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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:

http://blog.ted.com/2013/03/19/the-debate-about-rupert-sheldrakes-talk/

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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 20 2013: Steve, while I appreciate your suggestion to get a reasonable handle on the issues Sheldrake is discussing, his explicit comments on the issue of the speed of light warrant the comment I made. But if you want, let's stick to "The underlying dogma is that the ultimate laws of physics are, well, ultimate, and fixed." In fact, models of eternal inflation predict many universes with slightly different physical constants, some of which may create a world like ours and some of which may not. Much effort is being made to pose (and then address) the questions of "how likely is the universe in which we find ourselves (and by definition our physical laws)?." This is a tricky question to ask as we need to phrase it in concrete statistical language in order to be able to begin to answer it. Similar questions are being asked by researchers all over the world. Rather than shy away from dogma, we are constantly trying to tackle it head on and test our understanding, and so Sheldrake's comment (both the one I adressed previously and the one you highlighted) are in my mind are unfair.
    • Mar 20 2013: When you say the universe in which we find ourselves and by definition our physical laws, you seem to be suggesting that the fundamental physical laws in our universe are fixed. Is that what you;re saying, and is that assumption (dogma?) being tested?
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        Mar 20 2013: What I'm saying, Steve, is that in asking the theoretical questions about how likely the physical laws are in our universe we are explicitly allowing for different physical laws in other universes - so yes, we challenge these type of assumptions. As I stated before, we also test for changes in the laws in our own universe (for example is gravity changing with time or in space, and the paper I referenced to earlier as two examples). Just because in general the assumption is that these are fixed (as I said, because we don't have strong evidence to the contrary) doesn't actually mean that this is dogma - scientific papers are written all the time about challenging just these assumptions.
        • Mar 20 2013: Cmon Renee. Of course there is a dogma. If there is a general assumption then it is a dogma.It is like saying that because we have the likes of Dr Rupert Sheldrake and Prof Dean Radin doing telepathy research that there is no dogma in science about telepathy and PSI. You and I both know full well there is.

          To quote Terrence McKenna a lot of materialistic science is basically based on "Give me one free miracle and I will explain everything else".

          Science is full of assumptions and that is exactly the issue Rupert Sheldrake is bringing to light. It's the double standard they apply to science. It is ok to come up with "Dark Matter" to make theories on the Big Bang fit and pass that off as "Science" and brainwash... I mean teach it to students... yet when Sheldrake, Radin and co. conduct proper scientific experiments on PSI phenomena we have skeptics and now people like TED accusing them of being "PseudoScientists" and we have the science community doing their best to discredit their work because it goes against their materialistic belief systems they live on.

          THAT is the Science Delusion.
        • Mar 20 2013: I don't think Sheldrake is arguing that all scientists think the same way; quite the contrary. His talk isn't critical of any particular scientists but of what he perceives as a dominant philosophical paradigm of which many scientists may not even be conscious. Your reference to a "general assumption" is more or less confirmation of this.
        • Mar 20 2013: My question was about whether you assume (scientists assume) that there are fixed laws of physics within this particular universe? That was Sheldrake's suggested dogma.
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        Mar 20 2013: Steve - I'm not sure you are understanding me. In testing for variation in the constants of the physical laws in our universe, we are *explicitly* testing for the fact that the laws of physics within this universe are fixed (or not). Different constants would mean that the laws behave completely differently. In day to day calculations I may assume they are fixed, until I find strong evidence to the contrary!
        • Mar 20 2013: (How) do you know when you've got at the actual laws rather than a higher level (potentially changing) manifestation of some underlying fixed laws?
    • Mar 20 2013: Very pleased to see you involved here Renee. Thank you for participating in this dialogue.
    • Mar 26 2013: Hi Renee. Are you familiar with skeptic/physicist Sean Carroll's brief critique of Sheldrake? You can read it here: http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2013/03/06/tedx-talks-completely-discredited-rupert-sheldrake-speaks-argues-that-speed-of-light-is-dropping/

      And you can read Sheldrake's response to Carroll's critique here:
      http://blog.ted.com/2013/03/14/open-for-discussion-graham-hancock-and-rupert-sheldrake/

      Finally, are you familiar with these two recent articles linked to below? I'd really like to know what you think of them. Thanks! http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/03/130325111154.htm and
      http://io9.com/the-scharnhorst-effect-claims-weve-got-the-speed-of-li-458766433

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