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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: Hello fellow Tedsters.

    Initially, after reading most of the insightful comments below, I would like to know why there are always highly insightful people that only participate for a heated debate and basically not exist for any of the other conversations on Ted. It would be more beneficial to all if these people would keep a Ted account for more than one heated debate because it seems that some people have a lot of insights, but they do not seem to share the ideas as fervidly, and often, as they seem to in this debate.

    Any who, I believe that Rupert Sheldrake should be given a chance to rebuttal or at least extensively prove a few of his points in his video. The person being scrutinized seems to be the perfect individual to address issues with, if he has credibility, like he appears in his Tedtalk, then he should be given an opportunity to clear his own name with unfiltered comments from the public.

    If, and only if, he successfully backs his claims, then his current video should be removed or archived, then let him give a Tedtalk involving his explanations of his murky ideas in his current Tedtalk. Some might say this is too generous, but I try to think in terms of "what if I had been in this person's situation, then I think I should have the opportunity to redeem myself or make some type of statement".

    Regarding the legitimacy of the contents of Mr. Sheldrake's talk, then I am not as knowledgeable, but it was interesting to hear some of his points. I did come to the conclusion that he seems to have been promoting his book more than proving his ideas to be true, so maybe Ted could add some type of disclaimer for that type of material or not.

    Quack or not quack, but Sheldrake is just another human being that can affect the people within his life as well, and I'd like to give these types of people the satisfaction that they tried, fail or succeed, so they won't feel bitterness towards an unforgiving and non-understanding crowd. I try to look at domino affects.
    • Mar 8 2013: Hi Derek, I've never posted on here previously, but I am a glutton for TED videos. I signed up to make comments here today because I feel so depressed by the calls to have Rupert Sheldrake censored. As far as I can see, the arguments given by those who want him silenced have barely risen above personal attacks – he has certainly not been debunked.

      I'm agnostic in regards to the claims of Sheldrake, but he most certainly has interesting things to say. I like the idea of him doing a proper TED talk, but if they remove this video I will be looking elsewhere for educational content. I don't want to be browbeating into what I should believe by a group of people who are trying to police scientific knowledge. I’m disappointed that TED would even consider taking this step.
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        Mar 8 2013: It is fascinating that there are so many experts on such a breath of knowledge when it comes to something controversial. It seems that people just sign-up to nay-say and that makes me think whether someone is credible or not, but luckily some nay-sayers bring up good points, though others are definitely exhibiting a narrow scope of their world.

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