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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: Shame on you, TED!

    As a Buddhist priest, I am naturally opposed to any kind of mind-altering drug BUT I am MORE opposed to discrimination and censorship!

    I feel deeply disappointed to discover that TED seems to have started censoring talks that do not match up to the "scientific dogma" of the "scientific advisors". Shame on you! There is no need to open separate spaces for discussions of controversial issues - let it all hang out in the open!

    No need for "fresh takes" and "separate discussions" - let the debate go on!

    "Science" does not need to be treated as a religion, and TED does not have to excommunicate "heritics" just because they don't follow the ruling dogma of the present age. With all the falsified studies funded by commercial interests, can we truly trust this ruling dogma any more than we can trust the "superstitions" of past ages?

    Ideas worth spreading should also be ideas that instigate, provoke and lead to deeper questionings!

    Open debate on the regular pages - no tricky censorship-style antics, please.
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      Mar 19 2013: Censorship?! Come now. These are talks that were widely criticized on scientific grounds. The simple thing to do would have been to take them down without comment. Instead we have posted the talks where they are available for anyone in the world to watch free of charge. And have invited people to engage in a respectful conversation about them.

      This is the opposite of censorship.

      We've gambled on fair-minded people turning this into a constructive conversation. I so hope this proves to be the case. Thanks.
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        Mar 19 2013: Chris, I agree that we should leave this charge of censorship behind us and move on to a more productive discussion.

        In that light, can you expound on the wide criticism you reference? Perhaps those who did the criticizing could contribute something to the discussion here.
      • Mar 19 2013: With all due respect, you are bordering on the delusional now... What happened is unbelievable by most standards of civilised societies. It is really sad
      • Mar 19 2013: "Widely criticized" by and anonymous "science board."

        There is no discussion here. At a ration of about 100 to 1, commenters believe that you made the wrong move. Moreover no real reply has been made either to Sheldrake's or Hancock's powerful responses to the flimsy and largely dishonest initial criticism of their talks.

        I'm sorry but you're just in the wrong on this one. If you want to talk about "fair-minded people" with any legitimacy then you're going to have to apologize and replace the videos.

        I hope this proves to be constructive...
      • Mar 19 2013: I don’t necessarily support all of Sheldrake and Hancock’s views, but I do abhor all forms of censorship.

        Yes, censorship, Chris. You've relegated these videos to another more obscure page (where the links to the Vimeo-page is broken) and then pre-framing it with your own bias (read: worldview) away from where the public can easily access it and in the process robbed it of its initial public momentum where an “idea” could have been spread based on its own worthiness judged democratically/publicly. How can you possibly fit that into your own stated standards of openness?

        Of course you’ve got the “brand” to think about first, right? But don’t you then ever dare claim that you support real scientific progress. Wasn’t the event at Whitechapel ironically titled ‘Challenging Existing Paradigms’?

        TED has basically made itself guilty of conflating “science” with “worldview.” Science is a method. Your worldview is the certain and particular assumptions you accept regarding the investigation into reality and in which you then (hopefully) chose to practice the method of science on in so far as technological advancement can afford you to do at any point in time.

        Moreover, how exactly is this encouraging “open debate”? By re-posting the clips with a preface basically warning “Everything you’re about to see is actually baloney”? How can you possibly not realize that this is a shameful attempt at reputation assassination?

        Sheldrake is a Cambridge and Harvard educated scientist who publishes in peer reviewed journals. I've seen very little sense of decency from TED’s side the last couple of days. But now "respectful conversation" is implored...

        Where’s the proof that these “talks were widely criticized on scientific grounds”? Are there any links to the blogs of those on your mythical “Science Board”? What’s TED’s real stance on transparency then if their “Science Board” hides behind anonymity? No, it’s not so “obvious”. Please will you elaborate on how it is so “obvious?
      • Mar 19 2013: So essentially, separate but equal, eh Chris?

        We can split hairs over semantics, but the vast majority of the TED community that has participated in this conversation -- at your behest -- is in agreement that what you have done is at least a soft form of censorship. It is true that TED is a private organization, but its own claims of "radical openness" are what rightly open it to these criticisms.

        To argue that this is not censorship is akin to saying that making someone use a separate water fountain because of their race isn't racist. Because at least they can still get a drink of water, so why are they complaining, right?

        I have immense respect for TED's body of work to date, and have been a longtime fan of your work. Heck, I even wrote college papers on your books, 'The Long Tail,' and 'Free.' That's what makes this feel like such a slap in the face.

        The only explicit arguments TED have made against these presentations have been abundantly refuted. You have now split and segmented this conversation at least twice, while failing to properly respond to either speaker's thoughtful rebuttal, and have almost entirely ignored the will of your community, which has spoken quite clearly.

