The information problems around the Andrew Huberman podcast

The Huberman Lab has credentials and millions of fans, but it sometimes oversteps medical fact.

Andrew Huberman sits on stage talking to an audience at a conference event.
Andrew Huberman, a neurobiology professor and host of the Huberman Lab podcast, attending INBOUND 2023 in Boston, Mass.
Photo by Chance Yeh/Getty Images for HubSpot

A.W. Ohlheiser is a senior technology reporter at Vox, writing about the impact of technology on humans and society. They have also covered online culture and misinformation at the Washington Post, Slate, and the Columbia Journalism Review, among other places. They have an MA in religious studies and journalism from NYU.

Sometimes, misleading information is easy to spot, traveling in the same conspiracy-theory-slicked grooves it has for decades. The same ideas that undermined belief in the safety of Covid-19 vaccines have been around for more than a century, adapting the same message to suit new media formats, new epidemics, and new influential endorsements. In a way, George Bernard Shaw’s outspoken opposition to the smallpox vaccine in the first half of the 20th century is not unlike that of, say, Aaron Rodgers’s misleading statements about the Covid-19 vaccines.

Such misleading information is relatively easy to see. But spotting other kinds of misleading information is more like identifying planets in other star systems. It’s difficult to find such a planet by just taking a direct image; the radiation from the star the planet orbits can obscure it. Instead, you might 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 it.

Over time, with this kind of misleading information, you learn to spot the wobble, the tells that something might not be right. This is what happened for me when I began to listen to Huberman Lab last fall.

Huberman Lab is one of the most popular podcasts in the country, led by Stanford neuroscientist Andrew Huberman. His most ardent fans — and there are millions — tend to be fitness enthusiasts, self-optimizers, and crossover listeners who heard about his podcast from other influencers in the Joe Rogan Extended Universe. Huberman looms large in the minds of his biggest fans. If you’re outside of that circle, perhaps you heard of his work after a New York magazine profile earlier this year detailed his personal conduct.

The podcast’s premise is simple: presenting science-based overviews and conversations on a broad range of topics, from longevity to mental health to nutrition. A fawning profile in Time magazine last summer credited Huberman with getting America to care about science again. More than anything, though, the episodes I listened to conveyed a promise: If you want to optimize your body and mind, science has the answers, and all we need to do is listen. It’s a riveting promise, one that Huberman is not alone in making.

Silicon Valley, in particular, is filled with wellness guides and well-funded laboratories seeking the secret to living the best and longest life. There are other well-credentialed promises of cures and solutions circulating, especially on podcasts, a format that seems to lend itself to this slippage between the reputable and the freewheeling.

Huberman’s rise to popularity during the Covid-19 pandemic should have been a win for information: 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 filled his multi-hour podcast episodes with citations and caution.

Popular science communication isn’t always the best science communication. The implicit pact that Huberman’s podcast makes with its audience — that it will, if you listen and follow, help you optimize your life — has turned the podcast into a powerful force that shapes how his audience of millions understands science. But listeners of Huberman Lab may be, at times, hearing what some call an illusion.

When good communication goes bad

In late March, New York magazine reported that Huberman’s Stanford laboratory “barely exists” and that, according to multiple women who dated him during his rise to fame, Huberman had manipulated and lied to his partners (Huberman’s spokesperson denied both of these allegations to the magazine, which shares a corporate owner with Vox).

The profile was one tell — obscuring aspects of his personal and professional lives. But even before it came out, the same subject experts on the topics Huberman covered had been questioning some of the science of the podcast itself.

This liminality, or in-betweenness, of Huberman Lab is key to its success. When speaking about vaccines, Huberman is no Alex Jones or Aaron Rodgers. He’s a real scientist who cites real studies. He approaches topics that might end up drawing scrutiny with a great deal of caution.

For example, Huberman never tells his audience to avoid the flu vaccine. All he’s saying is that he doesn’t take it himself. And yet, the subtext is there. “Now, personally, I don’t typically get the flu shot. And the reason for that is that I don’t tend to go into environments where I am particularly susceptible to getting the flu,” Huberman said in an episode earlier this year on avoiding and treating the cold and flu.

