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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 science is strong enough to stand up to the sort of questioning proposed here by Dr Sheldrake. In fact, science will be stronger for it. Don't censor the talk. Don't silence the discussion.
    • Mar 8 2013: I agree with you Sandy. The problem is that there is a group of people who have appointed themselves as defenders of a particular worldview and these people are trying to hijack science. They have made it their religion, and their dogmatism means that they do not want their beliefs questioned. They have replaced good and evil with science and woo. Rupert Sheldrake is making the reasonable argument that science should not be held back by this type of dogmatism. It is funny, there are plenty of other TEDx videos on here that deal with controversial scientific ideas, but the skeptics are so angry with Sheldrake because he is questioning their most cherished beliefs. He is a heretic and they want him shut up.

      BTW - I would give you a thumbs up, but I'm spent :)
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        Mar 8 2013: I'd give you a thumbs up too... but I also ran out of them! :)
    • Mar 9 2013: So tell us: do you support the "teach the controversy" movement, to introduce creationism into high school biology courses?
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        Mar 9 2013: Is there any way to stop the discussion of creationism anywhere, it is endemic in our culture.

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