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The debate about Graham Hancock's talk

Please use this space to comment on the debate around Graham Hancock's TEDx talk, as described here:

http://blog.ted.com/2013/03/19/the-debate-about-graham-hancocks-talk/

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Closing Statement from TED

Thanks to all who participated in this conversation on TED's decision to move Graham Hancock'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 19 2013: TED isn't censoring the talk, but they're not validating it either – largely because it's a subjective topic that can't be validated. (This is also one way to know that it's not science, either: it can't be falsified.)

    A more interesting exploration would be to talk about DMT, and other serotonin receptor antagonists like LSD, and why and how they work.

    For example, it would be trivial to give a rigorous talk about psychedelics: 1) explain the mechanism of action, 2) offer current theories as to why serotonin-blockers cause hallucinations, 3) offer some ideas about why humans perceive spiritual experiences under their influence, 4) offer that in the author's personal experience it led to spiritual outcomes.

    What many may find objectionable is an attempt to downplay the mechanism of action (science) and overplay the subjectively-perceived outcome (opinion).
    • Mar 19 2013: Graham did not say he was talking about Science. He was presenting his opinion. An idea he felt was worth sharing.
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        Mar 19 2013: I think many would agree that an opinion backed up by some science (there's no shortage of it available) would be a lot more interesting and valuable. "Opinions a few people think are worth sharing" is a pretty low bar to meet, and were it the only ethos TED aspired to, it would lead to some very questionable (and arguably very boring) content.

        This talk is available for anyone who wants to find Graham's unsupported, unscientific opinion.
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        Mar 19 2013: 130K views is a niche audience in today's online video marketplace.
        • Mar 19 2013: It's 2-3 orders of magnitude more than most of the videos on the TEDx channel.
        • Mar 20 2013: @Dave, 130k views is excellent for even an official TED (not TEDx) video -- especially in a mere matter of weeks. There are official TED videos that don't get near that in six years.

          To compare an 18-minute lecture of a substantive/intellectual nature to Gangham Style or Hulu replays of Dancing with the Stars is pointless and misleading.
    • Mar 19 2013: TED, you drag these talks from one debate to the other, still focussing on whether they are "pseudoscience", which distracts from the real problem. Your science board has enough data (the talks themselves and additional responses provided) to make a clear case for or against the talks being pseudoscience. Check the statements in questions, check the facts, follow them where they lead, and stand by whatever you find. This is not the real problem here.

      It's this: If you were able to make a clear case for taking these talks down because they're PS, you would have done so by now. But instead of doing the only logical thing, leaving/putting them back with the other talks and supporting them with clear arguments against allegations made by Myers, Coyne etc. - you refuse to make a stand and delegate the decision to the public. But what more do you want to hear ? You have multiple comment threads, exceeding in total far more than 1000 comments on the matter, you have detailled and in case of Sheldrake exceptional replies by the speakers - it's up to you to make a decision, and deal with the consequences.

      You can't please eberybody, so what's it going to be ? Please man up and make a decision, instead of inviting us to state the same points we already made over and over, until everybody runs out of steam and this whole things blows over.
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        Mar 19 2013: I'm not a TED employee, and I'm not speaking on TED's behalf.

        I didn't say this talk was pseudoscience. I'm saying without any real science, it's just not very interesting or useful information. It's an opinion, and it's currently available to anyone who wants to find it.
        • Mar 19 2013: You 're joking! It's like saying that it is not racism to exclude coloured people from let's say a hotel. Of course they can be found outside.
          These kind of arguments only show low level of seriousness Dave.
        • Mar 19 2013: "without any real science" there was some science but it was not real? isn't that the same as pseudoscience, oh wait you said you didn't say this talk was pseudoscience.

          How come you TED guys are so good in flawed reasoning?

          Is that how you came to the conclusion that these talks were not real science, uh i mean pseudocience oh I never said that. Did you even listen to the talks and then read the allegations? and the replies of Mr Hancock and Mr Sheldrake? Did you check there answers?
        • Mar 20 2013: At least 130k people disagree with you, David, about it being useful/interesting information. There are plenty of TED talks that are not science-based. Hancock's in particular was more on the philosophy of science, as has been said many times before, and all of the controversial statements in question were very carefully framed. So again, I don't quite understand the controversy.
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        Mar 19 2013: No, that's a specious comparison.

        This is no different from the New York Times declining to print an op-ed in its Sunday edition and instead including it in its online edition, as a courtesy. Not printing it at all is not censorship, and allowing it to be published is clearly not censorship.

        If you disagree with TED's editorial stance, start your own media company that has a different set of editorial guidelines.
        • Mar 19 2013: The beauty of the human spirit is that you seem to be inspiring just such an endeavor!

          Using your comparison, is there any reason why TED can't release the "op-ed pieces" (e.g. videos) back to the authors so that they can be viewed by their fans with a warning that they were presented at a TEDx event, but later removed by TED, are in no way endorsed by TED, etc.?
        • Mar 19 2013: OK Dave, I agree, but please accept that TED will stop being what most of us thought it was.
          To delete any ideas, except in extreme and known situations, shows a lower level of civility and respect for mankind in general.
          TED will lose countless supporters and these dates will be remembered for a long time.
          Because in the end, you said it, it is a company, with specific interests, sponsors, agenda. And in a way it's really nice this was exposed to the world these days.
          And BTW, ideological racism the way it happened here, is fundamentally much worse than just censorship, which is practically ineffective too. Just read the arguments in the blogs if you have the courage. So many talks about similar subjects, and some even more 'extreme', just go over them. It's a disgrace really. I was supporting TED but no more...
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          Mar 19 2013: Pandelis: From day 1 TED has decided what talks to share and which not to share. Even in its current conferences, TED doesn't post all of the talks up.

