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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 23 2013: You're just about the only one in this whole conversation who's on about psychic dogs.
    • Mar 23 2013: Lime Crime,

      This conversation is more about censorship than psychic dogs ... however, because you ask, and because of your total sceptisism I would like to relate a little story to you. Experienced first hand.

      Around the year of 1976, I was living in California with my cousin for a few months. During this time he had a stray dog at the house that just came by one day and never left.
      One day, after dark, at around 10 o'clock at night, very dark outside, we put the dog in the trunk of the car and drove it about 30 miles away from the house. We stopped the car on a country road and let the dog out of the car and drove home again. .... To our surprise, the next morning, the dog was sitting on the step of the house again .... So, not saying this "proves" anything about the psychic abilities of a dog, it does show that they have some amazing abilities that we humans can only look with wonder at.
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          Mar 24 2013: Lime Crime with supportable thought? Astonishing!!
    • Mar 23 2013: @ Lime Crime, This really isn't about belief. Sheldrake's research into psychic phenomena such as pet-owner telepathy, takes as its starting point things that people observe frequently. Many pet owners have observed that their pets seem to know when they're coming home and behave differently. So, because he's a scientist, he set an experiment to see if there was anything demonstrable and measurable to that observation. His research demonstrated that a dog came to the window 65% of the time when a pet owner was driving home, as opposed to 18% of the time when she was not. That result was even replicated by Richard Wiseman, but he failed to report those positive results when he pronounced the experiment a failure. You can download the dissertation that describes the incident here. http://www.skeptiko.com/88-scientific-community-unfair-to-rupert-sheldrake/

      If you look near the end of the dissertation, you'll note a partial transcript in which Sheldrake debated Peter Atkins. At the end of the transcript, the host says, "Anecdotally, I bet lots of listeners have had that funny feeling about the phone." That's the thing. A lot of us have. And it's anecdotal until people set experiments and see if there's something reproducible about these phenomena.

      So basically, what you're accusing Sheldrake of is thinking and acting like a scientist. Observing something, coming up with an hypothesis, and setting an experiment to see if it can be proved one way or another.
    • Mar 23 2013: I don't believe in psychic dogs. But I do think the evidence is intriguing and should be looked at rather than ignored. What I find almost as intriguing, though, is how you come to know dogs aren't psychic, and why you are so opposed to the idea of looking. And also intriguing is your indignation at the suggestion your views are dogmatic. I should point out that, refusing a priori to countenance an idea = dogmatism.
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      Mar 24 2013: I believe you're a psychic dog, Lime, from the depth of your comments. Why do you ask?

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