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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 21 2013: FYI: Russell Targ will be speaking at a TEDx event in April:

    http://www.tedxwesthollywood.com/russell-targ/

    I wonder how well TED will treat him? His work on ESP was published in the journal Nature, so hopefully the anonymous "science" board will leave this one alone.
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      Mar 21 2013: Thanks, Sandy: since I know both the TEDx WestHollywood conference organizers and Russell, I couldn't be the one to post that impartially. But my opinion is that Russell's talk will truly be a doozy, and streamed live. He was a founder and co-director of a government-funded, SRI military project which ran for over two decades, for which the government paid tens of millions of dollars. He was also a NASA-funded physicist who, among other things, developed the laser technology for predictive wind shear on commercial airline wings.

      He has known people like Wernher von Braun and Arthur C. Clarke. And many, many others of good reputation. Russell told me that it was von Braun who put in a good word to NASA, suggesting that they fund his research with SRI.

      About how TED might treat Russell's work, or that of his honest-to-science colleagues, I figure the fireworks over Sheldrake's wonderful observations are only the warm-up act. Russell Targ has the kind of hard, scientific facts, based in decades of research, which will stop anyone with any sense in their tracks. A good question to ask oneself in thinking about what Russell's research shows is, do I *really* think the government would toss millions of dollars into a controversial subject - especially spying - for nearly 20 years without having significant results to which they could point? And another fascinating question to ask is, if the government was *really* getting the results they wanted from a spying project, would they actually disclose that? ;-)

      And to mention something to everyone worth remembering here, of which Russell is happy to remind everyone, "You're not your business card."

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