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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 24 2013: A related issue is important in all this. People are getting smarter (not more stupid, as the skeptics would like to have us believe). Psychologist Stephen Flynn identified the fact that specific realms of human intelligence have been expanding dramatically, as indicated by IQ test scores – esp. visual-spatial intelligence and scientific thinking (and the capacity for abstraction). Flynn believes that people are smarter because of “scientific thinking”. In turn the widespread dissemination of “shorthand abstractions” such as “random sample”, “control group” and “falsifiability” equip us with cognitive tools which make us smarter. Still, Flynn is quick to criticise what he believes are false shorthand abstractions. He uses examples like “reality is a text” and “gender science”, and he is hostile to postmodern thought which attempts to contextualise knowledge formation. While some of Flynn’s criticisms of postmodern thought and relativism is well founded, his attitude highlights an issue at the heart of “the psi wars”. Conservative thinking in science wants us to accept the benefits of science and the great knowledge it has granted us. But many in the more conservative scientific community fail to grasp that the general public is now armed with a host of concepts akin to Flynn’s short-hand abstractions which make them far “smarter” than their parents. The concepts of “worldview”‘, “paradigm” and “ways of knowing”, for example, mean that masses of people are now able to pry behind the machinations of science to ask deeper questions about how our knowledge is produced and communicated. Sheldrake and many people looking at the issue from outside are just too informed to unquestioningly buy what they are being sold by TED and experts in the scientific community.
    As Einstein stated, a mind once expanded by a new idea can never return to its original size. Just as scientific literacy is here to stay, so is the deepening of awareness of how knowledge is created.
    • Mar 24 2013: Thankyou Marcus.

      I actually quoted that section of your blog post on the Hancock thread before I noticed you'd done it here. To it I said that I used to be slightly confused about the way 'skeptics' like to diss Derrida, Foucault, etc, but it is increasingly clear to me why they hate the whole postmodern school: it provides the perfect tools for dismantling the paradigm on which they depend.

      Oh to have Foucault speak on TED..

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