Over the weekend, Joe Rogan started the latest skirmish in the battle between the vaccine skeptics and the true believers. It all started with a Vice Media article about a Joe Rogan podcast episode featuring a vaccine discussion with Democratic Party presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. A prominent vaccine-boosting scientist, Peter Hotez, seemed to approve of Vice’s critical take, and in response, Rogan offered Hotez $100,000 to debate Kennedy on the podcast. Now the debate kitty is worth well over a million bucks thanks to prominent skeptics piling on.
Modern Medicine Man Avoids the Joe Rogan Experience?
You don’t get much better medical and vaccine credentials than Peter Hotez. Amongst his many stellar achievements and positions, he is a Professor of Pediatrics and Molecular Virology & Microbiology at Baylor College of Medicine, where he is also Director of the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development. On Saturday, June 17, he tweeted a link to the Vice piece titled “Spotify Has Stopped Even Sort of Trying to Stem Joe Rogan’s Vaccine Misinformation.” Hotez said, “It’s really true.”
In addition to hosting the #1 podcast in the nation, Joe Rogan has a massive Twitter following of over 11 million. Rogan challenged Professor Hotez, offering $100,000 to the charity of his choice to debate RFK Jr. on the podcast. Kennedy is a prominent vaccine skeptic who has publicly criticized vaccine safety since well before the recent pandemic. Professor Hotez responded to the attention by offering to speak with Rogan by phone or email and to come on the show to explain things, but he never directly agreed to the debate request. Inflation has hit everyone pretty hard, but $100,000 is still worth mentioning, n’est-ce pas?
Mr. Rogan called out Hotez on his evasion, calling his response a “non-answer” in a tweet and sending multiple messages requesting a direct reply to the debate invitation. Meanwhile, Rogan’s challenge ignited a pile-on from interested vaccine skeptics. Billionaire hedge fund manager Bill Ackerman and social media influencer “Top G” Andrew Tate are among the many who announced they would add to the bounty for Hotez to step into the octagon. Ackerman said he would pay $150,000, and Mr. Tate, fresh off a controversial arrest and months-long detention in a Romania, offered $500,000. Twitter user @TheChiefNerd has kept an accounting of many pledges, from Tate’s half-million down to several thousand-dollar bids from accounts with barely any following.
Elon’s Town Square Reacts
Amongst those critical of him on Twitter, Hotez has a reputation of being an apologist for big pharma and denying vaccine adverse events. He was encouraged to debate by some big names, including Jordan Peterson, who wrote, “[L]et the public decide. People will respect you for your courage even if you ‘lose.’ And there’s no losing if you just tell the truth clearly.” Others urged Hotez not to do it. Atlantic author Tom Nichols wrote Hotez (and every expert) should decline because “it elevates the conspiracy guy, demeans the medical professional, and will only convince the kooks out there that RFK is right because a real doctor took the time to debate him.” Rogan was having none of it and replied:
“That would be a great suggestion if you could assure that the industry you were representing wasn’t completely captured by heartless monsters who have a history of some of the biggest criminal fines in human history because their deception has cost hundreds of thousands of people their lives. It would be a great suggestion if the industry you were defending didn’t occasionally look at human beings as an opportunity to generate insane wealth regardless of the tragic consequences. But you can’t do that, so… maybe it would be a good idea to have a f—ing [sic] debate.”
In the realm of ideas, if you pardon the pun, refusal to debate under charitable terms must create a rebuttable presumption of defeat. Social media has seized upon the offer and refusal as the most important topic of the day, and the public will make either their demands or their assumptions. Should the doctor continue to evade, the dominant idea may well become the one that Elon Musk argued: “He’s afraid of a public debate, because he knows he’s wrong.”
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