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The debate about Rupert Sheldrake's talk

Please use this space to comment on the debate around Rupert Sheldrake's TEDx talk, as described here:



Closing Statement from TED

Thanks to all who participated in this conversation on TED's decision to move Rupert Sheldrake's talk from YouTube to TED.com. It was scheduled as a 2-week conversation, and has now closed. But the archive will remain visible here.

We'd like to respond here to some of the questions raised in the course of the discussion.

Some asked whether this was "censorship." Now, it's pretty clear that it isn't censorship, since the talk itself is literally a click away on this very site, and easily findable on Google. But it raises an interesting question about curation. Should TED play *any* curatorial role in the content it allows its TEDx organizers to promote? We believe we should. And once you accept a role for curatorial limits, you have to accept there will be times when disputes arise.

A number of questions were raised about TED's science board: How it works and why the member list isn't public. Our science board has 5 members -- all working scientists or distinguished science journalists. When we encounter a scientific talk that raises questions, they advise us on their position. I and my team here at TED make the final decisions. We keep the names of the science board private. This is a common practice for science review boards in the academic world, which preserves the objectivity of the recommendations and also protects the participants from retribution or harassment.

Finally, let me say that TED is 100% committed to open enquiry, including challenges to orthodox thinking. But we're also firm believers in appropriate skepticism, or critical thinking. Those two instincts will sometimes conflict, as they did in this case. That's why we invited this debate. The process hasn't been perfect. But it has been undertaken in passionate pursuit of these core values.

The talk, and this conversation, will remain here, and all are invited to make their own reasoned judgement.

Thanks for listening.

Chris Anderson, TED Curator

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  • Mar 19 2013: I have been thinking quite a bit about the genesis of this controversy. TED curator Chris Anderson stated in the comments to “Graham Hancock and Rupert Sheldrake, a Fresh Take” that the removals had nothing to with “radical atheists.” While it is true that atheism might not have played a role in the TED staff’s decision, it certainly motivated the bloggers who forced TED’s hand. Jerry Coyne even makes this explicit in one of his blog posts on Sheldrake: http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2012/02/06/the-guardian-touts-sheldrake-again-pigeons-find-their-way-home-ergo-jesus/ Jerry Coyne and the other bloggers who started the firestorm are atheists and adherents of philosophical naturalism. They believe that the only real things in the universe are material things, that human beings are “wet robots,” and that free will is an illusion. Moreover, they believe that science has vindicated this metaphysical stance, and that every scientist, if he wishes to be intellectually honest, must subscribe to it. Of course, this is not to say that all scientists are atheists or philosophical naturalists, but a large proportion are, and the percentage is even higher among elite scientists. This article on the reaction to philosopher Thomas Nagel’s recent book, Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False, makes that point clear: http://www.weeklystandard.com/articles/heretic_707692.html?page=1 Nagel’s sin, if you will pardon the pun, was to question the physicalist worldview. Despite being an atheist himself, he was excoriated for “[bringing] comfort to creationists and fans of Intelligent Design. I feel like something similar is going on here. Although neither Sheldrake nor Hancock bring up God in their talks, their criticisms of physicalism and discussions of the alleged irreducibility of consciousness smacks of religion in their critics’ eyes . Again, I am not saying that TED acted as it did because it is atheistic, but
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      Mar 20 2013: I am. (though I know that not ALL are atheist). But they are not atheist with a small "a". They are Atheist with a capital "A". Because they will not allow discussion of the science that doesn't fit into their neat little worldview, they are, by any definition, Atheist - the religion.

      They have done GREAT damage to the atheist community that loves ALL science regardless of the directions that the science takes us.

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