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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 8 2013: How utterly depressing that TED should even be considering censoring Rupert Sheldrake.

    The guy has a very strong intellect and has done plenty of orthodox scientific work in Biochemistry and cell biology. It's because he has this experience that he's able to identify and question scientific paradigms. He's also not a bad philosopher, and that's one area where many scientists are uneducated.

    These guys who are trying to dictate to me what I should and should not be able to see should be ashamed of themselves. If TED does censor the talk, that will be it for me. The sour taste in my mouth will likely prevent me from continuing to watch its talks, a few of which I haven't liked or agreed with, but which it never crossed my mind to seek to be censored.

    I have a science degree (zoology) and some postgrad research experience. Even the limited amount of that I've had enables me to see that the way science is conducted frequently leaves much to be desired, and there are certain organisations and prominent people within those who are the true woo-meisters, if truth be known. They are completely unable to see that the underpinnings of their views are as metaphysical as the inquisitionists, with whom they share quite a lot in common.

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