          As a media company, TED makes decisions about what talks it wants to share. It never claimed to simply allow every idea to go live on its site.

          If you disagree with that, fine, but don't claim it was any different before.
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        Mar 19 2013: There is no technical reason they couldn't, but from a business and branding perspective, it would get pretty messy.

        Likewise, there is nothing to prevent the author from simply recording the talk again on their own terms and in a different venue?

        TED is not obligated to lend its brand to anyone.
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        Mar 19 2013: Pandelis, I think it's terribly naïve to think that there is any media channel that does not have its own point-of-view, which is honestly all that I believe TED is expressing here. If every idea pitched to TED (or TEDx) events was given equal voice, I can assure you TED would be nothing but noise. An editorial position is vital to creating quality, interesting, and yes, even challenging content.

        It's easy to get wound up about conspiracies and sponsors pressuring those decisions, but I truly think that's reading far too much into this situation. This is just good editing. And if you disagree with the editors, you can express that here and promote other ideas and videos elsewhere. It's a big wide world out there, with plenty of outlets for everyone.
        • Mar 19 2013: Dave, TED dissapointed a great part of its supporters these days, becasue they feel cheated. They felt, like me, that TED was not just a media channel. They felt it was a really open forum.
          The problem for you guys is that this incident relates to the handling of ideas, censorship of philosophical ideas and in the end, the promotion of a specific agenda to the world. Such matters are qualitatively and systemically very deep and important. I think that you are going to find them in front of you one day and maybe you will regret what happened.
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        Mar 19 2013: I am, like you, Pandelis only a third-party observer.

        TED has made many choices in the past that have angered and disappointed various people about various talks. This is an inevitable part of making decisions about content. What I would suggest to you is that the TED team, on net, tries to do the right thing, and more often than not gets it right.

        If you find yourself consistently disagreeing with its decisions, as I've said: there are many media outlets out there, and many more to come. TED doesn't have to be everything to everyone, but it can't be anything to anyone if it doesn't remain true to its beliefs and attempt to make the best curatorial decisions possible.

        Perhaps it can do a better job of that in the future, but really, how could that not be otherwise?
    • Mar 19 2013: "TED isn't censoring the talk"

      But they did intend on censoring it. The email sent to the TEDx organisers demonstrated this. It was ONLY because of the backlash that a concession was made.

      It's like having an art gallery, placing a piece in the basement out of view and then saying "Well we're not censoring it, it's still in the gallery".
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        Mar 19 2013: TED like any media outlet has a right to decide what to include and not include, and they made a decision to handle it this way. Start your own competing organization that makes different decisions if you don't like theirs.
        • Mar 19 2013: All I'm saying is don't make claims of non censorship, when it's clearly a false claim.
        • Mar 19 2013: Again someone from TED that likes to respond with an agressive undertone?

          Why is that, isn't there enough real science in these hordes?
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        Mar 19 2013: It's not censorship. The talk is published. Even if they had chosen to take it down, it wouldn't be censorship, but just an editorial decision.

        Why don't you write an op-ed for the New York Times and send it in? If it's not published, is it censorship? Or did they simply decide that it failed to meet their editorial guidelines or level of quality? It's obviously not "censorship." It's simply a decision to pass on distributing content – one they have every right to make (and make routinely). TED is no different.
        • Mar 19 2013: "Even if they had chosen to take it down, it wouldn't be censorship"

          That statement says it all.
        • Mar 19 2013: Well placing a talk on your official youtube channel and then remove it and not explain it with hard evidence or a sincere dialogue

          That is censorship my dear fellow read your dictionary. Instead of this agressive undertone or the strange cynicism from your Boss mr Anderson you could investigate this But you don't.

          You take the easy way and just pretent to be insulted.

          That is an old machiavellan trick... doesn't work. You guys have a real hard time to find out admit and write TED made a mistake here and a big one too.
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          Mar 19 2013: Your argument doesn't work because TED didn't put the talk up in the first place. The organizers of TEDxWhitechapel did.

          TED doesn't review talks that go up on the TEDx channel before they are posted, however it's possible they might start to do so now because of situations like this.

          I'd say they are doing the opposite of censorship here -- they are calling special attention to this talk (and Rupert Sheldrake's) and inviting discussion.
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        Mar 19 2013: Censorship is when governments intercede to block the transmission of specific content. You're conflating "censorship" with curation and exertion of editorial control by a private media company.

        While TED certainly aims to promote the free flow of ideas, I don't believe it aspires to be the exclusive platform dedicated to that goal. There are countless others, and there will be countless more. Many ideas belong on other platforms, but TED made a decision it has every right to make by deciding how and where to present this idea on its platform. They could perhaps have done it more gracefully and with better communication, but the hue and cry over this is more than a little overblown.
        • Mar 19 2013: Ah so only governments can censor. Every other time it's curation and acceptable.

          Got it.
        • Mar 19 2013: ...You're conflating "censorship" with curation and exertion of editorial control by a private media company....
          What a low level of an argument is this?
        • Mar 19 2013: Read your dictionary it says nothing about governments.
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        Mar 19 2013: See above. You have bad info there.
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        Mar 19 2013: Yes, I made the statement that a government must be the entity that conducts censorship, because in the United States (thanks to the First Amendment, and where TED is located), no other entity can possibly do so. Everyone is entitled to speak their mind, and it's easier than ever today thanks to the Internet. The idea of a private media company "censoring" is illogical and impossible in such a context.
      • Mar 20 2013: Refusing to have your name on something really isn't censorship.

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