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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:

http://blog.ted.com/2013/03/19/the-debate-about-rupert-sheldrakes-talk/

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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 26 2013: (Response to 'Jimmy Randy')

    I identified several logical fallacies in Julian's posts before I gave up trying to correct them.

    1. Onus Probandi. Julian says the burden of proof is on Sheldrake to justify morphic resonance. Unfortunately for Julian, this entire discussion is not about morphic resonance but about Sheldrake's presentation. The burden thus falls to TED and Sheldrake's detractors to present justification for their mistreatment of Sheldrake.

    2. Conflation. Julian fails to acknowledge the difference between the scientific method and philosophy of science.

    3. Misrepresenting the facts. Julian trivializes idealism, dualism, anything not specifically materialistic, as being "on the wrong side" of the evidence. Unfortunately for Julian, his attempts to defend materialism reveal him to be a dualist.

    4. Straw man. Julian mischaracterizes those who question materialist principles as having an "agenda" whereby science will be corrupted by spiritualism.

    5. Bandwagon fallacy. Julian asserts the truth of materialism -- that it has been proven by science -- is evidenced by its ascendent position among mainstream scientists.

    6. Equivocation. Julian objects to characterizing materialism as mechanistic because it's a "monstrous" and "nonsensical caricature" even though it is consistent with the language employed by materialist proponents.

    7. Psychologist's fallacy. Julian makes statements presupposing to know Sheldrake's motivations.

    8. Ignoratio elenchi. Julian makes a tirade against imaginary positions that no one holds in at least one instance. ("biology is amazing, consciousness is extraordinary, even without an immaterial soul, pantheistic spirit, paranormal powers or creationist faith.")

    9. Guilt by association. Julian attempts to (I assume) discredit Sheldrake by associating him with the likes of "chopra, mctaggart, wallace etc" for reasons that are unclear to me.

    10. Faulty analogy. Julian continues to equate openness to evidence with being creationist.
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      • Mar 26 2013: He quoted Julian 4 times.
      • Mar 26 2013: There were so many I couldn't be bothered to list them all; I just stopped when I ran out of room.

        Here are quotes:

        1. "but sheldrake explicitly makes scientific claims and these are to be assessed on scientific grounds. the burden of proof is 100% on him. the rest is just noise."

        2. "scientific materialism is what science has discovered, not what science set out to prove." and "the entire history of science is the basis for materialism." and "science has not been studying matter it has been studying everything and so far it turns out we live in a material universe." and "because he and his ilk don't have good evidence for what they want to believe, their only recourse is to try and discredit scientific method itself." etc.

        3. "quantum physics does not support either dualism or idealism." and then "consciousness reduces causally but not ontologically to the brain."

        4. "the ten dogmas turned into ten questions... tries to sneak in a dualist, idealist and creationist agenda through the faux respectable door os pseudo-intellectualism." and "not sure what the controversy is, unless one has a supernatural quasi religious agenda."

        5. "science has brought us to a picture of a materialist reality. it's just what the evidence shows." and "if the data ever goes elsewhere so will the view of scientists and the science literate."

        6. "this is just a nonsensical caricature. who wouldn't agree that this is monstrous? easy rhetorical straw man. scientists don't think we are machines."

        7. "sheldrake is dishonest" and "this is not only completely inappropriate and dishonest, it also seeks to erase the differences between science and religion, the massive breakthrough represented by scientific method, and in so doing, elevate unevidenced religious, paranormal and magical claims to being on a par with those based in evidence and reason." and "sheldrake is probably just trying to open a loophole for paranormal explanations"
      • Mar 26 2013: 9. "there is a broader agenda that he is part of and folks like chopra, mctaggart, wallace etc" and "he (and others like chopra and b. allan wallace)" and "so to with sheldrake, chopra, and those with their agenda."

        10. "This again is not so different than climate change deniers, and creationists saying their free speech is being suppressed" and "not unlike creationists and climate change deniers it is this attempt to lean on the extreme relativist sensitivity that wants all claims to be seen as equal and given equal airtime and if they aren't this is bias." and "the examples i have given a few times here about climate change and creationism stil stand - there is a problem when one acedes to claims that all points of view should be given equal air time or else be accused of censorship or bias."

