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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 31 2013: TED Not Satisfied With Current Censorship: TEDxWestHollywood is Taken Down


    So It contines, The witch hunt has become the Inquisition. Next they will be holding peoples feet to fire. If there was any doubt to the validity in Sheldrake's claim, "materialist science has become a religion", its now been dispelled.
    • Mar 31 2013: "More than 2000 TEDx events will take place in the year ahead. If your program is allowed to proceed, it will truly damage other TEDx organizers’ ability to recruit scientists and other speakers. (Indeed many in the TED and TEDx communities have already reached out to us to express their concern.)"

      Not gonna blow a ring over it. Wouldn't want to give TEDx the f@#%#% publicity
      • Mar 31 2013: Strange that next to none of the many concerned members of the community who contacted TED could be bothered to make an appearance here to try to justify their worries in the very forum TED set up for them to do precisely that. I would content that these "many" who "reached out" are actually few in number and clearly committed to ideologies antagonistic to science.
        • Mar 31 2013: You're speculating a lot of stuff there
      • Mar 31 2013: I don't think so. I mean, TED surely can't have pulled the talks because of the concerns expressed by Krisztian and/or the now departed Jimmy Randy. But where are the others? There are a few dotted here or there but nobody I've seen has any academic clout. The only one with any real academic record who has commented here as far as I can see actually supported Sheldrkae.
        • Mar 31 2013: What? And leave the safety of the echo chamber at Jerry Coyne's blog?
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        Apr 1 2013: Don't give publicity to TED, but please give it to Ex TEDxWestHollywood. We will proceed without TED's sanction and need alternative ways to get our Live Stream seen on April 14: https://new.livestream.com/extedwesthollywood. Help!
        • Apr 1 2013: Excellent Suzanne. I hope everyone will put the word out to try to help this event.
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      Mar 31 2013: that's good news. that tedx event should not have got the green light in the first place. again, ted reacting too late, but better late than never. these people do everything in the book to get media attention. they use the ted brand to get some credibility. they will never stop, never give up and never go away. you all have been warned.
      • Mar 31 2013: Those people were INVITED to do a talk. They didn't hunt down TED and "do everything in the book to get media attention."
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          Mar 31 2013: and who invited them? yep, their believers. a chiropractor, new age babblers, etc. people that were convinced at an earlier lecture or a book. these people are circle-inviting each other, and pretend that they have something, while all they have is each other, and a misled audience.
        • Mar 31 2013: Very big claims to hide behind when TED is too scared to merely calenge them in open debate. The only side that is desporate is always the one that is useualy wrong. Your assumptions smell of desperation.
      • Mar 31 2013: Sheldrake doesn't really need to go hunting for media attention. He's very well-known and whenever he writes a book all the main high-brow media will seek him out for an interview and/or review his book. And, as happened in this case, many learned people will offer praise, unconcerned by, eg, what a group of religious fanatics in the US (or Hungary) have got to say about the matter.
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          Mar 31 2013: probably that is why sheldrake took personal offense in ted taking down his talk, wrote multiple articles, appeared here in person to lament, and so on.

          if you are in the media business, you find out that there is no such thing as enough media coverage. every opportunity to appear in public brings in a new chunk of cash. if your job is to be famous, you have to do it 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, or more. there is no lazying around.
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          Apr 1 2013: Krisztián Pintér: As your profile explains you're a "TED Translator," I'd suppose that means you work with TED. And in looking through most of your comments, the tone of them is often one of black and white disparagement, and that you're doing it for sport. You're even calling people names. If you were my volunteer or staffer, I'd recommend a way to discourage such absolutely disrespectful behavior.

