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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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  • Apr 2 2013: To doubt one thing does not mean one will be forced to believe everything. There are more than two alternatives available here. It's not at all about science versus religion. It's about whether we have the science basically correct and what facts are possibly not accounted for.
    • Apr 2 2013: Chris Carter makes the point rather cogently: http://www.skeptiko.com/scientific-evidence-of-afterlife-overwhelming-chris-carter/

      From the interview:

      "Alex Tsakiris: Are there unintended consequences for overthrowing materialism? Maybe the game is going to wind up being played one way or another. We’re going to wind up with scientific materialism or Church rule. Someone has made the decision that at the end of the day I choose the phony scientific materialism over the thin, phony Church state.

      Chris Carter: I think that’s a false dichotomy. I don’t think that’s the choice. One of the major themes of my book is that there’s a third alternative, one that does not require a leap of faith and one that does not require embracing the pseudo-scientific ideology of materialism. There’s a third alternative and it is to examine the evidence without prejudice, without materialistic prejudice or religious prejudice, and see what the evidence says.

      I believe that the conclusions that the evidence implies are not dogmatic. They do not ask people to go out and burn those who disagree with us at the stake or to wage war against those who disagree with us."
      • Apr 2 2013: Well spoken. TED would do well to listen.
      • Apr 2 2013: He makes some good points in that interview about the way belief in an afterlife effects people's behaviour in this life.
        I think that it's very pertinent.. not because I believe in an afterlife: I have no evidence from which to make a judgement about that. Yes we have NDEs etc, but I've never heard or read a convincing report from an actual dead person.
        BUT I think that it is very likely, depending on the degree to which the acceleration of technology and understanding is sustained and cataclysmic societal and environmental events avoided, that we may live longer than we expect to, and potentially a very, very long time. If the acceleration of technology and understanding doesn't slow down, death by any natural event from illness to the heat death of the universe may become close to impossible.
        I think that the effect of our own lives becoming indefinitely extended, the realisation that this is THE life, that there is no after, would be somewhat similar to an afterlife conviction.

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