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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.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kO4-9l8IWFQ

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: This discussion seems pointless, since this is not the first time TEDex has been under fire for hosting pseudoscience. The quality and standards of these talks should be met beforehand, not as an afterthought.

    I'm all for keeping the video on your archives. It can teach someone something about anti-science thought in the future. I cannot, however, say I will follow the talks of TEDex with interest or regard them as "an idea worth spreading"
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      Mar 8 2013: "Pseudoscience" as you put it, starts with bias such as yours. Real Science looks at the data objectively. Have you done that?
      • Mar 8 2013: No one "starts with bias" on pseudoscience (even though we know there are patterns), all of it has to be tested against science.

        Here we can see that scientists have asked Sheldrake for evidence and he has produced none. "Members of the scientific community consider Sheldrake's claims to be currently unfalsifiable and therefore outside the scope of scientific experiment. The "morphic field" concept is believed by many to fall into the realm of pseudoscience.[36][44][45]". [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rupert_Sheldrake ]

        Skeptics looks at the facts objectively. Why didn't you do that?
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          Mar 8 2013: A "Skeptic" by definition is someone who is habitually doubtful:

          from Merriam-Webster: "1. an attitude of doubt or a disposition to incredulity either in general or toward a particular object."

          This represents a bias and since you haven't looked at the data (not as you say "facts") your posts are closed minded, unscientific and hypocritical.

          P.S. Who requested data that wasn't provided by Sheldrake?

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