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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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  • Apr 1 2013: Hi, well after reading through things here, I didn't find much debate, but a lot of finger pointing at TED. Which is weird. I've been enjoying TED videos for years and years now, and unless you just found TED, you have too. Of all the sources of unique videos on the web, TED is the best. And I'd like them to stay the best. So when TED, responded to some quality control issues, rather than be thankful, (like you would for any other quality control issue in your life, your cell phones for example or raw meat.) you attack them instead of thank them. Someone is looking out for a higher standard of intellectual rigor than you are, on your behalf. You owe them a thank you, not a page full of insults and conspiracies. Even if you think Sheldrake's talk is perfect, reacting with outrage just shows that you aren't personally ready for debate, hence all the insults at TED and the vapid debate here. (by error, i posted this on Hancocks debate, boy did those people explode. I meant to put it here, sorry!!)
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    • Apr 1 2013: Leroy TED's past popularity is not contested, what’s has upset people is their deception in professing to be a platform to promote ideas worth sharing. Now they have been exposed their undefendable reasons have confirmed this guilt!

      Lets not have two stets of standards, rather one set equally applied; allowing for as many defended interpretations until the evidence suggest otherwise.
    • Apr 1 2013: Lerroy Low says" Someone is looking out for a higher standard of intellectual rigor than you are, on your behalf."

      I totally disagree that, on this issue at least, that TEDx is "looking out for a higher standard of intellectual rigor than we are." Infact TEDx and the Science Board's FIRST attempt at intellectual rigor was SO poor that they had to strike it out and start again.


      After this initial effort NO FURTHER ATTEMPT AT "A HIGHER STANDARD OF INTELLECTUAL RIGOR" has been publicly made BY TEDx OR the Science Board AT ALL, and infact ALL they have done is start a SECOND discussion largely repeating the SAME critique as their FIRST attempt.


      However, if TEDx OR the Science Board wishes to actuallly GIVE a demonstration of "a higher standard of intellectual rigor," then there are PLENTY OF PEOPLE (over 200,000 youtube views) WHO ARE WILLING AND WANTING TO SEE IT!
    • Apr 1 2013: Hi bud!
      I know all these critiques of TED's 'science board' qualifications, objectivity and even motives can seem pretty heated and raucous. But, I think you'll find that it is really a sign of serious concern for the health of the TED forum that folks are trying to express. We are all really just folks here!
      Cheers' Jordan
    • Apr 1 2013: @ Leroy Low, So let me get this straight, after "reading through things here" you failed to notice you were on the Graham Hancock page? (From the same comment posted to the Sheldrake thread "by error, i posted this on Hancocks debate, boy did those people explode. I meant to put it here, sorry!!")

      Forgive me if I don't put much store in your perceptions of either thread. You either don't read very carefully or there's a little problem with your reading comprehension.

      (Yes, I cut and pasted that from my comment on the Graham Hancock thread, because, why not?)
      • Apr 2 2013: And did he use the delete function to remove his self-confessed irrelevant commentary from the wrong blog? Of course not.
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      Apr 1 2013: look at the comment history of these names here that replied to you. they are not ted forum members. they are a zealot army sent here for the sole purpose of creating turmoil.
      • Apr 1 2013: I can't speak for anyone else here, but no one sent me. Who sent you? The TED science board? Granted, I only joined so I could participate in an officially sanctioned TED debate in which I wanted to participate, but I wasn't sent here. Is that OK? or is there an unofficial TED doctrine against this?
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          Apr 2 2013: i was here when you guys showed up. so what do you think, who sent me?

          the very fact that you registered just for that is already terrible. you believe that simply the sheer weight of voices count. btw how did you hear about ted? and that goes to all the "nobody sent me here" choir below. where and when did you hear about ted and this conversation?
        • Apr 2 2013: Why is that so “terrible”, Krisztián?

          I wasn't aware that this debate was only meant for existing TED forum members…

          “you believe that simply the sheer weight of voices count.”

          What an extraordinary claim... Won’t you consider that the sheer weight of voices in this debate also actually being in favor of reasonable debate maybe also count for something?

          My interpretation thus far is that TED has shown its true colors through borderline censorship exposing themselves as being the latest "defenders of the Faith and the Kingdom cling[ing] with increasing self-righteousness to the hull of a sinking paradigm."

          How can the fact that the consensus is against you be final proof that this consensus Must be because of a “zealous army sent here for the sole purpose of creating turmoil”? That’s not very reasonable.

          Even though the MSM isn't currently covering this at all, how is categorizing like-minded people on social networks as a “zealous army” reasonable?

          Then again, how can you be so sure how each commentator was initially made aware of TED’s censorship?

