TED Conversations

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 9 2013: Hi all --

    After extending this conversation for an additional day, I'm just sending a quick reminder that it'll close in about 5 hours.

    And to say an early THANK YOU -- this has been a truly fascinating conversation to be part of. I've read every word and so have some of my coworkers. We won't be able to make a decision that pleases every single flavor of opinion on this thread, but: You have been heard.

    And in fact, the quality of this conversation has inspired some of my coworkers to think about an interesting new project for TED.com (stay tuned...).

    Until the clock runs out, please keep chiming in -- especially if you have a new twist to consider, like reine de violettes' fascinating opinion on American communication methods earlier today: http://www.ted.com/conversations/16894/rupert_sheldrake_s_tedx_talk.html?c=618581
    • Mar 9 2013: Hi Emily, I hope that when you and your colleagues are making your decision that you will remember that this "truly fascinating conversation" would not have happened without the Rupert Sheldrake video. If he were just some quack or scam artist I doubt that this conversation would have been interesting at all. I think TED and science will ultimately benefit from this type of content.
    • Mar 9 2013: I agree with Toby. Rupert Sheldrake has introduced a whole new community of people to Science who thought previously science was made up of stuffy nosed know it all ego's, that simply understood more than the "common man" did and revelled in making that point to win their argument.

      The comments in here from the anti-Sheldrake brigade only further prove how right he was. So many assumptions and proclamations about Sheldrake's work, yet not the first shred of evidence to back up their claims about Sheldrake. It is basically character assassination to try and silence the heretic.

      This quote which basically explains the history of science, says it all:

      "All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident." - Arthur Schopenhauer

      It's sad that we have so many of the Anti-Sheldrake brigade stuck in the First and Second stage... holding back humanity and real science... just like so many of their ancestors did 100s of years before them.
      • Mar 9 2013: Sure, it's a cute quote. But you're forgetting that nonsense also goes through the first two stages. Sometimes it even makes it to the third stage before being booted back down to stage one.

        Being opposed doesn't mean an idea is right.
        In most cases, it means the bulk of the evidence shows that some other idea is better.
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      Mar 9 2013: I agree with Toby. No one would have shown up to defend a scam artist or some quack. I never comment on these talks, even though I do watch them. But in this case I made an exception because I think this kind of material is worth considering.
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      Mar 9 2013: If TED were to decide to pull this talk from the TEDx YouTube page, who has the rights to the talk?
      This talk is currently posted at Sheldrakes website also.

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