Joe Rogan Questions EverythingEpisodes

Biopocalypse
Season 1 - Episode 4
Biopocalypse

World War Z. 28 Days Later -- Joe tells us that movies like these which depict worldwide disease pandemics are not as far-fetched as we might think. There are superbugs out there -- small pox, the avian flu, drug-resistant bacteria -- that are quite real, and infectious diseases scientists are very concerned that one outbreak could turn humanity to, as Joe says, a "wretched shell of its former self". Very troubling stuff, so Joe decides he needs to talk to someone who studies these microscopic killers to find out how much trouble we're already in.

This leads Joe to a football stadium (of course), where he pours out a bottle of water, saying that if the stadium were full of people and the bottle contained a biological weapon, everyone would die. Ah, football stadium equals visual aid, got it. Joe then walks to the 50-yard line to interview Dr. Serguei Popov, a bioweapons expert from the former Soviet Union. Popov reveals that the Soviets had a robust biological warfare program, which they, of course, kept covered up for many years. Those movies about pandemics, Joe asks in a very hopeful tone, they aren't realistic, are they? They are extremely realistic, responds Popov. Joe continues: what if an outbreak did occur, we would be able to stop it, right? Popov assures him that there would be no way for people to protect themselves and almost everyone who was exposed would die horrible deaths as they bleed from every orifice. Popov smiles disconcertingly throughout this whole terrifying exchange.

So that's what was happening during the Cold War, but Joe wants to know what's going on today. This takes him to Charles S. Faddis, the former head of the CIA's WMD Terrorism Unit. Evidently trying to exceed the randomness of the football field locale, they speak atop a Los Angeles skyscraper. Faddis says the number one concern for terrorism experts is a biological attack. Terrorist groups could use "suicide tactics" by dispatching someone infected with a disease into a general population. Joe then asks about "engineered diseases": are there diseases out there that scientists don't even know about yet? Faddis nods yes, then talks of numerous labs just popping up everywhere where "bio-entrepreneurs" are hard at work creating completely new diseases. The problem is: because these pathogens aren't known, there would be a huge death toll before scientists could catch up with a cure. Joe winces -- this guy's even scarier than Popov.

Joe focuses on the scientists conducting biological experiments in unregulated "do-it-yourself" labs, which leads him to Tony Kimery, a journalist who investigates this type of rogue experimentation. Kimery calls it the "bio-punk movement", a global community of citizen scientists and amateur biologists who, for very little money, can develop their own pathogens from scratch. In short, a virus created in one of these labs could be almost as destructive as a small tactical nuclear device. Joe becomes more and more terrified, so he goes to his podcast bunker, where he discusses these "bio-punks" with sidekick Duncan. Joe announces his plan: he's going to talk to one of these guys. Meanwhile, Duncan's going to Kansas, where he'll explore an underground bunker designed by survivalists to protect against global calamities such as a Biopocalypse.

Joe arrives at one of these "do-it-yourself" labs and meets his haircut twin Dr. Rob Carlson, a PhD in physics from Princeton and one of pioneers of the bio-punk movement. Joe's troubled that these labs lack adequate safety and security. Carlson isn't able to ease Joe's concerns, so he gives Joe a tour of the lab in hopes of convincing him that everything is above board. Joe then meets a guy introduced merely as "Joe Bio-Hacker", a man who in real life is probably a lovely person, but on this show, all we think is "psychotic bio-terrorist". Carlson reminds Joe that, although people in his lab are "probably" not doing anything nefarious (way to commit, Dr. Carlson), it's very possible that, in a different lab, someone else is doing very bad stuff. After all, these labs are very easy to set up -- all you need is a couple thousand dollars, a table, and a sink. Yikes.

