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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 22 2013: I doubt TED will be hosting any debates but Rupert has already debated a few of these issues with a pretty tough crowd: Stephen Jay Gould, Daniel Dennett, Oliver Sacks, Freeman Dyson, and Stephen Toulmin: http://www.nautis.com/2007/06/how-do-pigeons-home/

    There is also a 90 minute interview with Sheldrake from the same series here: http://www.nautis.com/2009/08/glorious-accident-interview-with-rupert-sheldrake/.
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      Mar 22 2013: Thanks for posting these. It's hard to imagine the "anonymous 'science' board" stepping up to debate anything with Dr Sheldrake after seeing these talks, lol.
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        Mar 22 2013: I think people forget that Rupert was a director of cell biology at Cambridge, a member of the Royal Society, and published in the journal Nature. I wouldn't want to debate him either. ;-)
      • Mar 22 2013: After the amateur ficticous job TED did of trying to discredit Sheldrake the first time it would be intellectual suicide to try and take him on.

        To quote Prof Stanton Friedman when debating with Skeptic Science "guru" Bill Nye "You have to admire someone who comes on a national television program to debate something they do not know the first thing about and have read none of the literature".

        Sheldrake has made people smarter than the TED Board look like proclaiming fools.
    • Mar 22 2013: Have you seen the list of TED's "Brain Trust"? I wonder if there's some crossover between them and their Science Board. Sheldrake has said he'd be willing to debate any of the members of the TED "Brain Trust" as well. Both Dennett and Steven Pinker are on it- given how opposed both of them are to his ideas I could imagine neither would be too happy with TED having a Sheldrake video on their YouTube channel. Here's the list:
      • Mar 22 2013: Yes as soon as I saw Steven Pinker on the board... it all makes it a little more clearer as to how TED is influenced. Any man that quotes Richard Dawkins as an "influence" is hardly going to give an unbiased scientific view on anything.
        • Mar 22 2013: Whoever is the on the science board, or someone re[presenting them, really should come here and try to make a case. I mean, their first case was fabricated, and their second case was partly fabricated and partly false, so as things stand we have no actual explanation of what it is that gets their goat.
      • Mar 22 2013: I went to a talk by Daniel Dennett last night in London, and heard him saying to Rupert Sheldrake that he thought TED had made a mistake with regard to this whole controversy. Dennett also said he had had nothing to do with the controversy.
        • Mar 22 2013: That's likely because, as a philosopher, Dennett will know that Sheldrake's views on science are quite widely shared in academia, and particularly within philosophy departments. By contrast, not many scientists of the die-hard materialist reductionist cast like philosophy all that much. But then, not too many of them know that much about it. It is, they think, a subject to be waved away with the back of their hand as if all philosophical questions were answered the day we discovered the atomic weight of lead.
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          Mar 22 2013: Guy, since Dennett is on the TED Brain Trust and a staunch proponent of materialism this is fantastic. I wonder if you could go into more detail on this or point to some mention of it online, if there is any.
        • Mar 22 2013: What a decent thing of Dennett to do! Props to Dennett for saying that in public and thanks to Guy Hayward for sharing it here.
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      Mar 22 2013: Thanks for this! I've been trying to find more of this round-table discussion and pointing people to the one good clip from it here, then realized it was on your YouTube channel. Having seen more of it previously on YouTube, I was disappointed not to be able to link to a fuller representation. The stuff on homing pigeons is fantastic.

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