          That TED would consistently allow such disrespectful comments in a situation they already control, means to me their standards for civility, courtesy and compassion have sunk to a new low. A company culture that would allow your disrespectful comments would be absolutely consistent with what I've seen and heard of TED's inability to gracefully handle controversy. Anyone thoughtful will notice this, and mark their perceptions of TED by it. Mine are.
      • Mar 31 2013: Sheldrake almost always responds to his critics, however lowly they may be. The fact is, whether you like it or not. Sheldrake is in no need of TED, and only became involved when he was invited and only responded when various false claims were made about him.
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          Mar 31 2013: sure he is. it is his job. unlike scientists, that have an actual job, like original research. this is the difference. scientists do science, and as a secondary activity, they give lectures, they review books, they write blogs and all. sheldrake!s job is to appear in the media, and to back that up with something, he pretends to do some original research.
      • Mar 31 2013: On the contrary - Shedrake's book was already well known, and well received, before any of this happened. He certainly doesn't stand in need of an endorsement by anti-science organisations like TED who have decided, it seems, to get behind the pseudoscientific New Atheist movement.
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          Mar 31 2013: i tell you once more: if your job is to get media attention, you don't sit back after one success. i can't skip my next day at work, just because i successfully finished my previous project. sheldrake's job description is celebrity quack. it is a fulltime job.
      • Mar 31 2013: You can tell me any number of times, but it won't make what say any more true. Sheldrake was invited to give a talk and he did so, only responding when TED decided to act in a way which was without any integrity or decency in order to cozy up to a few anti-science clowns who are trying to turn science into religion. That you share that religion and likewise want to see science subordinated to it is the reason for your shrill nonsense here. That's why, eg, whenever pressed to discuss the actual talk, all you've got is name-calling and unsupported accusations.
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          Mar 31 2013: i was repeating it because you did not seem to understand. you keep telling that he does not need publicity. sure he does not need. he could have continued his life as a not very successful scientist. but he chose to be a celebrity instead, and now he does that. and you fell for it. and many others fell for it too. well, bad luck. you should have listened better in school.
      • Mar 31 2013: I never said he didn't need publicity. I said he didn't need TED. And he doesn't. As for the rest of your silly analysis, the less said about that the better. See my last post for the reasons you spout such stuff.
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          Mar 31 2013: okay, try to approach it from another angle, maybe it leads somewhere. why are you here? you were following ted for some time, and then learned that they pull some talks, and you disliked this practice? or you are a sheldrake supporter, and you came here solely for the purpose to fight the fight for your master? bingo. a man like sheldrake uses every opportunity. he was invited to ted? good! another audience. he was pulled? good too! time to cry oppression! a debate is opened? good too! let's just blog a few times about it, ask a few friends to blog too, send over the army of fanatics, and start the war! that's what you get if someone has 8 hours a day organizing his popularity.

          how does it feel to be a member of the fundamentalist army? how does it feel to be a puppet of a media star?
      • Mar 31 2013: I don't know how it feels to be a member of a fundamentalist army. Me not being a member of any such thing and all that. You, on the other hand, are part of such an army - a minor know-nothing foot-soldier, fwiw. A foot-soldier in a small army of New Atheists who are trying to co-opt science for religio-political ends. Re Sheldrake, I happen to agree in general with what he says, but disagree with the specifics in a number of ways. My concerns, though, are of a philosophical nature which it would be pointless to try to explain to you. And I am here because I care about science and hate seeing it be co-opted for religious purposes by the likes of you.
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          Mar 31 2013: i don't know who do you plan to fool. you are not here because you care about science. you don't care about science. you don't have a passion for the truth. you don't have a passion for logic. you don't have a passion for facts. you don't spend evenings and nights reading about science, about the philosophy of science. you don't spend endless hours on learning new things, to strengthen your understanding. you did not came here to defend science. you came here to win. you are on a crusade.
      • Mar 31 2013: I do indeed care about science. This is in contrast to you who cares primarily about doing down certain religious views (see your comments throughout for details). And it is your hatred for certain religious views that has led you to support a band of anti-science New Atheists, who likewise hate religion, and who are trying to co-opt science into their religio-political war. And, as always in war, truth is one of the first casualties, and thus evidence which doesn't appear to help the war effort has to be jettisoned, ignored, or censored. This is why you, unlike me, are committed a priori to the falsity of certain empirical propositions. This is also why you have tried consistently to portray Sheldrake as being motivated from a particular religious standpoint when he is clearly not. And this is why you rant and rave all the time about the catholic church. No need to disturb poor Occam here, the simplest explanation is easy enough to see.
      • Mar 31 2013: My interest is primarily philosophy of science and is focused mainly on the way science is currently being abused by (anti-)religious fundamentalists like Richard Dawkins. I think it is very damaging to science and I think more in the scientific community should call him on the nonsense he spouts. That they don't is, I believe, a function of the very poor standard of historical and philosophical education scientists receive (ie, none). This makes them much easier targets for unscrupulous people like Dawkins who play on that ignorance to further own religio-political agenda. And the war thus engendered has had the effect of making science far more dogmatic than it should be and is undermining the supposed self-correcting nature of the enterprise. I could go into details but it is unlikely you would understand or agree given your anti-science stance.
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          Mar 31 2013: can you give us some overview about how dawkins is wrong from a philosophical point of view?
        • Mar 31 2013: Bravo Steve, been watching all these threads for what seems like weeks now, and you have handled some tightrope exchanges beautifully and retained your character while others resorted to ridicule (the accepted Dawkins strategy and one of the reasons I despise his footprints on this earth) I can see you brother and know the importance of your contribution here. I'd take a time out dude, your work is done, and if you came here to win, you did. No need to justify yourself to anymore parasites.
        • Mar 31 2013: What Jim said. Much obliged.
        • Mar 31 2013: @ Steve, I've apparently run out of thumbs. It would appear that I'm way too laudatory of your posts so I've been cut off. If you have a blog or anything I'd love to know about it. Your insights over the past couple of weeks have been a joy to read.
      • Mar 31 2013: Couldn't reply in the right place, so, re the above @Time walker @Wian and @Jim Thanks - much appreciated. I think there's been a lot of great input and almost all of it very civil (from our side). Well done to all.

