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Emily McManus

Editor, TED.com, TED

TEDCRED 200+

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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 7 2013: Science is based on assumptions that is why what was once true can always be proven wrong. You know what assuming does right?
    • Mar 8 2013: Yeah, I know what "assuming does." It lets me get a working hypothesis that I can then test and try to falsify thereby allowing me to find a better direction for my subsequent working hypotheses, which eventually lead to truth.
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        Mar 8 2013: or it makes an ass-u-me

        also starting with the answer is never the best way to prove your answer
        • Mar 8 2013: That's only true if one takes the assumption as necessarily true.
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        Mar 8 2013: I thought you said it lead to "which eventually lead to truth"

        did you say fact was definitively true
        • Mar 8 2013: An assumption can be used to start a line of investigation. I didn't say anything about the assumption remaining in place by the time the truth is discovered. It may or may not, depending on how the line of investigation turns out.
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        Mar 9 2013: Whether found to be convention or not its still an assumption
        • Mar 9 2013: Now you're on about conventions? Are you moving the goal posts?
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        Mar 9 2013: I dont know what you mean by goal post.

        I am saying is that facts are conventions. You said that a fact is indisputable. then you say "An assumption can be used to start a line of investigation. I didn't say anything about the assumption remaining in place by the time the truth is discovered. It may or may not, depending on how the line of investigation turns out."
        then you said " That's only true if one takes the assumption as necessarily true" which is what you said fact or conventions are indisputable
        http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/fact

        I feel like you are just talking in circles.... I am sorry if that is the wrong assumption

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Convention_(norm)
        • Mar 9 2013: No; facts are not conventions. Please look these words up. The nature of "fact" was discussed a long time ago on this forum.

          Also, yes, making an "ass out of u and me" happens when an assumption is taken as incontrovertible, because assumptions are NOT incontrovertible and it is an error in reasoning to think otherwise. A fact is not an assumption; nor is it a convention.

          A convention is fact by fiat, which is an *entirely* different situation.

          What is so hard about this? These are very simple concepts and terms.

          Moving the goal posts is a rhetorical tactic used by some to distract from the issue of the discussion. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moving_the_goalposts.

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