        TED has, for a long time, been one of the most valuable pieces of social capital to emerge from the Internet. I implore you to protect that, swallow your pride, and honor the values of this remarkable enterprise you have helped to create.
      • Mar 19 2013: I also urge you to consider that if a diverse community of people didn't have so much respect for TED , and value it so highly, you would not be deluged with such an overwhelming and passionate response.
      • Mar 19 2013: The opposite of censorship would be to put the talks back where they were - as the community has almost unanimously suggested several times. This could be justified by the fact that you have been unable to come up with any serious complaint against either talk that can withstand even the slightest scrutiny. And so, if I may make a suggestion: if you spent half the time you spend complaining about the word "censorship" on actually remedying your appalling treatment of these two men (eg, apology for the misleading/false/defamatory remarks your science board misled you into publishing, and reinstating the videos as per the clear community view and on account of your inability to find any serious flaws in them), then you would quickly find the claims of censorship would cease. altogether.
      • Mar 19 2013: But you did intend to censor them. You intended to delete them. This is evident in the email sent to the TEDx organisers.

        It was only after the fact that you made a concession, and even then it was prefaced by falsehoods. Falsehoods which you have failed to apologise for.
      • Mar 19 2013: @ Chris Anderson, This section is closing for comments in two weeks, so please, tell us more about how this isn't censorship. You've removed these two videos from YouTube where they could have been debated in perpetuity and quarantined them in increasingly obscure locations. They CLOSE for comments in two weeks. So tell me again, one more time, how you're not censoring anything. And please, try to say it with a straight face. I dare ya.
        • Mar 29 2013: @Time Walker, Editorialship or moderation necessitates a standard applied which serves to exclude. Censorship is a biased action taken on the part of a state against a citizen regarding expression. The two are different categories. Mr. Sheldrake is free to express himself elsewhere, and the videos are remaining up but without the implied endorsement of TED as viable scientific considerations.

          We might wonder how and why it was that TED was convinced that exponents such as Hancock and Sheldrake might present something salient and reliable, who provided them with assurance that their science board would feel comfortable with these individuals' assertions and hypotheses.
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        Gail . 50+

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        Mar 20 2013: Chris: Sheldrake's talks are supported by (based on) evidence (not proof - in case you don't know the difference). The problem is with the inadequately educated TED board that doesn't like the direction that studies into consciousness are taking us. But evidence is evidence - even if TED doesn't like it.

        No adequately educated person would make so many mistakes in its reasoning for removing Sheldrake's talk. No educated person of even small degree would make the claim that TED is not censoring anything. Such a claim proves that there are great problems with the TED board's agenda.
      • Mar 29 2013: @ Satanist Mufti, You write: "Editorialship or moderation necessitates a standard applied which serves to exclude. Censorship is a biased action taken on the part of a state against a citizen regarding expression. The two are different categories."

        You are simply incorrect. Censorship is undertaken by private entities all the time. Television networks, for instance, have censors whose job it is to ensure that nothing is broadcast that violates their policies, whatever they may be. Some censorship is reasonable. Generally it's done BEFORE something airs. And often their reasoning is as risible and out of step with the public interest as TED's decision here.

        You appear to be confusing the use of the term censorship with free speech or First Amendment infringement. No one is claiming that TED as a private entity is interfering with anyone's right to free speech -- only that they made a censorship call and a ridiculous one.
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      Mar 19 2013: this is a lot of anger for a buddhist priest.
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        Mar 19 2013: No, no anger - just disappointment with TED.
        I live in a country where there was censorship during my first years of residence. It could be recognized by recipies and other "strange" material appearing in the wierdest places of the newspaper, like the editorial page. Some people who disagreed with the regime simply disappeared, others went into exile until democratic process was restored. So I do have some familiarity with what censorship is. Nowday, with democracy, "pandemonium" reigns - how wonderful!

        To my mind, any time a person or a group feels the need to remove material (or people) that doesn't fit the ruling dogma, or shift them into unusual locations, there is some kind of censorship going on. There are various kinds of censorship, ranging from open, direct censoring to subtle strategies aimed to reduce access ou even discourage it.

        If I understand correctly, first you took the talks down (direct, open censorship), then changed them over to an unusual location - that's an "exiling" and subtle censorship. From what I understand, these controversial talks are no longer kept on the main sections of TED. Am I mistaken? It looks sort of like hiding the embarassing family member away in a back room... .

        As I said, "science" should not be treated like a religion. "Scientific truths" are constantly changing. Serious scholars swore that no such thing as bacteria exist, airplanes could never fly, steamships were impossible, we could never get to the moon or survive in outer space, computers were a useless invention, etc etc etc. How many proposals were heavily criticized be leading figures, only to eventually turn into proven realities? Just in the last 100 years, how many inventors and researchers were considered lunatics before their inventions or theories won acceptance?

        Until now, I always though of TED as a place where provocative discussions were "mainstream" - so why have these been exiled to a non-mainstream location?

        Let the debate rage on, mainstream!
      • Mar 21 2013: Buddhists are human beings. We feel anger, in fact often greater anger than most because we sense so keenly the injustices of the world, such as this attempt by TED to stifle debate, bury this issue and deny the spiritual debates on consciousness that dearly need to happen in the scientific world. The flip side of anger is compassion, and so we also work hard at transforming our anger into compassion for such people as the scientific board of TED who in their arrogance, think they have attained what they have not. Such people were called False Arhats, by Shakyamuni Buddha - people who pretend to be wise when they are not, people who fawn over others who have power, people who try to stifle debate and people who lead others down the wrong path. TED and their boards are these people. But people like these, never win in the end.
    • Mar 20 2013: hats off to the Buddhist Priest. very eloquently put. i just wanted to say that.

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