Podcast menace Joe Rogan and billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk, both of whom have noted histories of promoting vaccine conspiracies, took to Twitter over the weekend to publicly harass a renowned vaccine researcher, Baylor College of Medicine professor Peter Hotez, for criticizing Rogan's show and subsequently refusing to debate noted anti-vaxxer and presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
The bizarre ordeal began on Saturday when Hotez took to Twitter to share a Vice article — pointedly titled "Spotify Has Stopped Even Sort of Trying to Stem Joe Rogan's Vaccine Misinformation" — that was written in response to Rogan's decision to host RFK Jr. on his popular podcast.
Kennedy is a notable figure of the anti-vax movement. His insane and thoroughly debunked claims range from the belief that vaccines cause autism to the insistence that chemicals in the water could be causing gender dysphoria in children.
It's "really true" and "just awful," wrote Hotez, who has been a guest on Rogan's show in the past, in response to Kennedy's comments detailed in Vice's report, "and from all the online attacks I'm receiving after this absurd podcast, it's clear many actually believe this nonsense."
Rogan, however, clearly took offense to Hotez's criticism, firing back that if the researcher thinks that what Kennedy has to say is "misinformation" then he should accept an invitation to debate Kennedy with "no time limit" on Rogan's show.
But when the scientist, who clearly has better things to do than engage in debates about ridiculous and scientifically unfounded claims, brushed off Rogan's request, the podcaster stepped up his attacks.
And unfortunately, before too long, Musk started weighing in as well.
"I challenged you publicly because you publicly quote tweeted and agreed with that dogshit Vice article," tweeted Rogan. "If you're really serious about what you stand for, you now have a massive opportunity for a debate that will be reach [sic] the largest audience a discussion like this has ever had. If you think someone else is better qualified, suggest that person."
"He's afraid of a public debate, because he knows he's wrong," tweeted Musk, later reiterating his stance that he's "generally pro vaccine," but believes that "the world obviously went crazy with excess vaccination against 'COVID-19.'"
"So many people I know had serious side effects from the vaccines, including myself," the billionaire added. "Failure to acknowledge that is a lie."
To be clear, the existence of side effects, which have long been acknowledged by experts, doesn't mean that a given vaccine is ineffective or a harmful conspiracy.
The trio went back and forth for a bit, with the doctor finally telling Rogan that he's "happy to come on [Rogan's show] and have a meaningful discussion."
"If you are serious about addressing vaccines + the fact that 200,000 unvaccinated Americans needlessly perished during our awful delta/BA.1 COVID waves (including 40,000 in our state of Texas) because they fell victims to vaccine disinformation," the scientist tweeted, "I want to have that discussion."
"I'm open to a number of different options, but to be pressured to give you an answer on Twitter, now, with a 'take it or leave it' demand that's not how I work," he added in the thread. "Honestly, I don’t even think that would be in your best interests."
The impact of this debate, however, didn't begin and end on Twitter. In the days since the argument broke out, Hotez has claimed on Twitter and MSNBC that he's been stalked outside of his home as a result of Musk and Rogan's online attacks. And sadly, it's not the first time that someone directly targeted by a Musk-led culture war has had to fear for their physical safety.
"The attacks from the anti-vaccine lobby do come in waves... this time, though, it's been one of the tougher ones," Hotez, who also serves as the Dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine, told MSNBC on Sunday. "Because, as you pointed out, the physical stalking and the incessant threatening emails."
"The stuff online is just total whack-a-doodle," Hotez continued. "And let's face it, when you have RFK Jr. and Joe Rogan, and Elon Musk, all tag-teaming, those tres hombres at the same time... that probably includes just about every follower on Twitter."
"So, it's pretty overwhelming," he added.
It's a visceral example of how online misinformation and conspiracy-mongering — especially when led by Spotify's most expensive ghoul and the world's richest troll — can indeed cause real-world harm. After all, Hotez is just trying to do his job.
But as harrowing as these past few days have been for the researcher, some notable names came to Hotez's defense as well.
"I am now following Peter Hotez," tweeted famed "Star Trek" actor and author George Takei, "and every decent person here who believes in science not quackery should, too."
"Agreed," beloved "Star Wars" actor Mark Hamill responded. "Just belatedly followed you. Thank you for your service Peter Hotez!"
More on Joe Rogan: Watch Joe Rogan's Vaccine Misinfo Get Destroyed by His Own Guest
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