He went on: “When you take the flu shot, you’re really hedging a bet. You’re hedging a bet against the fact that you will be or not be exposed to that particular strain of flu virus that’s most abundant that season, or strains of flu virus that are most abundant that season, and that the flu shot that you’re taking is directed at those particular strains.” Make the choice that’s right for you, Huberman says. Talk to your doctor.

“He’s a good communicator, right? 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 “very good job” talking about the science behind a topic he’s exploring in an episode, Caulfield added, but “in the end, the overall takeaway, I think, is less supported by the science than the impression you’re given listening to the episode.”

Instead of recommending a flu shot, Huberman introduces his listeners to a series of other ideas. Andrea Love, a microbiologist, immunologist, and science communicator herself, wrote a four-part newsletter series addressing Huberman’s claims in greater detail. She says he promoted possibly using a sauna to improve immune function, citing a study that had just 20 participants and did not directly measure immune function. She says he promoted 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 Lab as sleight of hand even before the New York magazine story was published. The ingredients were there: Huberman is a magnetic personality capable of capturing attention with implied promises of the secrets to longevity, a perfect body, a perfect mind, even perfect sleep — much of which he says can be achieved with the help of the supplements that he himself advertises.

Love was part of a cohort of scientists and public health communicators who raised concerns about Huberman’s wildly popular podcast over several months. When Huberman had Robert Lustig on as a guest, those concerns grew louder. Lustig is a pediatric endocrinologist at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF), but he’s perhaps best known for arguing that sugar, particularly fructose, is a “toxin.” Love, who said that Lustig’s claims about the uniquely causal relationship between fructose and childhood obesity remain 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 floored with how many different types of misinformation he was able to shove into a single episode,” Love said earlier this year, after listening to the majority of Huberman’s 3-hour interview with Lustig. Like many of Huberman’s lengthy episodes, this one racked up millions of views on YouTube alone. In 2023, Huberman Lab was the eighth most listened to podcast on Apple Podcasts, and the third most popular on Spotify.

As she listened, she took notes, marking moments where she felt the podcast omitted important facts, misinterpreted the progression of disease, or provided confusing information to listeners.

At one point, Lustig cited a study that he said “showed” ultra-processed foods inhibit bone growth — one that, according to Huberman’s exchange with Lustig, used human subjects in Israel to test its claims. Love tracked down the 2021 paper easily. “This was in vivo – IN RODENTS,” she wrote in her notes.

In her view, the podcast was “outright LYING to listeners.”

A spokesperson for Andrew Huberman responded to a request for comment by noting that the podcast team “review studies mentioned on the podcast by guests, however the conclusions drawn by guests are their own and our guests are the foremost experts in their fields.” The show links to referenced studies in the show notes for each episode.

Misleading information can be hard to see

Nailing down Huberman’s beliefs is, likewise, tricky, straddling the line between endorsement 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 is now perhaps best known for promoting conspiracy theories about vaccines, including those for Covid-19.

“I’m eager to listen to this and to learn more about Robert’s stance on a number of issues. Whenever I run into him at the gym, he is extremely gracious and asks lots of questions about science and, by my observation, trains hard too!” Huberman’s verified Instagram account posted.

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

“Any kind of legitimization and normalization of that rhetoric, especially by someone who professes to be informed by science and has the credentials of a renowned institution behind him should be ashamed of doing that,” he said.

Huberman’s relationship to the information in his podcast can be viewed through a series of glancing blows; through the subtext of deciding not to take the flu vaccine himself and telling that to his audience; through serious questions about how he handles himself in romantic relationships; and through the selection of his guests, the framing of his episodes, and his friends.

Although Huberman has not directly responded to the New York magazine piece after its publication, his friends in the podcasting world, along with several more right-leaning media personalities, have called it a hit piece, and dismissed criticism of Huberman as either sloppy or mean-spirited. “Andrew should be celebrated. Period,” wrote Lex Fridman, a computer scientist and podcaster who has long been one of Huberman’s friends. And it appears his podcast viewers are still tuning in.


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