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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: COME ON, do you REALLY think TED has some sort of spooky "link-censoring" division? The link problem is probaly likely some sort of website or programming issue. Do you reckon they'd censor that site and not censor porn links? not that i'm going to test a porn link
    • Apr 1 2013: Please don't take my word for it. As a sysadmin, I know this is built into a lot if web based software. Just try adding a link to that site. It will delete your post. I've tried many times to be sure. And try it anywhere on the site, not just this forum. Link blacklisting is useful for fighting spam. It has other uses though.
      • Apr 1 2013: If you have a link you can't access, just give the proper search keywords to get to it. If people are curious they'll follow them.
        • Apr 1 2013: As Amfortas has pointed it out, we can obfuscate the link since there is no regular expression, just simple URL filtering. So we put spaces in the link. But it's unbelievable that someone at TED would think this site so objectionable that they got this black listed. I'm not even saying it's more than one person. All it takes is one person with an axe to grind and access to a sysadmin. No "division" required.
    • Apr 1 2013: Yes, I studied computer science. It doesn't work this way. They for some reason have an axe to grind with Brian Josephson. Other links to Cambridge domain are working fine, so this is no accident. Only the exact domain
      h t t p:// tcm .phy .cam .ac.uk is blocked (spaces inserted so I can write it up here). Change a single character and it will pass. Just Theory of Condensed Matter (TCM) group is a no-go from here. A scandal.


      The way internet linking works is that normally no action is done on a link until you click on it.
      Here it discriminates some links from others by containing a specific string, the moment you submit a text containing this. There must be a reason for this. And the blocked domain happens to point to the research group of a Nobel Laureate with paranormal "crazy" interests.
      • Apr 1 2013: I've asked them to fix their 'error':

        "According to http://www.ted.com/conversations/17189/the_debate_about_rupert_sheldr.html, all postings containing links to our Theory of Condensed Matter Group's server (...) are blocked. Our group is one of the most highly regarded groups in the whole of physics and I trust you will fix this unfortunate error."

        The situation is that TCM is not 'my group', just the group in the Cavendish that I belong to. I am just one of a group with the order of 60 members, 6 of whom are current full professors, and all of their web pages are being blocked by TED.

        Interestingly enough, my email trail showed that in 2011 I'd written to them saying 'I don't ... see any decent talks on the subject of paranormal phenomena' and it had been suggested in response by 'Michael' that I recommend a speaker. I think though that this was an automatic response.
        • Apr 1 2013: I am very glad to see you responding here, Professor, and welcome to the conversation! I feel that we are coming close to a turning point, right now. I already suspected that it is not just "your group", excuse me that I didn't check this out. Good that you clarified it.

          As I write this comment, the TCM domain ist still blocked, but I am convinced this will be corrected soon.

          All the best and thank you so much for your work,
        • Apr 2 2013: Hi Prof. Josephson. In case you missed it, I did some further investigation on the matter. My comments on it are here:


          Note that I am a professional sysadmin, and there are links there which explain what is likely happening with people who post comments that link to your site, not just on TED, but on many blogs that use Akismet. Please feel free to contact me should you need further clarification. Akismet has wrongly marked the TCM site as spam. I am in correspondence with them on the matter. But Akismet have a very obscure way of doing this since they "crowd source" their anti-spam, and this leads to many false positives. Should you wish to contact me, please do at john paul campbell @gmail .com. Remove the spaces.
    • Apr 1 2013: BTW, "link censoring" is also called "URL filtering" and you might want to look it up. It's very easy. You ask your sysadmin to add a site you wish to block and comments or posts that link to it wind up in /dev/null. It's very common. Now, late last night I tuned in to this debate and found that Jimmy Randy's comments were gone, and that one of my own rather innocuous comments was gone too. I also found this comment thread from Amfortas.


      He was having a hard time getting a comment through. He said he'd tried several times and the posts kept getting deleted. Now, this is the sort of thing I do professionally - solve technical problems. I copy and pasted the obfuscated URL into my location bar, which brought me to the google search results for that URL, but it didn't bring me to the URL directly. So yes, that happens when you put random spaces in a URL, but I can't say that at this point I knew what he was referring to. I just thought there was maybe a bug somewhere. Then I find an article at the same sub domain, "Zen...and the Art of Debunking", and I posted a comment here that included that link. My post was immediately deleted. Then I tried again, same thing. Then I realized what was happening but had to be sure what was happening. I was very thorough.

      I posted links to other sites, no problem. Posted links to other Cambridge sites, no problem. But nothing from http:// www. tcm. phy. cam. ac.uk could get through. I tried throughout the site, and as suspected, it wouldn't get through because URL filtering is likely not designed to be for just a particular part of a site, but site-wide, because it's designed to prevent link spam and phishing sites.

      This isn't rocket science, and it's much easier than having a moderator delete posts. I know of at least one Wordpress plugin that has a feature built in to autodelete comments containing certain strings. It's easily done.

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