropriate experiment for the treatment of the virus. The Food and Drug Administration states that Ivermectin is utilized to treat parasitic worms, either inside or outside of the body (Food and Drug Administration, 2021). The tablet version is recommended for humans that seek treatment for parasites; however, the Ivermectin for animals, specifically horses, is not recommended for human use to attempt to treat COVID-19 (FDA, 2021). Rogan stated that, in addition to taking a human dose of Ivermectin, he was given a “Z-pack antibiotic dose, a vitamin IV and monoclonal antibody treatment” (Romo, 2021). Romo (2021) stated in the NPR article, Rogan claims that “younger, healthier adults shouldn’t feel the need to get vaccinated, even agreeing that getting vaccinated is the safest way to combat COVID-19” (para. 5). Instead, he claimed he beat his COVID-19 due to the multitude of treatments he received. People, who are against vaccines and monoclonal antibody treatments for COVID-19, would argue that the other medicine would suffice for the virus. I believe Rogan failed to support the medical treatments and how powerful they’ve proven to be during the pandemic. His claims supported the use of Ivermectin in replacement of the vaccine whether that was his intention or not.
While there are more obvious sources of pseudoscience, I personally think the more subtle ones can be even more damaging. Someone with a social media influence, and not a reliable medical source, reach a target demographic. Influencers sharing their health views on a serious issue, like the virus, makes their ability to alter the opinions of their viewers that much greater. When we come across a COVID-19 pseudoscience article, advertisement or video common sense almost automatically kicks in for people who can recognize political buzzwords and source information. I do not think politics, or personal biases, should be involved in the spread of health information; these sources should be thoroughly unbiased.
The difference between a ridiculously obvious pseudoscience source and social media influencers is the fanbase loyalty. Like mentioned previously, the fanbase of Rogan experience loyalty because of the reputation his platform has. If we see medical health professionals, scientists and biologists on his podcast we’re automatically going to assume he acts like an unbiased liaison that connects average people to these professionals. Media Monitors supplied a demographic survey for The Joe Rogan Experience. This Media Monitors (2020) survey states, based on the people that responded, that:
“Males make up 71% of the supporters and is about equal in high school to post-secondary graduates. The average age is 24 years old. More than half make over $50,000 a year and around 19% make over $100,000 a year” (para. 3).
Rogan was able to make professionals more accessible with an outlet that is easily digested by a younger audience. Rogan stating that “younger people don’t need the vaccine” is an irresponsible claim to make with a platform his size (Romo, 2021). I’d like to assume people can make these important health decisions for themselves but pseudoscience can cause a snowball effect of hysteria and fear. Influencers are named this because it’s what they’re capable of: influence. Instead of spotlighting scientists, who dedicate their lives to their studies, we now have the voices of politicians, celebrities, influencers and everyday people adding to the topic.
Overall, pseudoscience can be threatening to the advancement through a pandemic. Through previous pandemics, internet access and social media weren’t an obstacle. Regardless of my personal health beliefs, people should be able to find credible background information about the vaccines easily to make that choice for themselves. Scientific articles aren’t hard to find which suggests the possibility of confirmation bias being a culprit of pseudoscience source supporters. It was estimated: “internet usage increased by 20-87% during the global pandemic” (Naeem et al., 2020). Social media influenced the mass spread of virus information, factual or not. Ivermectin wasn’t the only experimental “cure.” Some studies reported people were suggesting: “ingesting chloroquine, drinking cow urine, really hot water and neat alcohol” (Naeem et al., 2020). As time has passed, we see how detrimental these suggested remedies are when we’re almost 2 years into a pandemic.
Rogan’s platform should be utilized to continue to interview guests, not suggesting that an anti-parasite medication could have helped cure his virus symptoms. A responsible figure would realize the weight his voice has because his platform wouldn’t be as significant without the listeners. It’s incredibly irresponsible to suggest treatments that haven’t been clinically studied to treat COVID-19. In addition, Rogan has the privilege of easily affording healthcare; he was able to experiment with treatments. This is a luxury most people cannot afford. If he’s avoidant of the vaccine because of the rollout process, why wouldn’t he be hesitant about a medication that is meant for a parasite and not a virus? This helps prove that factual knowledge about the virus isn’t being widely evaluated by the public, whether due to confirmation bias or not. Straying from social media, news outlets and advertisements can make COVID-19 virus topics less intimidating. If the Food and Drug Administration advises against using a certain medication for a virus, I would suggest reviewing an array of scientific literary sources to come to a well-rounded conclusion.
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FDA. (2021, September 3). Why you should not use ivermectin to treat or prevent COVID-19. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Retrieved October 24, 2021, from https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/why-you-should-not-use-ivermectin-treat-or-prevent-covid-19.
Media Monitors. (2020, March 2). Audience demographic variations are specific to genre and even individual podcasts. Media Monitors. Retrieved October 26, 2021, from https://www.mediamonitors.com/audience-demographic-variations-specific-to-genre/.
Naeem, S. B., Bhatti, R., & Khan, A. (2020). An exploration of how fake news is taking over social media and putting public health at risk. Health Information & Libraries Journal, 38(2), 143–149. https://doi.org/10.1111/hir.12320
Romo, V. (2021, September 2). Joe Rogan says he has covid-19 and has taken the drug ivermectin. NPR. Retrieved October 24, 2021, from https://www.npr.org/2021/09/01/1033485152/joe-rogan-covid-ivermectin.