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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 25 2013: The results have been published in peer-reviewed journals and so have the replications. Time, then, to stop standing in the way of this with false claims about evidence.
      • Mar 25 2013: any time you say something like this there should be a link steve. this is either true or not true, opinions be damned! :)
        • Mar 25 2013: I've given you a link to the video that has all the data and where it was published. Many here have directed you to Sheldrake's website, and many other websites, where there are lists of the peer-reviewed literature you don't believe exists. I note your only links are to blogs. You are free to check them out anytime you like.
        • Mar 25 2013: Julian, for someone who seems so certain in their belief that there is nothing worthwhile to be found in Sheldrake's research, I'm surprised you seem completely ignorant of the papers he's written? So am I to understand you've read none of them? Have you at least read one of his books, which tend to be geared more towards a general audience? Anyway, here's the link:

          At his site you can also find streaming audio of things like debates he's had with skeptics, etc.
        • Mar 25 2013: Try http://www.sheldrake.org/Articles&Papers/papers/

          There's a section there on telepathy, one on ' Unexplained Powers of Animals' and one on 'The Sense of Being Stared At'. Sombunall* of his telephone telepathy experiments are flawed because the subject picks up the phone and immediately says the name; this could allow them to hear breathing and instantly identify the person based on that. In his experiment with the Nolan sisters, they have to say the name before they pick up the phone; you can see the video here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UdOi3s-tBzk. The one about the dog Kane is pretty good too; he always throws out the last few minutes before the owner arrives home to safeguard against the dog hearing the car etc. and he has a blinded researcher look at the videotapes to mark when she thinks 'waiting behavior' starts.

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          Mar 26 2013: Juilian, you're not paying attention. Many have posted links already. I myself reproduced the full list of Sheldrake's scientific papers for reference and linked directly to one of his studies. The only responses I've seen from you and other detractors has been the repeated refrain that there is no evidence, or that the evidence just isn't evidence, or simply childish name calling.
      • Mar 25 2013: steve i watched that video and commented on how silly i found it below the link.

        basically you want me to believe that real scientists are all just guilty of a massive bias that makes them completely ignore (or conspire to suppress) valid data about the nature of reality, consciousness and the existence of the paranormal, and it is for this reason that all of these studies are not the biggest news in the history of human knowledge...

        i think the alternative explanation is much more likely: these studies are part of the fringe science wasteland that real scientists dismiss because of bad methodology, confirmation bias, etc..
        • Mar 25 2013: I know you found it silly. But the point is not whether you found it silly. The point is what it shows. The point is the links it contains to the peer-reviewed papers which you point blank refuse to believe exist.
        • Mar 25 2013: Hi Julian,

          Perhaps you'll find this paper germane to the topic at hand.

        • Mar 26 2013: Hi Julian, do you think we are more likely to find something silly if the beliefs we bring to the table are against it?

          The psychology paper I posted already strongly suggests that we are - http://synapse.princeton.edu/~sam/lord_ross_lepper79_JPSP_biased-assimilation-and-attitude-polarization.pdf . I'll summarize for you: subjects were asked if they supported capital punishment, then asked to assess the quality of studies measuring the deterrant effect of capital punishment. They thought that the studies that supported the beliefs they walked in with were methodologically stronger.
      • Mar 25 2013: i understand your frustration and you are right i don't want to endlessly agree to the wild goose chase. i have been down this road with psi believers many times and there is just no there there... when and if there ever is it won't require the wild goose chase - it will be plain as day, undeniable, a part of reality easily demonstrable.

        that said i will over time look at every thing you link me to, just in case there is something truly mind blowing to be found.


        take care everyone.
        • Mar 26 2013: Julian said - "that said i will over time look at every thing you link me to, just in case there is something truly mind blowing to be found."

          Oh, Julian now seems to be putting himself in the postion of "arbiter and determiner of the truly mindblowing.". How did you get that position Julian? lol Self-appointed no doubt, lol.
        • Mar 26 2013: What could be more mind-blowing that the seemingly well-supported suggestion that we start to respond to an emotional picture before we've seen it! If I remember right, these results have been replicated three times in different labs. These are the results you found "silly" although you didn't offer any reason as to why.

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