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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 30 2013: Strange. Recent news states that the speed of light is indeed not constant.. so what, exactly, is the debate?

    http://www.popsci.com/science/article/2013-03/speed-light-vacuum-varies-slightly-study-finds

    I have watched some truly pointless (yet entertaining) videos on Ted, that have nothing to do with science or "Ideas Worth Spreading", and yet there seems to be no issue. For instance, one Ted talk where a speaker provides no proof yet openly advocates giving billions of dollars to corrupt charities because "overhead is important". Another video, albeit adorable, of a trio of young boys playing bluegrass (I do love bluegrass, but what place does this video have on Ted?). Another video, which was wonderful, of dancing robots.

    Sheldrake's opinions may not be accepted by mainstream science but the principles, ideas, and opinions stated in his talk are still valid and important.

    People should try to understand that the scientific community isn't hellbent on banning Sheldrake (and Hancock for that matter) out of maliciousness, but out of fear. The ideas both of these men bring to the table are disturbing to those who are afraid of breaking free of their materialistic world-view. The idea that science isn't fact, that the laws of nature are malleable, is to many scientists a lot like telling someone who fervently believes in religion that their God is a sham. The initial reaction to perception-altering information is almost always outrage and shock.

    While I strongly disagree with Ted's decision to ban Sheldrake's talk, shaming Ted employees, insulting them, or threatening to boycott Ted entirely is counter productive and malicious. By all means, voice your opinions. But be polite. It is difficult to take someone seriously when their response to this debacle is akin to "you banned a video! I hate you! I'm never going to watch your videos ever again, so there!". We're better than that.
    • Mar 30 2013: " While I strongly disagree with Ted's decision to ban Sheldrake's talk, shaming Ted employees, insulting them, or threatening to boycott Ted entirely is counter productive and malicious. By all means, voice your opinions. But be polite. It is difficult to take someone seriously when their response to this debacle is akin to "you banned a video! I hate you! I'm never going to watch your videos ever again, so there!". We're better than that. "

      So how would you suggest taking action against a media outlet that has abandoned its standards?
      • Mar 30 2013: What kind of action would satisfy you? Reinstatement of the videos? Publication of the names of the individuals who opposed the talks so that we can tar and feather them in the village square? Do you want to punish Ted, or do you simply want Ted to re-post the videos?

        I think it's fair that they removed the videos, and then re-posted them for public debate. With all luck they will eventually reinstate the videos and add a "the views therein may not reflect the views of mainstream science" disclaimer along with, perhaps, an objective apology to the speakers.
      • Mar 30 2013: They're never going to give an apology, and there's nothing to be gained from gloating over an apology, or a lack of it for that matter.

        What we can take from all this is that we can't rely on TED to carry weight in the areas of progress that Hancock and Sheldrake's talks focus on. If we hoped TED would help us there, we know now that those hopes were misplaced. The way I look at it, TED still has a job to do but it's no longer part of the vanguard. I'm glad I know this now.
    • Mar 30 2013: Niomi, we have been pointing out to TED, over and over again, through different channels, what they did wrong, and what they might do better. Some people have been impolite about it, but I don't believe I have been. There is a legitimate grievance here that TED have (so far) refused to address or even acknowledge.
      • Comment deleted

        • Mar 30 2013: If you pull someone's talk because it "makes claims it can't back up", shouldn't you specify which claims?
      • Apr 2 2013: Perhaps the issue is more complicated than we on the outside realize. I am making an assumption here, but perhaps the reason why Ted is reticent to publish Sheldrake's talk is because someone who contributes large donations - and is keeping Ted afloat - is threatening to pull funding. Without funding Ted would cease to exist.

        Perhaps they're concerned that if they allow Sheldrake's talk it will open the floodgates to true pseudoscience, such as David Icke's belief in extra-dimensional beings and reptilian shapeshifters and the like. (Personally, while extra dimensional beings and biological transmogrification may be possible, David Icke is so fervent - and angry - that I avoid anything he publishes because I feel that he is perpetrating the very thing he is advocating against: spreading fear and hate).

        Perhaps Ted simply does not have the resources available to dedicate to policing talks and the most time-effective solution is to remove sponsorship from scientifically-questionable talks.

        Perhaps we should realize that Ted is a private organization and while the public is welcome to voice its opinions the bottom line is that Ted is allowed to ban whatever talks they see fit and have no obligation to justify it.

        And lastly, if you do not agree with Ted's policies perhaps you and a group of like-minded friends should consider creating your own organization devoted to supporting and disseminating fringe science. There is certainly an audience for it. But there is a fine line between fringe science and quackery, and woe is the individual charged with the responsibility of delineating between the two.

        The bottom line is, while we may not agree with some of Ted's policies, Ted is nevertheless an excellent source for information and inspiration. Take what you need from Ted, and fill in the rest yourself by performing your own research. This is what I do, it works for me.

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