          Disregarding the possible initial support for both individual censored speakers, this debate goes much deeper in its challenge of established paradigms. How can you be so sure that the 'hoard' commentating here in favor of Sheldrake and/or Hancock isn't doing so because they actually sincerely care about real scientific progress?

          You assume too much. Why not consider that maybe that’s part of the reason why you’re not part of the consensus?

          Where’s the people that’s supposed to side with you in this debate then? The trolls fell like flies; and TED’s science board chooses to remain anonymous, whilst they’re the very ones that are supposed to be backing you up here.

          Is the “zealous army” somehow preventing them from taking part in this debate?
      • Apr 2 2013: Dear readers, consider:

        A) we all came at the personal request of Rupert Sheldrake with his stirring call to arms still ringing in our ears....

        B) we heard two pretty good talks and wondered what on earth could have driven someone to remove them and attempt to justify it with patent nonsense...

        C) we are emissaries of the Anti-Christ hell-bent on destroying civilization.

        As Graham used to say on Blind Date, the choice is yours.
      • Apr 2 2013: I was not sent here either. So much for your conspiracy theory.

        I think it's safe to say that many of the contributors to this debate have posted and continue to post because they recognize the immense reach and influence TED has, and are concerned that the organization is being co-opted by special interests in a way that directly contradicts their slogans and mission statement.

        Many people, like myself, have in the past associated TED with progressive innovation, and the cutting edge of contemporary discourse. To us, the recent actions by TED are regressive, and sully its image. Speaking for myself, I can no longer pledge support for TED with a clean conscience; I wish that I could, though, and that hope is my motivation for being here.
      • Apr 2 2013: I was absolutely sent here with the rest of my secret army. DA: Dumbledore's Army.
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          Apr 2 2013: ms gallagher, be happy to be the exception. it changes what exactly? look all the others. i'm very curious to hear their stories. where and when did they hear about ted forums? it is a rhetorical question. we know very well.
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          Apr 2 2013: so if 9 out of 10 people are registered just for wreaking havoc here, and they all came after they saw a sheldrake blog entry, my claims are somehow invalidated by your presence here? how? why? this is indeed surreal.
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          Apr 2 2013: you are not famous for your memory i suppose. this is what you replied to:

          "look at the comment history of these names here that replied to you. they are not ted forum members. they are a zealot army sent here for the sole purpose of creating turmoil."

          you are still not late to research the previous activity of participants here. they are all new accounts. and i'm still waiting for their stories how they have found ted and this conversation. until further notice, i assume they found a convenient link on sheldrake's website, or some other newage forum sharing sheldrake's original laments.
      • Apr 2 2013: I think your problem Krisztian is that people have wreaked havoc on your arguments. You said X, and people showed in about 7 different ways why you were wrong. They have also wreaked havoc on the TED science board's excuses for censorship inasmuch as all the science board's initial excuses had to be crossed out under the weight of argument. So yes, perhaps people did come here to wreak havoc, but their weapons were reason, logic, and sound arguments, and the havoc wreaked was on TED's shoddy anti-scientific attempt at censorship and ideology promotion under the guise of science.
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          Apr 2 2013: ms gallagher,

          i judged the comments by content. none of them are trolls, they are zealots. i never accused any of them being trolls. the fact that they registered exactly for that reason, at the same time, is not supposed to be an evidence. it supposed to be a sign, which i recommend to look at. it tells a lot. but the comments tell much more. one said "sheldrake is right, period". yeah, truly open attitude. period. now talk about the crucification of the science board. this is mob mentality. this is dangerous staff!

          you do not have right to know anything. what kind of moral rule is that? and who are "you" here? you are a member of some group? who gave you what rights? ted can ask anyone for advice, and then make a decision. ted can even make a decision without advice. you have no right to know about any of these. ted is a private organization, and they can do whatever they doddam please. respect property rights. i'm not trying to tell you what can you do with your own blog/homapage/etc. so you can just stop telling ted.

          similarly, i don't have any right to know the actual source of the sheldrake army. i know enough, details don't change a thing. they are free to refute if they so desire.
        • Apr 2 2013: Krisztián,

          You're highlighting one comment, lacking context, not enough to universalize your claim, any how. I can just as well point out some of the trolls' comments and state the contrary.

          “you do not have right to know anything.”

          I’d imagine that TED’s audience have a right to know why they don’t strive to live up to their own stated standards, won’t you?

          “Radical openness”? Why’s TED's science board anonymous then? Why haven't Hancock and Sheldrake's replies on TED's initial critique on their talks and reasons for censorship been addressed by them exactly Here where it was Meant to have been done the past few weeks?

          Consider the possibility that this “zealous army” actually cares about TED’s future (in the end, we all seem to love knowledge and have benevolent motives, imho) – won’t this whole debate then rather be considered as being constructive criticism?

