TED Conversations

Emily McManus

Editor, TED.com, TED


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Rupert Sheldrake's TEDx talk: Detailing the issues

There's been a lot of heat today about Rupert Sheldrake's TEDx Talk. And in the spirit of radical openness, I'd like to bring the community into our process.


While TED does not vet speakers at independent TEDx events, a TEDx talk can be removed from the TEDx archive if the ideas contained in it are wrong to the point of being unscientific, and that includes misrepresenting the scientific process itself.

Sheldrake is on that line, to some commenters around Twitter and the web. His talk describes a vision of science made up of hard, unexamined constants. It's a philosophical talk that raises general questions about how we view science, and what role we expect it to play.

When my team and I debate whether to take action on a TEDx talk, we think deeply about the implications of our decision -- and aim to provide the TEDx host with as clear-cut and unbiased a view as possible.

You are invited, if you like, to weigh in today and tomorrow with your thoughts on this talk. We'll be gathering the commentary into a couple of categories for discussion:

1. Philosophy. Is the basis of his argument sound -- does science really operate the way Sheldrake suggests it does? Are his conclusions drawn from factual premises?

2. Factual error. (As an example, Sheldrake says that governments do not fund research into complementary medicine. Here are the US figures on NIH investment in complementary and alternative medicine 2009-2010: http://nccam.nih.gov/about/budget/institute-center.htm )

As a note: Please know that whether or not you have time or energy to contribute here, the talk is also under review by the TED team. We're not requiring your volunteer labor -- but we truly welcome your input. And we're grateful to those who've written about this talk in other forums, including but not limited to Jerry Coyne, PZ Myers, Kylie Sturgess and some thoughtful Redditors.


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    Mar 7 2013: Censorship is just wrong. I don't need to be "protected" from unconventional ideas. I can use my own critical thinking skills to consider the evidence and make up my own mind. There are lots of people in the world I disagree with, but I would still fight for them to have the freedom to express their own opinions.

    Has TED really sunk so low to even entertain the prospect of censorship? Does it think so little of those of us watching these talks that we need big brother to approve everything we see on the internet? I'm a grown-up. I'd like the opportunity to make up my own mind in regards to what I agree or disagree with. Giving up such a right would be akin to joining a cult.
    • Mar 7 2013: I believe TED will diminish if it removes this talk...especially as it has already been a TEDx. As it is, I am put off TED by the aggressive or very derogatory tone of a number of the No Sheldrake comments.

      If it does, in time a new forum will emerge*.

      *Maybe in England.
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        Mar 7 2013: I think censorship will harm the credibility of TED far more than airing unconventional ideas ever could.
        • Mar 8 2013: The problem with Sheldrake's ideas isn't that they're unconventional. They problem is that they are factually wrong. Demonstrably, provably, wrong.
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        Mar 8 2013: @ Nathan:

        If you are able to determine this so easily, why do you feel the need to police these ideas? Shouldn't we all be allowed to decide for ourselves?

        I noticed that you haven't provided any evidence to back up your statements, BTW.
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      Mar 8 2013: I completely agree with you sandy stone, that we should learn to think for ourselves. Removing Sheldrake would be censorship and I very much agree that it might not make it on Ted.com, but it should still exist in its youtube archives. This debate is highly stimulating and hopefully that was part of the purpose for Ted.com staff for posting this conversation. I still think Sheldrake should make an appearance to defend his ideas, but yea, thinking for ourselves seems more democratic and those disagreers are welcome to voice their oppositions of his ideas as many ideas have oppositions, but they should all be heard, though sufficient evidence should be provided as some have, seemingly, rightfully claimed. This is fascinating, but seemingly futile without Sheldrake weighing in on this discussion.

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