        EDIT: These quotes are by no means exhaustive.
    • Mar 26 2013: Daniel Dennett: "I think we philosophers should help people get over their anxiety about being machines, since it is no longer possible to deny it, unless one chooses to be weirdly uninformed. Logically, there are two possibilities: diminish our sense of self-worth because we discover we are machines, or raise our appreciation of the power of machines because we discover we are machines."
      • Mar 26 2013: I don't agree with Dennett, but at least he comes out and takes the argument to its logical conclusion. And although I don't agree with it, at least he made an attempt to explain consciousness in his book, "Consciousness Explained."

        He at least knows what he is defending.
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        Mar 26 2013: Hey, Conor O'Higgins and Craig Weiler: I know of a well-documented, significant and witnessed case of one researcher who left Dennett speechless and embarrassed in front of an audience, because he couldn't support his assertions. Consider reading the Foreword to Russell Targ's book, "The Reality of ESP," if you like. I'm not selling here. I do this for compassionate sport, camaraderie and the nature of reality when it pleases me.
        • D S

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          Mar 26 2013: Now I'm intrigued. Is the account featured in the Foreword to Targ's book?
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        Mar 26 2013: D S: Page xv of the Foreword. I wouldn't characterize it as "featured." It's simply a part of the eight-ish page Foreword. AND if and when you read it, bear in mind I believe it's never appropriate, under any circumstances, to shred anyone for their thought or actions. That makes it unnecesarily personal, disguises what's *really* going on, makes it hard to get to the truth, and disallows the possibility that people can and do change to adjust for reality. You are not your thoughts, actions or business card. You are mostly your own interpretation of yourself.
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        Mar 26 2013: D S; Having just been told by Joe Anderson, another TED commenter, that Daniel Dennett is part of TED's Brain Trust, I wondered if I might save you the trouble of looking up what I mentioned? From Russell Targ's book, "The Realities of ESP," is this section of its Foreword by Stephan A. Schwartz on page xv:

        "Along with Ed May, I once debated with Daniel Dennett, a prominent critic of ESP research, at an event produced by ABC News for station news staffs and station managers. We debated along for about thirty minutes, with Dennett making dismissive and disparaging remarks to anything Ed or I said, but always in generalities. Finally I said to him: 'Let's pick an experiment we both know, and you tell me what it wrong with it, and I will respond.' Without a moment's hesitation he shot back in the most deliberately condescending act I have ever witnessed, saying, 'You don't actually think I read this stuff, do you?' There was a moment's silence, the laughter began, first as giggles, then as chuckles, and finally, as guffaws. It suddenly dawned on Dennett what he had said. He blushed and sat down, and left as soon as he could."

        This passage should give anyone a clear indication about why TED opted to remove Hancock's and Sheldrake's talks from YouTube, and also don't feature these supposed "debates" on TED's home page. It's at this point that I'd suggest that anyone hoping TED will ever stage a debate with Sheldrake or Hancock is very unlikely. If people want uncensored ideas worth spreading they *might* be forced to find them in spaces other than TED's.
        • D S

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          Mar 27 2013: Absolutely stunning. But, sadly, all too familiar. Good point on the (slim) potential for a debate. Sheldrake, unlike his detractors/accusers, is actually versed on the literature.

          Thanks for the info and for taking the time to post it!
    • Comment deleted

      • Mar 26 2013: I find your reply highly ironic given that you have not bothered substantiating in the slightest any of your critical claims that myself and others have been employing "fallacious reasoning" in defending Sheldrake; it's especially ironic that you would claim my post "doesn't count" after accusing me of appealing to "made up rules" (of which I remain ignorant; read our exchange here: http://www.ted.com/conversations/17189/the_debate_about_rupert_sheldr.html?c=634174).

        When confronted with criticism, you resort to simply aping your opponent. If you have substantiated arguments to make, then make them. TED has expressed a wish that some champion of their cause would enter the debate and vindicate their decision. So far, this has not happened.

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