The week in radio: Death by Conspiracy; Science Vs (Joe Rogan: The Malone Interview); Mission Transmission | Radio

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Death by Conspiracy? (BBC Radio 4) | BBC Sounds

Science Vs: Joe Rogan: The Malone Interview | Gimlet Media

Mission Transmission | FunKids

An interesting new series from the BBC disinformation reporter Marianna Spring (is it me or does her job title sound as though Spring is dishing out the disinformation rather than investigating it?), Death By Conspiracy?, a 10-part series of 15-minute episodes going out bit by bit on Radio 4 but all available on BBC Sounds, looks at the death of Gary Matthews in Shrewsbury in January 2021.

A healthy 46-year-old, Matthews died, alone, at home, of Covid. A terrible event, as all Covid deaths have been. But this one perhaps seems more terrible because there is a sense that it might easily have been avoided. Matthews, who was close to his family and had many good friends, had gradually been drawn into an anti-establishment community that didn’t believe Covid exists. Because of this, he didn’t wear a mask, and joined several crowded protests against mandatory vaccine passports. And when he got Covid, he didn’t seek medical help.

It’s tempting, when you hear the circumstances around Matthews’s death, to create a conclusive equation. You know: lonely bloke plus friendly conspiracy theorists plus rampant epidemic equals death. Spring, to her credit, does not do that. Instead, she talks to members of his family, to his friends, to Shrewsbury locals. And to one person in particular, Charlie Parker, a conspiracy theorist who was friendly with Matthews and who believed – and still does – that Covid isn’t real and that “they” are covering up the real circumstances of Matthews’s death. Whoever “they” are.

The admirably dogged and fair Spring talks to Parker on a number of occasions over the series, and each time he won’t shift. Some people will never change their mind. I know several people who won’t get the vaccine, who are suspicious of mask mandates and lockdowns, who believe that powerful people are manipulating us all for their own dark ends. I’ve argued with some, but not all. We all decide how to live our lives. More power to Spring for her truthful, empathetic reporting and for creating such an interesting series.

Wendy Zukerman presenter of Science Vs.
Knows her stuff… Wendy Zukerman, presenter of Science Vs. Photograph: © Lem Lattimer

More dismantling of disinformation on the popular podcast Science Vs. Its most recent episode is devoted to challenging the “points” made by Dr Robert Malone about Covid and vaccines on Joe Rogan’s podcast The Joe Rogan Experience. Here’s the backstory: Rogan has the most listened-to podcast in the world; Spotify paid at least $100m for exclusive rights to it; Rogan and his bro-interviewees have been offensive about women and non-white people (he’s used the N-word in the past); in December, he interviewed Malone, who said that Covid vaccines have terrible side effects and could even increase your chance of getting Covid. As a result of this episode of Rogan’s podcast, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, India Arie and others have pulled their music from Spotify.

The twist to the Science Vs Malone-busting episode is that Science Vs also has an exclusive deal with Spotify. So, the show has skin in the game, and making this episode is a useful and brave move. Wendy Zukerman, a rambunctious Aussie, knows her science, as does her co-host for this episode, producer Rose Rimler. They work their way through the Rogan episode, calling out Malone’s obfuscatory methods.

Essentially, he cherrypicks data and tells anecdotes that don’t illustrate a larger point (he claimed that the vaccine caused his aorta to nearly collapse and he could have died). Plus, he deliberately doesn’t include the benefits of the vaccine. “It’s like they’re making a pro/con list and they’re just writing stuff in the con side,” says Rimler.

Zukerman and Rimler are diligent about the science, whether it supports Malone or not. They find out, for example, that the vaccine can affect menstrual cycles, but only by around a day and then everything returns to normal after a couple of months. They do not cherrypick. And they have decided not to make any more Spotify-only Science Vs episodes, except those designed to counter scientific misinformation, until Spotify improves its policies. Again: more power to them.

Albie Rowsell and Tanish Krishnamoorthy, on Funkids radio, as they send the first broadcast into space.
Albie Rowsell and Tanish Krishnamoorthy on Funkids radio, as they send the first broadcast into space. Photograph: Getty Images for FunKids Radio

More science – but of the far jollier kind – in FunKids’s fantastically sweet project to broadcast a radio show into space. After inviting its listeners to send in voice notes answering a few questions, the station made a half-hour programme from their contributions and beamed it out from the Royal Observatory in Greenwich last Monday at 7pm.

As the first ever radio show to go into deep space, it set a new Guinness world record. As a listen, it might not change your life, but the contributions are wonderfully optimistic (“Hello aliens!”). Plus, there was a whole afternoon chatting space (FunKids is great for science), and everyone on the show – child and adult alike – has a real respect for proved facts. A tonic after everything else last week.





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