          I’m sure nobody here wishes TED to be labelled here afterwards as an organization who imagines itself to be above such silly moral concepts as 'social responsibility', and then possibly being more inviting to other opportunistic types of modern anonymous web 'mob mentality' causing TED not being able to spread knowledge at all...

          Well, if you don't, then I advise you to re-read the whole thread with new eyes.
      • Apr 2 2013: Mr. Pinter, I'll tell you in no uncertain terms that I joined this forum to comment on the censorship of these two talks. I've been watching and sharing TED lectures on video for years, though. It always struck me as a forward thinking organization. I learned a couple weeks ago that I was wrong, so I signed on to articulate my disappointment.

        Your obsession with who joined when and dismissing every new member as a "zealot army" is just more of the in-group/out-group dynamics TED will increasingly become known for.

        It's ad hominem. Who cares when people joined? It's not remotely relevant. It's just an excuse for you to avoid the substance of what all these people are saying. You've shown yourself to be ill-equipped to cope with the arguments presented by some very smart people. What you say would only be well-received in a bubble where everyone already agrees with you and you don't actually have to say anything of substance. So you try to distract with this silliness about who joined when. If you can't attack the argument, attack the person. But if there's anything I've learned through the years, it's that when people resort to ad hominem, it's because haven't got much else to say.
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          Apr 2 2013: i'm not a member of any tribes, but i can spot tribal members. identifying tribal thinking does not make my thinking tribal. however, it shines a light on your thinking that you immediately assumed that if i'm not a member of the sheldrake tribe, i must be a member of the ted tribe.

          i debate about what i want, if you don't mind. i don't think that debating sheldrake's views is entertaining or fruitful. i don't think that debating whether it should appear on ted is valid debate that can be enriched any more. however i find it interesting and debate-worthy to discuss the mindset certain people have here. let me summarize that mindset.

          that mindset is the internet-lynch-mob, the internet-taliban mindset. you people believe that you have a right to have your voice heard, and even more, to be broadcast by media outlets. you think that sheldrake is entitled to be regarded in some way you think is appropriate. this is false, ridiculous and dangerous.

          no you don't have any of these rights. ted is an independent, private organization. it can pull a talk with no explanation at all. it can "ban" any speaker at any time with no reason at all. it can distribute any message at any time without explanation. the only valid reaction to that are: 1, you present your own view for people to see (elsewhere), or 2, stop watching ted talks, and tell your friends that they should too. or 3, if you are invited or allowed, you can go to the conversation opened on ted, and explain your views there.

          what you can not do is to claim that ted did anything wrong. or, more precisely, you can claim that, but it makes you ... well, not very bright.
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          Apr 2 2013: "Then why are you debating it?"

          i don't. i have commented on one of his statements, just to show that yes, i do have something on him.

          "TED doesn't really seem to want that."

          and it relates to your "rights" how?

          " you were the one demanding"

          i said i would be curious. maybe a little overstatement to call that a demand, isn't it?

          " please give specific examples"

          you always say that to my conclusions after a longer comment with specific examples. not very convincing that you actually read what i write.
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          Apr 2 2013: but i did.

          " you people believe that you have a right to have your voice heard, and even more, to be broadcast by media outlets. you think that sheldrake is entitled to be regarded in some way you think is appropriate. this is false, ridiculous and dangerous."

          and it was a reply to your

          " surely we have the right to know the criteria and past history of the TED science advisors?"

          which does not stand alone. if you deny that many people talk about their "rights", you just ridicule yourself.
      • Apr 2 2013: Mr Pinter,

        From your first comment on this "debate", it was evident that you were so eager to voice your opinion, that you could not stand to watch more that 5:09 min of the talk before you had to come and let everyone know how awful the talk was. At first I was excited to see your comment, as I was hopping you had a good argument coming. but nothing of sort come from you. From your many comments on this debate it is obvious you are blinded by your hatred for religion that are unaware of the fact that you yourself are part of one. You describe your self as a lyre by your own definition- you should look into it.
        I have never been on Sheldrakes site of read any of his work. I am a big fen of TED, and was not sent here by anyone in particular, but brought in by my curiosity for "new ideas", and exploring the nature of reality. So I guess I couldn't resist becoming a member.

        how do you know that what you know is try?
    • Apr 2 2013: Leroy Low wrote: "TED, responded to some quality control issues"

      The critics may have seen it that way, whereas many of us consider "quality control issues" as a pejorative euphemism.

      TED responded to a small group of people who argued that an informal talk on the philosophy of science, should be assessed as if it were a peer-reviewed scientific paper, and without having to provided detailed criticism of their rationale.

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