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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: I think the overreaction to Dr Rupert Sheldrake's ascertion about the Science community.... is exactly the problem he is trying to help uncover.

    Sheldrake is 100% correct about the way Science operates... and that upsets people within the science community. They all want to believe they are highly intelligent, open and free thinkers but the reality is the community is nowhere near that.

    There is still a very dogmatic materialistic belief system being pushed by most scientists... and those that do go against the grain like Sheldrake, Radin etc. are called Heretics for dare suggesting there may be more to science than what Western science tells us is possible.

    Tedx should be about free open discussion. The only people who's feelings are getting hurt are the guilty ones.
    • Mar 8 2013: Well said Frank, all this fuss is because Sheldrake has the audacity to rock the boat. He is a heretic and he needs to be silenced, so that the materialists can remain comfy and smug within their belief system.
    • Mar 8 2013: Frank, it is precisely because scientists know they are not always "highly intelligent, open and free thinkers" that they have settled on an approach to discovery that does not require human perfection to work well. It's the scientific method, which Sheldrake does not adhere to. Yes, Toby, Sheldrake has audacity all right. Anyone as unscrupulous needs balls of brass to to show no shame for using TED in his marketing scheme.

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