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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: PZ Myers has called for the video to be removed. He is an aggressive spokesperson for the political atheist movement. I haven't seen any reasonable arguments made that justify removing Sheldrake's talk. Just ad hominem attacks from people who don't seem to have bothered actually watching the talk or reading his work.
    • Mar 9 2013: Exactly... and why would Atheists be against Sheldrake's work? For one very good reason.

      Sheldrake and the likes of Dean Radin are trying to find if there is such a thing as telepathy, PSI, Presentiment, and ultimately a consciousness that exists outside of what neurological science tells us occurs in the physical brain. Their results tell us there IS something going on that science cannot account for and that further studies warranted.

      The reason Atheists like PZ Myers hate that.... is that if you prove consciousness exists outside the brain, you are starting to validate the existence of a soul.... and therefore an afterlife.

      Doesn't bode well for the religion that is Atheism does it. That's why we have these fundamentalist radical Atheists trying so hide to discredit anyone who doesn't automatically accept materialism as a religion.
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        Mar 9 2013: I'm glad you pointed this out, Frank. Many people don't understand the political implications of something like psi. I wasn't raised in a religious family, so I've never really thought about if there is a god. I don't think it really matters one way or the other. But it seems like certain outspoken politically motivated atheists spend a lot of time thinking about god. It's true, the existence of psi certainly doesn't prove the existence of god, but it opens the door a crack for the possibility.

        That shouldn't stop anyone from following the data and finding out if psi actually occurs, but sadly, it does. Worse than that, there are people out there actually trying to suppress research and stop such dangerous ideas from being presented in forums like this one.
        • Mar 9 2013: Yes well somewhere along the line Atheism and Materialism seemed to be joined at the hip.

          It gives Atheists validity for their "religion"... they can point to materialism as evidence for their beliefs... and discredit other religions because they are only based on "faith".

          Like you said PSI doesn't prove the existence of god but if you can predict future events before they happen and show an effect as Radin has done with his presentiment studies, what does that say about time and space and what science knows? What does it say about consciousness that they can show 2 people telepathically communicating with each other from different sides of the planet? It starts to lend credibility to the non materialistic viewpoint that so much of science lives on.
      • Mar 9 2013: Please define "fundamentalist radical atheists" as opposed to other atheists.

        Or are you simply trying to demean the whole group, or those who speak up?
    • Mar 9 2013: Can you cite the location where PZ Myers does this? His post (as currently displayed at Pharyngula) does not appear to contain such a request.

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