        I guess his most recent nonsense was his preposterous afterword for Lawrence Krauss' pseudo-philosophical musings about the meaning of "nothing". That whole episode was a good example of how (anti-)religion is driving some science now. Thankfully, some in the academic community spoke out and Krauss' book was largely, and rightly, panned. Here's a good article about it.

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          Mar 31 2013: i was asking for an overview, some basic analysis. since you care so much about science and philosophy of science, i trust you can come up with a simple summary of dawkins' claim, and your analysis on how is that wrong. a new york times article just won't cut it.
      • Mar 31 2013: Dawkins seems to imagine science supports atheism. It doesn't.
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          Mar 31 2013: dawkins and many others, like stephen hawking are hoping for science can prove atheism. they pretty much understand that it can't as of now. but for example hawking worked on a model of the universe that did not have a beginning, so was not created, and had no natural constants or boundary conditions other than those that follow from the model, and not inputs of it. if such a model can be created, and it turns out to be a precise description of reality, it disproves any sort of choice in the "making" of the universe, and effectively eliminate any creator or designer. he was not able to construct such a model, so he did not manage to put an end to the debate. but he tried. dawkins also believes that such a model can be constructed, and someday someone might construct it. krauss is actually working on it, but still isn't there yet.

          this thinking is perfectly scientific, though as i explained, hypothetical. those that claim this to be nonsense are not scientific, and are religious. it is an open question, and pretending to know the answer is nothing but superstition (or dumb).

          but now i see where you are coming from. you are religious, and you want to protect your religion from science. you call anything that threatens your religion "unscientific", asserting that science can never refute religion. this is just an assumption, and originates in your religious beliefs. sheldrake is your ally, as he attacks "atheist" science, and advocates a "new science" that allows your religion to survive. that is why you side with him, caring not at all about his lies and sly ways. the enemy of my enemy is my friend.
      • Mar 31 2013: And, fwiw, Krauss' argument rests on equivocation on the word "nothing". Anyone with the least philosophical understanding, or who wasn't blinded by their religious views, would see that. Thus Dawkins' nonsense in the afterword about the impact of Krauss' claim..
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          Mar 31 2013: exactly what are the two meanings of "nothing" and how krauss mixes them? stop talking *about* the mistakes. *explain* the mistakes! it is not enough to claim that you know some problem. tell the problem.
        • Mar 31 2013: Krisztián does not seem to be aware of the double standard blinding him on this issue.

          "dawkins and many others, like stephen hawking are hoping for science can prove atheism"

          Just like Sheldrake hopes that science can prove morphic resonance.

          "if such a model can be created, and it turns out to be a precise description of reality..."

          Yeah? Go on.

          "this thinking is perfectly scientific, though as i explained, hypothetical. those that claim this to be nonsense are not scientific, and are religious."

          Is that so? Someone tell TED. Methinks they've made a mistake.
      • Mar 31 2013: Well, Krauss describes the properties of his nothing but if you have to describe something's properties then it's not nothing.
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          Mar 31 2013: maybe you need to catch up on quantum mechanics. there is only one kind of "nothing" in physics, and he is talking about that. it is the quantum theoretic description of vacuum. it does not matter if physics claims things that contradict common sense. 20th century science proved a lot of things that contradict common sense. our common sense is not perfect.
      • Mar 31 2013: On the contrary. Krauss regularly flits between two notions of "nothing" - the physics one and the ordinary sense from which he generates his theological conclusions. It would be fine if Krauss just said, hey, look at this physics, but he doesn't, he goes on, as noted, to make all manner of theological claims involving a different sense of nothing (with tricky Dickie tagging along behind nodding lamely). This is what Albert takes him to task for in the article I referred you to. And this is why nobody, not even physicists, except those with certain ideological commitments, bought his bs. The general problem - the specific one being equivocation - was that Krauss spun it as if he had answered the ultimate question when he had done no such thing. Thus the book was seen as a bait and switch to make Krauss a quick pop-science buck by fleecing the atheist rubes desperate for a confirmation of their faith from science. This is what I find distasteful and what, in a roundabout way, brought me here. Goodnight, God bless, and buy British.
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          Mar 31 2013: at least you claim so. krauss and quantum theorists claim otherwise. they say that the nothing as we knew does not exist at all. only the vacuum of quantum theory exists. there are no two notions. the real notion of "nothing" can be considered, according to that theory, obsolete and a bad description of reality.
      • Mar 31 2013: Well of course nothing doesn't exist for goodness sake. If it existed it would be something, duh!
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          Apr 1 2013: he never talks about the nothing you talk about here. it does not exist. never existed. the physical nothing is not the common sense nothing.
      • Apr 1 2013: Of course nothing doesn't exist - that's the very point - that's at the heart of the very puzzle Krauss ignores by his equivocation. And of course he uses the ordinary sense of nothing at times - this is how he makes his theological claims. That's why Dawkins lauds Krauss for having destroyed "the last trump card" of the theist. And of course the physical nothing isn't the common sense nothing because any physical anything isn't a nothing simply in virtue of that fact. But as I said earlier, there's no point trying to explain these things to you, because you are one of those who is so ideologically committed against religion that you'll swallow anything that helps your cause without even a cursory examination.
      • Mar 31 2013: Hear hear! Sheldrake articulately calls out the close-mindedness of the scientific community, and TED.

