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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 9 2013: BTW, I certainly do not agree with all of Sheldrake's hypotheses and intuitions. I think some of the data he's gathered -- e.g. on email and telephone telepathy -- is really interesting, though. And I think his morphic field idea is inspirational and worth careful consideration, though the way he's formulated it is not sufficiently precise for my taste.

    All in all, I think Sheldrake has done enough actual empirical data gathering to support his out-of-the-mainstream ideas, that his perspective should be respected and heard. I really do NOT think he has fraudulently doctored-up all the data he's presented in his various papers....

    Some of the conclusions he has drawn from his data may not be correct ... and some of his analyses of the nature of mainstream science may be a bit exaggerated. But yet, I can see why he feels as he does, given the hostile reception the scientific community has given to the actual empirical results he has been collecting and presentig over the years...

    And, obviously, this assault on his TEDx video exemplifies the sort of hostility he's experienced, which has guided his view of the contemporary scientific community...

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