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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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  • D S

    • +5
    Mar 26 2013: Now, when Sheldrake was discussing our notion of the speed-of-light as a constant, I think he was mainly pointing out that our measurements have changed and calls into question what this implies. Some have accused him of outright saying that the speed-of-light changes. Like I said, he just pointed out the fluctuations in measurements - which might suggest the measurements/equipment is what accounts for the disparity, or, perhaps, it is the "constant" that does in fact fluctuate. This, apparently, helped earn him the "pseudoscience" label.

    That being said, two articles came out recently that further support Sheldrake's contentions and call for inquiry:

    Speed of Light May Not Be Fixed, Scientists Suggest; Ephemeral Vacuum Particles Induce Speed-Of-Light Fluctuations

    "Two forthcoming European Physical Journal D papers challenge established wisdom about the nature of vacuum. In one paper, Marcel Urban from the University of Paris-Sud, located in Orsay, France and his colleagues identified a quantum level mechanism for interpreting vacuum as being filled with pairs of virtual particles with fluctuating energy values. As a result, the inherent characteristics of vacuum, like the speed of light, may not be a constant after all, but fluctuate.
    As a result, there is a theoretical possibility that the speed of light is not fixed, AS CONVENTIONAL PHYSICS HAS ASSUMED [emphasis mine]. But it could fluctuate at a level independent of the energy of each light quantum, or photon, and greater than fluctuations induced by quantum level gravity. The speed of light would be dependent on variations in the vacuum properties of space or time."

    The Scharnhorst Effect claims we've got the speed of light wrong
    • thumb
      Mar 26 2013: D S, you point to this problem well. As a non-physicist, I was not all all confused by what Sheldrake was saying. He was merely saying that the measurements have changed and when he brought this up to an expert in the field of such measurments he got double talk back in response. He then only suggests that instead of double talk this might be a fruitful area for further investigation to maybe actually determine what the cause of the differences in measurements is. It is a no-brainer that TED has blown way out of proportion by listening to the scientists of the neo-inquisiiton.

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