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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: Unfortunately, in my estimation, TEDx has done nothing but lend credence to psuedo-scientific woo. TED, to me, has been a very strong and trusted voice since I first discovered it years ago. Now, however, with TEDx my trust in your 'brand,' as it were, has faded. The claims made by many TEDx presenters (I've seen things about ancient aliens, faith healing, etc.) has made me not want to watch the good TED talks!

    I feel as though TED once stood for something, and now with TEDx you've debased yourself to the level of 'The History Channel.'
    • Mar 24 2013: Have you any specific complaints about the content of this particular talk? Your comment ranges far and wide and it is hard to see where exactly it touches on the current discussion.
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        Mar 24 2013: You know he hasn't watched the talk, right?

        If he had, he would have had to face the facts that there is no good reason for TED to censor it.
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      Mar 24 2013: exactly. and not only one, but two at one event. something went really wrong there.
      • Mar 24 2013: Hi Krisztian, what specifically did Sheldrake say that you are convinced was wrong? Have you read his reply to the TED Science Board where he addressed every single one of their accusations? It can be read here: http://blog.ted.com/2013/03/14/open-for-discussion-graham-hancock-and-rupert-sheldrake/
        Also, if you're open minded you might want to look at some of the peer reviewed papers Sheldrake has published. They're available for free at his website, along with lots of other things- like audio of his debates with skeptics, etc. Here's a link- and thanks for the translations! :)
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          Mar 24 2013: it is easy to reply to anything said. if you don't check the validity of the answer, just saying something is always easy. i also don't care about the accusations TED came up with. those are half-hearted, and does not attack the core issues. the core issue would be lies and complete lack of scientific rigor.

          i don't need to follow the debate. i can assess the talk on my own. my engineer education, and my interest in philosophy of science, and many other issues, i'm capable of understanding that the all of the ten "dogmas" listed are either not dogmas, not held by science or do not even make too much sense. and the rest of the talk, in line with mr sheldrake's other work, is shameful at best.
        • Mar 24 2013: @Krisztizn
          If what you say is true, then it should be easy for you to come up with three or four examples of the the things you object to, as opposed to simply saying you object without giving any details. We get that you don't like the talk, what we don't get is what specifically don't like about it. To call it pseudoscience, or shameful, is simply to beg the question. Why is it pseudoscience, why is it shameful? Examples please.
      • Mar 24 2013: Dear Krisztián -

        You response very-well encapsulates the essence of the debate. You write, "i don't care about the accusations TED came up... i don't need to follow the debate. i can assess the talk on my own. my engineer education..."

        This is the wall of absolute rejection that Sheldrake runs into. The talk does not need to be considered and debated in its particulars. Your engineering education taught you his assertions are false on their face. You believe in the validity of materialism as a scientific philosophy. Arguments against materialism are, by definition, not scientific. Therefore, without examining the specific accusations or following the debate, you can declare Sheldrake's talk shameful.

        Thank you for engaging in the discussion. You contribution makes this controversy clearly understood.
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          Mar 24 2013: whoa there, that maneuver was wonderful! look at this very fine shift in meanings.

          first we have "i don't need to follow the debate. i can assess the talk on my own." (this is me)

          and a second later "The talk does not need to be considered" (your interpretation)

          i hope i'm not the only one that sees the difference here.
      • Mar 24 2013: Krisztian, that's some tough talk. If you've been able to detect a number of lies in Sheldrake's talk perhaps the folks at TED should choose you to debate Sheldrake. Can you please provide evidence of the "lies" that Sheldrake told, as well as evidence of his lack of scientific rigor? You've never read any of his papers or books have you?
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        Mar 24 2013: You don't have any evidence to support your claim, Krisztian. Neither does TED's anonymous science board. (That's probably why they are too embarrassed to debate Sheldrake in a public forum.)

        I hope you aren't going to launch into a string of abusive language to get this thread shut down in the same manner you used to shut down another conversation in which you were losing the argument. You do understand that only makes your case appear much weaker?
    • Mar 24 2013: Hi Gardiner. The TED Scientific Board leveled a number of charges at Sheldrake to which he responded. Please go here, read Sheldrake's response, and tell me what you think of his response and TED's subsequent retraction. Thanks!
    • Mar 24 2013: Gardiner, do you have any specific criticisms regarding the Sheldrake presentation in particular; you have watched it haven't you? Also, where is the TED talk about ancient aliens?
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      Mar 24 2013: Gardiner, instead of flinging around insults, could you perhaps find some evidence to support your case?
    • Mar 25 2013: While I sympathize with your point of view, I'm not sure if it adds to the discussion at all to say you simply don't fancy watching talks on certain topics. If it did, I could turn around and petition TED to remove any number of talks on the grounds that I don't fancy them.

      The issue, however, is that their official reasons for removing the talks have been thoroughly challenged. TED have not responded, and the onus is on them to demonstrate that they have not carelessly assassinated the character of two volunteer guest presenters.

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