Health

The information problems around the Andrew Huberman podcast

Sometimes misleading information is easy to spot, traveling in the same conspiracy theory grooves it has traveled for decades. The same ideas that shook confidence in the safety of Covid-19 vaccines have existed for more than a century, adapting the same message to new media formats, new epidemics, and new influential supporters. In some ways, George Bernard Shaw’s outspoken opposition to the smallpox vaccine in the first half of the 20th century is reminiscent of, for example, Aaron Rodgers’ misleading statements about Covid vaccines. 19.

Such misleading information is relatively easy to spot. But spotting other types of misleading information is more like identifying planets in other star systems. It is difficult to find such a planet by simply taking a direct image; radiation from the star the planet orbits can obscure it. Instead, you could look for the shadow in front of the star or the “wobble” of a star caused by the gravitational pull of an orbiting planet. You find it by looking around.

Over time, with this kind of misleading information, you learn to spot oscillations, which indicate that something may be wrong. This is what happened to me when I started listening Huberman Laboratory last fall.

Huberman Laboratory is one of the most popular podcasts in the country, led by Stanford neuroscientist Andrew Huberman. His most ardent fans — and there are millions of them — tend to be fitness enthusiasts, self-optimizers, and crossover listeners who heard about his podcast from other influencers in Joe’s extended universe Rogan. Huberman occupies an important place in the minds of his biggest fans. If you’re not in that circle, you may have heard of his work after an article in a New York magazine earlier this year detailed his personal conduct.

The premise of the podcast is simple: to present scientific insights and conversations on a wide range of topics, from longevity to mental health to nutrition. A flattering article in Time magazine last summer credited Huberman with getting America interested in science again. But more than anything, the episodes I listened to carry a promise: If you want to optimize your body and mind, science has the answers, and all we have to do is listen. It’s a captivating promise, and one that Huberman isn’t alone in making.

Silicon Valley, in particular, is full of wellness guides and well-funded laboratories searching for the secret to living the best, longest life. Other well-founded promises of remedies and solutions are circulating, particularly on podcasts, a format which seems to lend itself to this shift between the reputable and the free.

Huberman’s rise to popularity during the Covid-19 pandemic should have been a victory for the news: Huberman, an associate professor of neurobiology at Stanford with an active lab, it seemed, was a respected researcher in his field of visual neuroscience , and he fulfilled his mandate. Multi-hour podcast episodes with quotes and caution.

Popular science communication is not always the best science communication. The implicit pact that Huberman’s podcast makes with its audience — that it will help you, if you listen and follow, optimize your life — has transformed the podcast into a powerful force that shapes the way its audience of millions understands science. But the listeners of Huberman Laboratory perhaps, sometimes, hearing what some call an illusion.

When good communication goes wrong

In late March, New York magazine reported that Huberman’s lab at Stanford “barely exists” and that, according to several women who dated him during his rise to fame, Huberman had manipulated and lied to his partners ( Huberman’s spokesperson denied both allegations to the magazine, which shares an ownership company with Vox).

The profile was revealing – obscuring aspects of his personal and professional life. But even before its release, the same experts on the topics Huberman covered had questioned some of the science of the podcast itself.

This liminality, or this in-between, of Huberman Laboratory is the key to its success. When it comes to vaccines, Huberman is neither Alex Jones nor Aaron Rodgers. He’s a real scientist who cites real studies. He approaches topics that might end up attracting attention with great caution.

For example, Huberman never tell its public to avoid the flu vaccine. All he says is that he doesn’t take it himself. And yet, the subtext is there. “Personally, I generally don’t get the flu vaccine. And the reason is I don’t tend to go into environments where I’m particularly susceptible to getting the flu,” Huberman said in an episode earlier this year about preventing and treating colds and flu. .

He continues: “When you get a flu shot, you’re really hedging a bet. You are betting on whether or not you will be exposed to that particular strain of the flu virus that is most abundant that season, or the strains of the flu virus that are most abundant that season, and that The flu shot you received is directed toward these particular strains. Make the choice that’s right for you, says Huberman. Talk to your doctor.