As evidence mounts supporting the likely scenario of a global Biopocalypse, Joe hopes Duncan has found a nice spot for everyone to seek shelter. We cut to Duncan, driving through somewhere in rural Kansas, arriving at "Vivos", the world's largest private bomb shelter. Originally a subterranean storage facility for the U.S. military built in the late 1880's, it's now designed to protect people from global catastrophes and equipped for them to remain underground for one full year without ever having to return to the surface. Duncan enters, where he meets the Vivos "shelter director" Robert Vicino. According to Vicino, the shelter's so safe it can withstand a twenty megaton nuclear blast. For its" members", Vivos will stocked with all of life's necessities, as well as certain luxuries such as a wine bar and hot tubs. When Duncan asks if Vicino, during a potential disaster, would be willing to shoot non-members trying to enter Vivos, Vicino attempts a political response: they're willing to do what needs to be done to protect their members and prevent chaos. This just took a really dark turn...

Vicino then takes Duncan on a driving tour of the shelter. They're initially planning for 5,000 inhabitants, but Vicino thinks they could double that. Vicino then reveals his God-complex: the shelter's inhabitants will be the new "Genesis" of the planet; the facility will be the world's next Noah's Ark. We cut back to the podcast bunker, where Duncan tells Joe how he would prefer to die painfully on the surface rather than live in Vivos.

Joe wants to know even more about the viral disasters that are threatening us, so he talks to Dr. Peter Hotez from the Baylor School of Medicine -- a man wearing a bowtie while standing in a crowded beach parking lot as cyclists and rollerbladers glide past him -- yet another fantastic location in this episode. Hotez says, while we hear much about the rarer epidemics such as SARS and H5N1, we don't pay nearly enough attention to the more widespread infectious diseases that people already have, especially those living in poverty. These are more likely to cause another pandemic. Joe then speaks with Dr. Brad Spellberg, infectious disease specialist at the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, about where he thinks the real dangers are. What scares Spellberg the most: bacteria we can't treat with antibiotics anymore. Spellberg admits that, many times, diseases seemingly just pop up out of nowhere. He then offers an ominous truth: microbes rule the planet, not humanity. Microbes are the most adaptable lifeforms on the planet. We will never defeat them; we can only work to "keep pace".

Back at the podcast bunker, Joe and Duncan talk about Morgellons, a controversial medical diagnosis where strange unidentifiable fibers come out of the skin and body. Many health professionals are dismissive about the existence of Morgellons, but Joe thinks they might be one of those new mutations that Spellberg told him about. He shows Duncan a video from one of his podcast listeners, a woman who shows images of Morgellon fibers on her body. She then places some of the fibers into an envelope. She's mailing her Morgellon fibers to Joe.

Joe wants to know if Morgellons are real, so he meets Dr. Greg Smith, a pediatrician who not only studies Morgellons, but also claims to suffer from it. They speak in a grass field blooming with purple flowers for some reason -- man, the locations in this episode are stellar. Smith tells his tale: in 2004, he found what he thought were "cactus spines" in his arms. Then Smith watched a Morgellon fiber travel across the cornea in his eye, hurting like a "son of a gun". Smith's theory: Morgellons is related to Lyme disease, which might contribute to the formation of these fibers. According to Smith, the vast majority of Morgellons patients will also be found to have Lyme disease as well.

Joe now has received the Morgellons samples sent from his podcast listener, so he takes them to Seal Laboratories for testing. There he speaks with technician Shant Markarian, who performs a forensic analysis. Markarian can't identify the substance, so Joe takes the samples to Richard Matson, another Seal Labs technician who's going to examine the fibers further using a scanning electron microscope that can magnify up to 100,000 times. Matson analyzes the samples, revealing strange shapes that to us appear to be tiny waffles. Matson's most expert analysis, however, is that they look like diatomaceous earth, former ocean life that's been dead for eons, now used in such everyday objects as swimming pool filters and organic pesticides. Matson's determined that, whatever it is, there's nothing to indicate that it originated from a human body. Joe's conclusion: Morgellons is a real disease, probably an offshoot of Lyme disease, but he's convinced it won't be the beginning of a Biopocalypse.

Joe wraps up what he's learned: the biggest danger to humanity isn't nuclear war or terrorism -- it's biology itself. Our bodies are not just an individual entity -- they're actually an ecosystem consisting of trillions of organisms -- and this diversity is what makes a Biopocalypse possible. As soon as cures are found, the bugs will mutate. This will never be a war that can be won. We just have to make sure that we win more battles than the bugs do. And with that: good luck sleeping tonight.

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