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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 9 2013: Ideas worth spreading?
    Jerry Coyne is right on re Sheldrake.
    It is an absurd waste of time to have poor thinkers like Rupert Sheldrake and Lynn Mctaggart at any TED functions. Why not have the Creationists, Flat Earthers, Geocentrists and so on have the stage as well?
    Sheldrake has nothing to offer but poor science and questionable data to try and support absurd conclusions.
    One would think the organizers of TED and TEDx would be more discriminating and offer "Ideas worth spreading", instead of pseudoscientific pap. I have no motivation to attend TEDx in Brussels again after Lynn McTaggart offered her tripe and now Sheldrake!
    I saw a talk by Sheldrake at the European Skeptics meeting on Brussels a few years ago and learned quickly he has nothing of substance to offer. I could not believe TED gave him time to waste so many other peoples time.
    His ideas should be examined in other venues where they can be examined and challenged. For his theories to be presented as "Ideas worth spreading" without refutation is an insult to ones intelligence. My respect for TED has been diminished greatly.
    • Mar 9 2013: As a wise dude once said:

      "Yeah, well, you know, that's just, like, your Opinion, man"

      What you need are more facts and less outrage.
      It seems a bit dangerous to me that ideas about science should be censored to fit in with the a certain worldview.
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      Mar 9 2013: There is no substance to your claims. No examples of poor methodology. Just a personal attack against those with a different point of view.
    • Mar 9 2013: "poor thinkers" LOL. This is what we mean. So because someone thinks outside of materialistic science they are considered a "poor thinker" and bundled up in the same sentence as Flat Earthers? Really?

      Let me guess all the Newtonian Scientists thought the same of anyone who dared suggest there may be more than they current know? They are just "poor thinkers". Burn the heretics and poor thinkers at the stake and sure as hell don't allow them to talk about it publically on Tedx!

      Can't have people "Free thinking" now can we. Your science isn't a science at all, it is starting to sound more like a religious cult.

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