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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: In my meager opinion, there was nothing bad in what Rupert said. Science is pure Objective Observation, Questioning, and a living Science should incorporate itself being under investigation otherwise it turns into a dogmatic "dead" science. I think we have all seen organizations topple due to the fact that they cannot accept patterns of change.
    The question at hand is, has science been turning into more of a statistical based observation and i think this is the point he was getting at.

    I dont think someone should be beat up over the fact that they want to question the mainstream perspective. He is a modern scientist who can "Think outside of the box" most people would be afraid to question the status quo.

    I think there is split in the field some people are comfortable with their Newtonian mechanistic sciences while others are looking for more fluidity as with quantum physics. I would be interested if some of the constants were reevaluated could they be actually cyclical but i guess that wont happen if nobody ever challenges the current idea. So my final thoughts are - Do not burn him at the stake, let me live

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