“He’s a good communicator, isn’t he?” That’s why he’s a star,” Tim Caulfield, a professor of health law and science policy at the University of Alberta, told me in late 2023. Huberman often does a “really good job” speaking of the science behind a topic it explores in an episode, Caulfield added, but “ultimately the overall result, I think, is less supported by science than the impression you get from listening to the episode .”

Instead of recommending a flu shot, Huberman presents his listeners with a series of other ideas. Andrea Love, a microbiologist, immunologist and science communicator herself, wrote a four-part newsletter series discussing Huberman’s claims in more detail. She says he promoted the possibility of using a sauna to improve immune function, citing a study that had only 20 participants and did not directly measure immune function. She says he encouraged the potential use of unproven supplements, including those sold by AG1, a company that partners with Huberman and sponsors his podcast. Huberman and his spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment on Love’s characterization of this episode.

For love it was easy to see Huberman Laboratory as a sleight of hand even before the publication of the New York magazine article. The ingredients were there: Huberman is a magnetic personality capable of capturing attention with implicit promises of the secrets of longevity, a perfect body, a perfect mind, and even perfect sleep – much of which , according to him, can be obtained with the help of the supplements which he himself advertises.

Love was part of a cohort of scientists and public health communicators who have raised concerns about Huberman’s wildly popular podcast for several months. When Huberman welcomed Robert Lustig as a guest, these concerns grew stronger. Lustig is a pediatric endocrinologist at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), but he is perhaps best known for arguing that sugar, particularly fructose, is a “toxin.” Love, who said Lustig’s claims about the unique causal relationship between fructose and childhood obesity were unproven, listened to the conversation between the two scientists. (Disclosure: I recently accepted a contract for non-editorial freelance work at UCSF Health.)

“I was amazed by how many different types of misinformation he was able to insert into one episode,” Love said earlier this year, after listening to the majority of Huberman’s three-hour interview with Lustig . Like many of Huberman’s long episodes, this one has racked up millions of views on YouTube alone. In 2023, Huberman Laboratory was the eighth most listened to podcast on Apple Podcasts and the third most popular on Spotify.

As she listened, she took notes, marking times when she felt like the podcast was omitting important facts, misinterpreting the progression of the disease, or providing confusing information to listeners.

At one point, Lustig cited a study that he said “showed” that ultra-processed foods inhibited bone growth — a study that, according to Huberman’s exchange with Lustig, used human subjects in Israel to test his claims. Love easily found the 2021 diary. “It was in vivo – AMONG RODENTS,” she wrote in her notes.

In his opinion, the podcast “outright lied to listeners.”

A spokesperson for Andrew Huberman responded to a request for comment by noting that the podcast team “reviews studies mentioned on the podcast by guests, but the conclusions drawn by guests are their own and our guests are those greatest experts in their field. The show links to studies referenced in the show notes for each episode.

Misleading Information Can Be Hard to See

It is also difficult to pin down Huberman’s beliefs, which straddle the line between approval and implication. In October, Huberman commented on an Instagram post by his friend Joe Rogan promoting an interview with Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the presidential candidate who was once a respected environmental lawyer but may now be better known for promoting conspiracy theories about vaccines, including those for Covid-19.

“I look forward to listening to this and learning more about where Robert stands on a number of issues. Every time I run into him at the gym, he is extremely friendly and asks lots of questions about science and, from my observation, trains hard too! Posting from Huberman’s verified Instagram account.

When I spoke to Caulfield about this message, he described it as “infuriating”. Huberman and his spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment on his post about Kennedy.

“Any sort of legitimization and normalization of this discourse, especially by someone who claims to be informed by science and who has the credentials of a renowned institution behind him, should be ashamed of doing so,” he said. he declares.

Huberman….

News Source : www.vox.com
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