Science podcasters call Spotify’s support of Joe Rogan a ‘slap in the face’

An engineering room with monitors, control panels and microphone.
An engineering room inside Spotify’s L.A. office.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Key people behind a popular science podcast on Spotify said Monday they were upset by the way Spotify has handled misinformation on Joe Rogan’s podcast and plan to limit their production on new episodes.

“Spotify’s support of Joe Rogan’s podcast has felt like a slap in the face,” Wendy Zukerman, host and executive producer of “Science Vs” and Blythe Terrell, Science Vs’ editor, wrote in a letter to Spotify’s CEO Daniel Ek.

Zukerman and Terrell said they believe Spotify’s rules regarding misinformation do not go far enough.

“Until Spotify implements stronger methods to prevent the spread of misinformation on the platform, we will no longer be making new Science Vs episodes, except those intended to counteract misinformation being spread on Spotify,” they wrote.


There have been growing concerns about the information discussed on “The Joe Rogan Experience,” Spotify’s most popular podcast last year. More than 200 people, including medical professionals, signed a letter asking Spotify to establish a clear and public policy to moderate misinformation. That was followed by rock artist Neil Young pulling his music from the streaming platform and other artists like Joni Mitchell following in protest.

Spotify paid millions to lure Joe Rogan but now faces pressure from more than 200 doctors to hold him to account for spreading misinformation about COVID vaccines on his podcast.

On Sunday, Spotify posted its internal content moderation policies and said it would add content advisory labels on podcasts related to COVID-19, directing listeners to a COVID-19 resource page that has data-driven facts. Later that evening, Rogan said he would do a better job of balancing different perspectives but defended the reasons for why he brought on controversial guests like vaccine scientist and skeptic Dr. Robert Malone on his podcast, who has been discredited by many people in the medical community.

In the three-hour episode, Malone makes a wide variety of medical claims to Rogan about vaccines and other issues, including that “a third of the population” has “become hypnotized” through “mass formation psychosis” as if in Nazi Germany and “totally wrapped up in whatever [Dr. Anthony] Fauci in the mainstream media feeds them.” Fauci is President Biden’s chief medical advisor.

Rogan said he supports Spotify’s plans to put disclaimers on COVID-19 podcasts and was open to making changes to his podcast.

“I will do my best to try to balance out these more controversial viewpoints with other people’s perspectives, so we can maybe find a better point of view,” Rogan said on a video posted on Spotify on Sunday. “I want to show all kinds of opinions so that we can all figure out what’s going on and not just about COVID, but everything about health, fitness, wellness, the state of the world itself.”

Rogan has been the center of a firestorm of controversy surrounding how Spotify manages misinformation about COVID-19 on its audio platform.

The drama has been closely watched by analysts, as it puts the streaming service in a difficult position. Spotify in recent years has heavily invested in podcasts through acquisitions and exclusive podcast deals. In 2020, Spotify signed a multiyear licensing deal with Rogan for his podcast, said to be worth around $200 million.

“We know we have a critical role to play in supporting creator expression while balancing it with the safety of our users,” Ek said in a blog post on Sunday. “In that role, it is important to me that we don’t take on the position of being content censor while also making sure that there are rules in place and consequences for those who violate them.”

On Monday, Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, who signed the open letter to Spotify, said he didn’t think the policy or its disclaimers was adequate.

“They’re not going to go to some website, which has COVID facts or straight talk that everyone can agree on when they basically just listen to the podcast,” Topol said regarding the disclaimers. “When they put on people who are known for having put out deliberate bad information and are leading an anti-vax, anti-science movement ... what Spotify plans to do is just not gonna be very effective in titrating the problem. It’s something, but they need to go much further.”

For example, Topol said he would like to see the company remove the episode with Malone.

Spotify has removed certain Joe Rogan episodes in the past but has not removed any related to COVID-19, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Spotify did not immediately return a request for comment.

Staff writer Matt Pearce contributed to this report.