        TED removes from their lineup two of my favorite scientists: Dr. Rupert Sheldrake and Dr. Russell Targ. TED's takedown is hypocritical.... they claim those two use the "guise of science" to promote sketchy claims, yet that accusation in and of itself is a sketchy claim made under the guise of science. Where is TED's evidence to support that claim? They don't provide any. TED is a wonderful resource, I'd love to see them take their own medicine and show their counter claims, or else reinstate Sheldrake and Targ.
    • Mar 31 2013: Wow.

      "We will be especially interested to hear about the ideas that ...Russell Targ... will be presenting.... TED and TEDx cannot be platforms that give undo legitimacy to false evidence"

      To any TED spokesperson: please tell me what "false evidence" Russell Targ promotes? Please no heresay, just actual quotes.
      • Mar 31 2013: They will be especially interested to hear his ideas? Really? :)
        • Mar 31 2013: Brian Josephson, Nobel Laureate in Physics and Emeritus, Professor, Physics, University of Cambridge says of Targ's latest book: "This book, detailing its author's many successful investigations into the paranormal, should make those who deny the possible existence of such phenomena think again." So either TED or Josephson is mistaken.
      • Comment deleted

        • Mar 31 2013: Agreed. The lack of courage is what needs addressing.
      • Apr 1 2013: this is not about scientific method/inquiry. TED is sympathetic to the scientific materialist worldview and "skeptical" community. why else would TED give a platform to the Amazing Randi but deny a TEDx event to a real hardcore scientist like Russell Targ? go figure.

        speaking of Russell Targ... he is often lumped with New Age and "pseudoscience" by people who don't his background. never mind the fact that Targ's (and his colleague Hal Puthoff) research work was good enough to be funded by the CIA. incidentally, Targ has just published a new book where he has divulged declassified information in the CIA remote-viewing program. TED will never dare touch this material. so you and i will just have to rely on our own research and other alternative news sites to be informed.

        case in point: here's a good interview with Targ on The Paracast.

        "Gene and Chris present the ever-elusive Dr. Russell Targ. Dr. Targ and Hal Putoff led the team at Stanford Research Institute that created the "remote viewing" protocols in the early '70s, about which many stories have been written. Targ's latest book is The Reality of ESP: A Physicist's Proof of Psychic Abilities."

        ~ http://www.theparacast.com/podcast/now-playing-march-10-2013-dr-russell-targ/
        • Apr 1 2013: TED has a Randi talk?! The hypocrisy!

          As for funded by the CIA.... funded bye the CIA for twenty years. You don't get to work for the CIA for twenty years if your work isn't providing results.
    • Apr 1 2013: been covering this TED fiasco since Day One of the Sheldrake/Hancock controversy. fortunately for TED, the latest shenanigans are still under the radar. they haven't yet gone viral like the way the Hanauer talk has gone viral. but this controversy with TEDxWestHollywood might push the issue to go viral. let's wait and see.

      in the meantime, there's already a ExTED WestHollywood page on Facebook.

      i wonder how TED will deal with ExTED events. after the Sheldrake/Hancock, TEDxWhitechapel, and TEDxWestHollywood fiascos, the TED brand has some PR cleanup work on its hands.

      see my blog update: (Jerry Coyne: 2; Woomeisters: 0) - go figure...

      The TED Saga Continues on the Sheldrake and Hancock Debates (and TEDxWestHollywood)
      ~ http://www.c4chaos.com/2013/03/the-ted-saga-continues-on-the-sheldrake-and-hancock-debates/

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