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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 28 2013: The quality of the sources would seem to be significantly higher than the one's you came up with. All but one of yours is from organisations or individuals ideologically (ie, anti-scientifically) committed to the falsity of what Sheldrake is saying. It's also fairly clear you didn't actually check out the sources as you claim to have done since they don't even come close to your description of them. They're not actually saying that at all. Maybe you should actually look rather than just say you have.
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          Mar 28 2013: Honestly, I have no clue what you're saying here, Jimmy. But -

          Link 1 - Speaks to Sheldrake's morphic resonance theory (even though it wasn't the point of his talk):

          "The footage reveals three distinct stages of bioelectrical activity. In the first stage, a wave of negative charge sweeps across the entire embryo - the first bright flash in the video. In the second stage, a pattern of light and dark patches appears, which overlaps with areas where genes for head patterning are switched on, and seems to match the placement of the eyes, nose and mouth. In the final stage, a flash of electricity happens just before the embryo undergoes a growth spurt.

          "We believe this bioelectrical signal is a 'pre-pattern' - marking areas on the embryo that will become certain craniofacial structures," says Adam's colleague Laura Vandenberg. "What was most amazing was that this bioelectrical information is used to 'instruct' most if not all of the facial structures - the jaw, eye, nose, and otolith [a kind of ear bone].""

          Links 2 & 3 - Relevance should be obvious:

          "Where did the speed of light in a vacuum come from? Why is it 299,792,458 meters per second and not some other figure?

          The simple answer is that, since 1983, science has defined a meter by the speed of light: one meter equals the distance light travels in one 299,792,458th of a second. But that doesn't really answer our question. It's just the physics equivalent of saying, "Because I said so."

          Unfortunately, the deeper answer has been equally unsatisfying: The speed of light in a vacuum, according to physics textbooks, just is. It's a constant, one of those numbers that defines the universe. That's the physics equivalent of saying, "Because the cosmos said so."

          Or did it? A pair of studies suggest that this universal constant might not be so constant after all."

          That's almost word-for-word what Sheldrake said (and most don't bother examining/questioning), which earned him ridicule and a sequestered talk.
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          Mar 28 2013: Link 4 - Implies there's more to biology than the materialist/mechanical paradigm.

          Link 5 - Challenges the materialist notion that minds are confined to brains (one of Sheldrake's "ten dogmas of science"):

          "Neurofunctional studies of SE have shown that they are related to but not necessarily caused by complex functional patterns in several brain areas. The study of meditative states, as voluntarily induced mind states that influence brain states has been a privileged venue to investigate top-down (mind over brain) causation. End of life and near death experiences offer cases of unexpected adequate mental function under severe brain damage and/or dysfunction. Scientific investigations of several types of SE have provided evidence against materialistic reductionist views of mind.

          The recent trend to scientifically investigate SE has already produced interesting and thought-provoking findings that deserve careful further exploration. Because of their potential implication, these findings may also contribute to the understanding of MBR, which remains an important, yet poorly explored way to investigate human nature."

          Link 6 - A response to your Richard Wiseman link that demonstrates he got the same raw data as Sheldrake.

          Link 7 - Features segments from Will Storr's (a "Skeptic") new book "The Heretics: Adventures With The Enemies Of Science". In particular, conversations with James Randi (your "pen name", and a good representation of the ideology and methodology of Skeptic organizations) and his track record with honesty.
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      Mar 28 2013: you are putting way too much effort in this :)
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        • Mar 29 2013: Us, them, we, they, I, him, you, she, "these people"...

          Why not actually for once try to live up to how you claim you believe science should be practiced and study "other" links and sources as impartially as possible? Don't you think this would be more of a normative approach then simply, like now, trying to console ego through association? Rather, try debating what's on the table instead of sitting on somebody else's lap at the table.

          I do realize no person can be COMPLETELY objective/impartial in his/her inquiries, but, imho, if you sincerely care about real progress, at the very most, you should realize that by surrounding and grouping yourself only with people who share your own current views basically amounts to intellectual incest.

          Moreover, such debates are not supposed to be so personal and ego-driven bordering on ad hominem attacks and otherizing those simply providing you with their antithesis. Nobody is asking you to open your mind to such an absurd degree as for your brain to fall out.

          But maybe just to be a little bit less narrow-minded and a little bit more sincere in your inquiries through being less dogmatic; so that the normative path towards an eventual synthesis can be taken more effectively.

          [Then again, debating whether or not such a synthesis "exists", is needed and/or "should" be striven towards is essentially what sparked this whole debate. The overwhelming and very reasonable objections and comments of most commentators to TED's actions and inactions on its own platform here are sufficient evidence of this.]

          As Bertrand Russell once observed, “Not to be absolutely certain is, I think, one of the essential things in rationality.”
    • Mar 29 2013: Re: Richard Wiseman:

      From here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/steve-volk/paranormal-is-the-new-normal_b_872677.html

      "Consider telepathy: I've grown so used to reading articles in which skeptics proclaim there is no firm evidence for telepathy that I was stunned by what I found: Parapsychology has in fact yielded hundreds upon hundreds of studies and meta-analyses demonstrating some small telepathy effect in the general population. But what really surprised me was finding that a leading skeptic like Richard Wiseman has admitted that the evidence is so good that "by the standards of any other area of science, [telepathy] is proven." Even more incredibly, as I report in Fringe-ology, another leading skeptic, Chris French, agrees with him."

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