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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 26 2013: Here's a revolutionary question for you, Mr Randy. What *conclusions and actions by TED*, simply, courteously and concisely, in a paragraph or two from you, would make you happy about Rupert Sheldrake's TEDx talk?
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          Mar 26 2013: My apology: I thought I phrased it pretty clearly. No trick questions from me these days. I asked what conclusions and actions that TED would take would make you happy. I know that's an unimaginable question for the bunch who hang out on this board, but I was indeed asking what would make you happy that TED could do, or has already done.
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          Mar 26 2013: I see. Thanks for your reply.
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          Mar 26 2013: I don't find you to be very reasonable at all, Jimmy, or a good critical thinker. This statement of yours reveals a rather simplistic mindset, replete with name calling and black-and-white moralizing. Weak!
      • Mar 26 2013: I find it interesting that Randy is absolutely certain Sheldrake is a "joke", even though he's acknowledged he's never read any of his books or papers.
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          Mar 26 2013: Joe Anderson, you might find this similar case of interest, 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."
        • Mar 27 2013: @Jimmy Randy But we know that you think that you think Sheldrake as "consider to be a quack of the first order".

          That does tell us something about you, that you have not distinguished the person from his ideas, that you consider "quack" to be a suitable description to use from someone who claims to uphold the scientific method.

          It would be correct to say that we don't know who you are, and that there are many things that we don't know about you.

          A tempting inference is the you can't possibly be a scientist, but have seen how TEDs advisers and "scientific board" have behaved, then anything is possible.
      • Mar 26 2013: Thanks for that Michael. Did you know Dennett is on the TED Brain Trust? You should take a look at the scientists on it- I think most are well known atheists, many actively opposed to people like Sheldrake. Might explain a lot.
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          Mar 26 2013: Joe Anderson: Thanks for the heads-up about Dennett. Isn't that interesting and enlightening? :-D I didn't know that, as I showed up here on a lark as I find my ideas worth spreading from other, somewhat more impartial places.

          I'll go out on a limb here and suggest that TED will either 1.) excuse Dennett from its "Brain Trust," or more likely 2.) *never* agree to an open, fair debate for Sheldrake or Hancock.

          Anyone who wants paradigm change in physics or biology will have to find it someplace else other than TED or TEDx.
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      Mar 26 2013: Would love to know your thoughts on my blog Mr. Randy - http://ventusetmare.tumblr.com/ (though focused on Graham Hancock's talk, I wrote it specifically with people like you in mind)
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      • Mar 27 2013: One could not be a successful scientist without realizing that, in contrast to the popular conception supported by newspapers and mothers of scientists, a goodly number of scientists are not only narrow-minded and dull, but also just stupid.
        ~James D. Watson

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