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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 21 2013: "and claim that the speed of light has been changing"

    I've only just listened to this Ted Talk for the first time, and maybe I need to listen to it again, but I don't actually remember him making the claim that the speed of light has been changing. I do remember him stating that the recorded data of the speed of light has been changing over historical time but that isn't the same thing, and that is surely something that can be checked one way or another in a fairily straightforward way I would have thought?

    Can anyone point me to the part of the talk where he actually makes the claim described here?
    • Mar 21 2013: No need, you're right, he didn't say it. As regards the data, Sheldrake was right. The whole thing is rather interesting because TED said Sean Carroll posted a careful rebuttal of Sheldrake's claims, but as Sheldrake pointed out Carroll's rebuttal missed out the data for the very years in question which made it look like there had been no large change in the recorded data of the kind he referred to. Sheldrake, however, checked some of the other sources Carroll listed which did show the data for the time in question and there, large as life, was the data Sheldrake had referred to in the first place showing exactly what he said it did.
      • Mar 21 2013: Which brings me to this: "several of the dogmas are actually active areas of science inquiry (including whether physical ‘constants’ are really unchanging)"

        Okay, so what the Ted staff seem to be saying here is that there are valid areas of scientific inquiry as to whether the current thinking is correct, which to my mind would seem to back the validity of the talk and not invalidate it?

        So as of the 19th March Ted seem to be making claims about the talk which are obviously not true. I watched it again and he doesn't make the claim that the speed of light has been changing.

        Ted also seems to imply that these claims about the talk have come from their scientific advisers and that they are the basis of their criticism of the talk??
        • Mar 21 2013: Yes indeed, half of Sheldrake's critics have been lambasting him for suggesting things which are clearly contradicted by facts established beyond any reasonable doubt, while the other half have been lambasting him for claiming that anyone in science treats these same things as facts established beyond any reasonable doubt.
        • Mar 22 2013: Yup that is basically the big uproar. The reasons they gave for removing Sheldrake's talk was basically all lies. My guess is that their "science board" that reviewed it was really not the science board at all but a list of Atheists backed up 2 particular Atheists who originally complained about the 2 offending videos.

          My guess is TED took the word of these Atheists without actually checking the video itself that those claims were true.

          It smacks of what has happened for the last 30 years with PSI research and Atheist/Materialists making claims that are just false. Will Storr even wrote a book about it called "The Heretics". He went in thinking the "woo" crowd and fringe scientists investigating PSI were the ones fabricating data and lying.... and started investigating it.... only to find it was absolutely the other way around. The PSI crowd were the ones that were telling the truth.... and it was the Atheist groups like James Randi who were found to be continually lying and manipulating information... to keep people away from taking the PSI claims seriously.

          Sounds exactly what is happening now at TED with Rupert and Hancock doesn't it?
      • Mar 21 2013: Seán Carroll also backed up Sheldrake's claim about the speed of light being fixed by convention rather than empirical measurement:

        Rupert Sheldrake: "How can we be so sure it's not going on today and that the present values are not produced by intellectual phase-locking? He said, 'We know that's not the case'. I said, 'How do we know?' He said, 'Well,' he said, 'We've solved the problem.' I said, 'How?' He said 'We fixed the speed of light by definition in 1972.' " (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LEo2hChKeMs&t=12m15s)

        Seán Carroll: "Indeed, today the speed of light is fixed by definition, not by measurement." (http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2013/03/06/tedx-talks-completely-discredited-rupert-sheldrake-speaks-argues-that-speed-of-light-is-dropping/)
        • Mar 21 2013: And TED called that a "careful rebuttal".
    • Mar 21 2013: The speed of light tested in an almost sterile environment in a 20 mile long tube on earth, proves what light can do in a sterile environment, not in space.

      Science could easily attach a laser to a probe and test fro a million miles away, but I'm betting there is too much interference in outer space with all the plasma, cosmic rays, dust enough for star nurseries, billions of miles of gas and so much more.

      NASA the scientific method

      How long does it take the photons to return? The scientific method?

      So, the moons reflectors are 239,000 miles from earth, approximately and since the speed of light is 186,000 miles per second, y'all must think that laser beam will get back to earth pretty fast. Actually, the light should return to earth from the moons reflectors in 1.3 seconds, with the reflectors designed to reflect the light back, but according to the scientists and this web site page, it takes a few seconds to return to earth. A FEW SECONDS,--wow, how very scientific,- when judging light speed. Gotta love the very accurate, scientific method, NOT!!!
      A few seconds is at least twice as long as the beam or photons should take to return to earth.

      At least they depend on all of us being stupid enough to believe them.


      The piece claims,--Once the laser beam hits a reflector, scientists at the ranging observatories use extremely sensitive filtering and amplification equipment to detect the return signal, which is far too weak to be seen with the human eye. Even under good atmospheric viewing conditions, only one photon is received every few seconds.

      Read that last line above again, one photon every FEW SECONDS.

      It should only take 1.3 seconds for each return photon, if that light is traveling at the speed of light. If light can be so depleted to just one photon every few seconds, from just going to the moon and back, who in their right mind would thing light can travel billions of miles through space?
      • Mar 21 2013: Must the light not bounce back, thus making the round trip 478,000 miles?
        • Mar 21 2013: Not according to how the piece is written. Oh, that must be more of sciences attention to detail. That's the scientific method.

          "Once the laser beam hits a reflector, scientists at the ranging observatories use extremely sensitive filtering and amplification equipment to detect the return signal,"

          The above sentence states, ---Once the laser beam hits a reflector, --- meaning, they are only watching the return trip from the light. However, according to science, our galaxy is spinning at 600,000 mph, so science shouldn't be reading anything, because in 2.6 seconds, the earth should be more than a few hundred miles away from its original release of light, but that seems to confuse a lot of people.
    • Mar 21 2013: He goes into more detail about changes in G here: http://sciencesetfree.tumblr.com/post/40594151940/how-the-universal-gravitational-constant-varies

      Thought some of you might be intersted.

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