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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: I don't come to TED expecting the one universal, eternal right answer. I come to TED looking for ideas that make me think. I know the presenters won't all be right anymore than I am. The Earth is not flat, although it once was believed to be; the sun does not circle the Earth, although it once was believed to. In my personal opinion, anything I can't ask questions about is a dogmatic belief system, sliding us back towards the Middle Ages.
    Whether or not what Rupert Sheldrake says is correct, something from his talk may be the key someone else needs. If you can prove him wrong, give a talk and do that. Taking it down now will generate distrust in the whole TED process.
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      Mar 8 2013: What is there is one universal right answer
    • Mar 8 2013: The question is not whether or not a pseudoscientist and/or scammer for money (Sheldrake is both) should have the opportunity to peddle his goods. The question is if he should be able to do that under the auspice of "science" or "ideas worth spreading".

      Also, in both cases these people do harm with their lies. Harmful activities are often frown at or even banned, certainly many forms of scams are.

      And what is it with people and the flat Earth myth?

      "The myth of the Flat Earth is the modern misconception that the prevailing cosmological view during the Middle Ages saw the Earth as flat, instead of spherical.[1] The idea seems to have been widespread during the first half of the 20th century, so that the Members of the Historical Association in 1945 stated that:

      "The idea that educated men at the time of Columbus believed that the earth was flat, and that this belief was one of the obstacles to be overcome by Columbus before he could get his project sanctioned, remains one of the hardiest errors in teaching."[2]

      During the early Middle Ages, virtually all scholars maintained the spherical viewpoint first expressed by the Ancient Greeks."

      [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flat_Earth_myth ]

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