I’m going to divulge something rather embarrassing: earlier this year I got sucked deep into the “Hubersphere”, the cult-like following of Andrew Huberman, the controversial neuroscientist and podcaster who is the subject of a viral New York Magazine article that came out this week. Huberman has racked up a massive (and lucrative) following with his data-driven “protocols” for a better life. These protocols involve things like taking enormous amounts of expensive supplements, ensuring you view early morning sunlight for 10-30 minutes after waking, carefully timing when you drink coffee and plunging yourself in ice baths.

Sounds like your run-of-the-mill scammy wellness influencer, right? Not quite. What makes Huberman different from others in the “Goop for bros” wellness space is that he is highly credentialed and endearingly earnest. The 48-year-old describes himself as a neuroscience professor at Stanford and a lab director at Stanford School of Medicine. He leans heavily on his affiliation with the Ivy League to bolster his credibility and frequently has other Stanford professors on his podcast, which was the third most popular in the world last year, according to Spotify.

His podcasts tend to be very long and full of detailed scientific studies which he doesn’t attempt to dumb down: he speaks to his listeners like equals and makes you feel smart.

While Huberman, with his big muscles and bushy beard, looks every inch the manosphere meathead he is no Andrew Tate or Joe Rogan. Rather than peddling misogyny, he has engaged in gentle conversations about “patriarchal messaging”. He’s talked about his trans mentor. He has a sympathetic backstory about a broken home and a wayward childhood. He seems, in short, like a good guy.

Seems” being the operative word here. According to the New York Magazine cover story, written by Kerry Howley, Huberman’s public image is vastly at odds with his private life. He styles himself as an ascetic who carefully controls every aspect of his life – meanwhile, the deeply reported piece suggests, he’s running around being a hot mess at best and a manipulative narcissist at worst. Howley writes that, during his time with a pseudonymously named partner Sarah, Huberman had relationships with at least five other women, some of which lasted for years. The women mostly had no idea he was seeing anyone else.

While he seems calm and measured in his podcast, he’s accused of having rage issues by one of his ex-girlfriends (which Huberman denies). He’s also accused of giving one woman HPV (a common sexually transmitted infection) while also trying to have a child with her via IVF.

What does the podcaster have to say about this? Huberman did not want to be interviewed for the piece, and did not reply to requests for comment from the Guardian either, but his spokesperson told New York Magazine that Huberman has never tested positive for HPV. (Howley notes that they left out the fact that the CDC says there isn’t an approved test for HPV in men.) As for the kids? Huberman’s spokesperson denies that he and Sarah had decided to have children, “clarifying that they ‘decided to create embryos by IVF.’”

Huberman isn’t just accused of lying to women, the piece suggests he exaggerates his relationship with Stanford. The podcaster presents himself as having a “lab” at the university, but sources suggested to New York Magazine this was a rather grandiose way of describing what could amount to little more than a postdoc working alone.
A spokesperson for Stanford meanwhile told New York Magazine: “Dr Huberman’s lab at Stanford is operational and is in the process of moving from the Department of Neurobiology to the Department of Ophthalmology.” He’s certainly an associate professor at Stanford (though he often leaves the “associate” bit when he talks about himself) but he’s not walking the halls there every day. He lives hundreds of miles away.

Being a terrible boyfriend is not a crime nor does it automatically warrant a 5,000-word, cover-page piece in a magazine. Does Huberman’s personal life really matter if people find his podcast useful?

Responses to that question have been mixed. On the one hand, some people have joked that Huberman’s cheating is proof that his protocols definitely work. I mean, what normal person has the energy to date six different woman and hold down a successful career? You need superhuman levels of energy to do that. Even the women he cheated on seem to have a grudging respect for his logistical skills. “The scheduling alone!” one said. “I can barely schedule three Zooms in a day.”

Other people have denounced the New York Magazine story as an unwarranted personal attack. “It’s heartbreaking to see a hit-piece written about my friend Andrew Huberman,” tweeted Lex Fridman, a highly influential technology podcaster with millions of followers. “… Hit-piece attacks like this are simply trash click-bait journalism desperately clinging on to relevance. Andrew should be celebrated. Period. His podcast has helped millions of people (including me) lead healthier lives. Keep going brother.”

There is certainly an argument that elements of the New York Magazine article could be considered a little unfair. There’s one bit, for example, when Scott Carney, a friend of Huberman, complains that the podcaster cancelled on social engagements with him multiple times and had a habit of disappearing. The friend says this is evidence the podcaster is manipulative: “I think Andrew likes building up people’s expectations,” Carney said, “and then he actually enjoys the opportunity to pull the rug out from under you.” Or it could just be a sign the guy is flaky.

Here’s the thing though: the piece isn’t really about Huberman’s relationship with women or his friends, it’s about Huberman’s relationship with facts. And this matters immensely: Huberman isn’t just some dude with a podcast, he has huge influence over people’s daily routines. He has over 6 million Instagram followers and more than 5 million YouTube subscribers; his podcast is one of the most listened to in the world. People try his “dopamine detoxes” to improve their concentration. They follow his advice about ways to boost their testosterone. They take the stacks of supplements he recommends. His podcast episode on what alcohol does to your brain and body (which has had over 6m views) is hugely influential in alcohol recovery circles.

He has helped mainstream a lot of wellness ideas: “How Podcaster Andrew Huberman Got America to Care About Science”, reads a Time headline from last year. He’s one of the most famous scientists in the world and he’s highly trusted at a time when trust in scientists is declining. He has also thought about parlaying that trust into politics and has said he is intrigued about running for political office one day.

You could, of course, criticize Huberman’s health advice without veering into his personal life. Many people have. Even before the New York Magazine piece came out, there were plenty of Huberman skeptics who accused him of cherry-picking data or veering way beyond his areas of expertise. “He extrapolates [animal research] to things that we can do as humans, but those things aren’t really strongly supported for humans,” Joseph Zundell, a cancer biologist, told Time last year.

He has also been criticized for promoting and running ads for dietary supplements that may do more harm than good. “When I hear Andrew Huberman regularly recommend the herb ashwagandha for its ‘profound effect on anxiety’, an herb that has a suspected potential for worsening autoimmune conditions and causing miscarriages, and which, like most adaptogens, has been poorly studied, I shake my head,” Jonathan Jarry, a science communicator, has said.

Huberman’s personal integrity is newsworthy because he has made it a large part of his personal brand. But the overall moral of this story isn’t that he is some monster or fraud; it is that there is no magic “protocol” to health and wellness. You just have to use your common sense: eat a balanced diet with lots of vegetables, move your body, don’t drink much, don’t smoke. You don’t need any books or influencers or Stanford professors to tell you this: it’s common sense. But common sense is boring. We all long for magic solutions. We all long for someone to help us exert control over our lives. Which is why it doesn’t really matter that Huberman is in a media storm. What he is selling will always be popular. He might have lost some of his credibility now but people will always want to be told a better life is just around the corner.

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