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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 20 2013: Also, avoiding throwing the world "materialist" as an insult, would help. It avoids a deeper discussion. Many scientists believe in an afterlife, and we accept as facts things weirder than Dr. Sheldrakes claims. Particles that come out from nothing, places where even light cannot come out, alcohol among the stars, that we are very similar to mice and horses at the genetic level, and many more things that are counter intuitive. The difference is that we have strong evidence about these weird, mind blowing claims. Quantum mechanics is weird, nearly impossible to understand and bizarre, but we accept it. It's not a matter of accepting what we'd like to be true, but of accepting the evidence. But often people with weak or zero evidence resort to name calling when asked for more evidence.

    Maybe tomorrow Dr. Sheldrake will be praised as the stubborn man who fought the establishment, the one who saw a whole new field, boiling with new opportunities and wonders. Maybe. But for now, he still needs to show a lot more evidence than quoting a thee words of a scientist, instead of new experimental results.

    I have been proved wrong many times in my life, in science, it's often delightful. I doubt this will be the case here. But if so, the wonderful perspectives would outweigh any negative feelings for being proved wrong. That's why I am scientist, not because I am right all the time, or I pretend I am, but because the universe is beautiful, complex and mysterious, and I find pleasure understanding how things work out.
    • Mar 20 2013: I think the strongest evidence for the morphogentic field is the way the morphogentic field which connects TED Fellows, Tedx Organizers, Ted Staff and sundry other TEDsters has been working its magic and causing all these people with TED Something under their name and have almost identical viewpoints who have all suddenly turned up to toe the party line while being conspicuous by their absence when the first two discussions were taking place. It must be the morphogentic field because TED would never have sent a memo round asking for support or anything like that, eh.
      • Mar 20 2013: @Steve -- we asked TED to get involved in this discussion and they are doing so. While nothing in their responses makes me think either of these videos should have been removed, they make some fair points and are contributing intelligently and constructively to the conversation.

        This is about having a conversation and friendly debate about these videos, not simply winning at all costs.

        That being said, the way this was initially handled by TED and their unprofessional and disrespectful treatment of the speakers and community have created a fair amount of ill will for those who have stuck it out with the conversation this long.

        So I ask all TED-affiliated commenters here to be aware that you are coming into a room of people who feel frustrated, disrespected, and marginalized -- and in many ways understandably so. You are doing a great job so far, but I encourage you to be patient as you work to rebuild goodwill and get this dialogue back on a constructive track.
        • Mar 20 2013: Fair enough I suppose, I just felt that the initial TED badge holders who appeared were lawyering endlessly without any seeming background knowledge of the issues that had resulted in this particular discussion page.
      • Mar 20 2013: @ Steve Stark,

        Yes. Someone probably rang them up and said "Our community is asking for us to get involved in this conversation and it's coming off as pretty one-sided at this point. Can you please jump in and do your best to represent our concerns in a reasonable, well-substantiated, and courteous manner?"

        If this is the case (and I sincerely apologize to any TED-affiliated commenters if it is not), they seem to be doing their best to get up to speed and contribute constructively.

        What has been fundamentally lost in this conversation is the assumption of mutual good faith on both sides. Now that TED and its representatives are willing to engage with the community in a civilized and substantive manner, I suggest we do our best to put past offenses behind us and focus on having the conversation that should have taken place on day one.
    • Mar 20 2013: Guido, did you read Sheldrake's response to the accusations made against him? Do you consider the charges TED made against him valid, even after his response? If so, please explain. And of course many scientists believe in an afterlife. Rupert never said they didn't. But the talk is about dogmas. You say many scientists believe in an afterlife. Well how many scientists can you name who are currently involved in afterlife research? I can name a few but their numbers are miniscule. Why do you think that is? I'd suggest that one reason might be because people fear it's career suicide to conduct research into things like psi or the afterlife. Now why do you think that is? Maybe because they're afraid they'll get branded a "pseudoscientist" and ostracized by the mainstream scientific establishment? Please be honest with me Guido, you casually dismiss Sheldrake's evidence- but how many of his papers have you actually read? I'd like to suggest you visit this link and get acquainted with some of them:
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        Mar 20 2013: Yes, I read it. And that's why I wrote what I wrote.

        "Materialist" is the new bogey man. And quoting a scientist, not his experimental results, or offering new results, does not proof a thing about the claim of quicker, easier crystallization.

        Maybe it's because a lot of people has tried to study afterlife and has gotten no result at all when they are rigorous. See Susan Blackmore, for instance.
        • Mar 20 2013: You say, "Maybe it's because a lot of people has tried to study afterlife and has gotten no result at all when they are rigorous." Who are all these scientists you have in mind? You say "many scientists believe in afterlife"- I agree with you, I'm certain Sheldrake agrees with you; so how do you explain so few of these scientists who believe in an afterlife actually doing research into an issue which is of enormous concern to a lot of humanity- do we survive death? Also, you mention Blackmore. I would recommend this paper, which offers a critical look at her parapsychological research: http://archived.parapsych.org/psiexplorer/blackmore_critique.htm
        • Mar 20 2013: Susan Blackmore is an interesting case. Perhaps you should check out just how negative her negative results actually were.
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      Mar 20 2013: Guido, Sheldrake has a decent track record. I remember in the early 80's reading A New Science of Life he called attention to one of the central dogmas of genetics at the time, namely that DNA was "read-only" and that the only avenue for change was mutation. He argued for a neo-Lamarkianism. At that time inheriting acquired characteristics was still linked to vitalism. Today, epigenetics is a thriving discipline albeit one that took a long time to get off the ground.

      I think this is an example where an idea (mutation as the only driver of change) was just accepted. After the Human Gemone Project was complete it became clear that DNA was doing much more than coding for proteins. There were too few genes to explain all of our questions in biology.
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      Gail . 50+

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      Mar 20 2013: Sheldrake's talk was inept - perhaps because of the time constraint, but not because of the content. If you demand more proof than was available in that time frame (because you are not aware of the research now being done in leading universities who are researching "mind" or "consciousness"), then you had better start pulling down a lot of other talks.

      Let's start with Allan Savory: "How to green the desert and reverse climate change". He condemns mainstream ecological science. Next move on to Sir Ken Robinson's "Changing Educational Paradigms". He mentions ONE study conducted using ONE test - and neither the study nor the test demonstrate clearly that loss of creativity is not a natural part of growing up that would be lost with or without formal schooling.

      I love these two videos that violated TED principles. Yet you allow these (and MANY others) while condemning anything that the board is either unaware of or doesn't like because the evidence doesn't suit the board's agenda. The Sheldrake controversy has demeaned and defamed TED.

      Just because the board is unaware of what is happening today in the field of study of "mind" or "consciousness" doesn't mean that there are not great and stunning things being discovered. Just because the board consists of those with mindsets such as that which Sheldrake mentioned does not mean that there are not an abundance of legitimate, notable, leading edge scientists who are not of YOUR mindset when it comes to making certain parts of science off-limit.

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