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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:



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: This is right in your "About TED" page.

    "Our mission: Spreading ideas.

    We believe passionately in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and ultimately, the world. So we're building here a clearinghouse that offers free knowledge and inspiration from the world's most inspired thinkers, and also a community of curious souls to engage with ideas and each other. This site, launched April 2007, is an ever-evolving work in progress, and you're an important part of it. Have an idea? We want to hear from you."

    Nowhere above does it say the requirements for having a good idea depend on intensive scientific research.

    Was Graham Hancock spreading an idea? Yes.
    Can the power of his idea change attitudes, lives, and ultimately the world? From my experience - definitely.
    Is he an inspired thinker? Yes.
    Would a community of curious souls be interested in it? Yes.

    So for what reason should his talk be censored, moved, or removed other than the fact that his idea may be "unpopular" within the current paradigm we operate under?

    Unless of course TED is now a popularity contest among leading scientists and entrepreneurs. In that case they should probably make some updates the website info as it's a little outdated.
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      Mar 19 2013: TED has always made decisions about what content it wants to share under its brand. Just as the New York Times receives thousands of op-ed submissions and decides what to publish. If the New York Times decided not to publish your op-ed is it censorship? No. You are free to post it elsewhere.

      TED is a media company and can decide what content it's comfortable sharing under its direct brand. In this case, TED is drawing special attention to Graham's talk and Rupert's talk, so it certainly isn't trying to censor them.
      • Mar 19 2013: What would you call it if the New York Times invited someone to write an article about challenging existing paradigms, printed the article, distributed it to 100,000 people, then after receiving criticism from people deeply rooted in the paradigms being challenged, stopped the presses and moved the article to a little-known informal publication with a fraction of the visibility?
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          Mar 19 2013: TED didn't invite Graham to speak, the organizers of TEDxWhitechapel did. And TEDxWhitechapel is free to post the content wherever it wants. But TED gets to decide what content is shared on the TEDx channel - just like the NYT decides what to publish in its newspaper and on its website.
        • Mar 20 2013: @nate, re your reply to me.
          Your response seems disingenuous, dealing as it does with a minor technicality, and ignoring the whole point of the example. OK, so the the temporary sports editor of the NYT ask you to write a piece...

          I must say that I have been astonished by the amount of wriggling around TED supporters have done to try to evade, rather than address, honest concerns.
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          Mar 20 2013: Steve: I assure you that the managing editors for the New York Times opt not to publish hundreds of stories every month that get written or submitted by freelancers.

          There's no evasion here, it's pretty simple: TED has always made curatorial decisions about the type of content it wants to share under its brand. There are never any guarantees that speakers at TEDx events (nor TED conferences) will get their talks posted on TED's media channels. The same holds true for hundreds of media companies out there, including the NYT.
      • Mar 19 2013: Yeah, and imagine instead that the NYT invited you to write a piece, which you then did, for free, and which the NYT then published. Then imagine that following a few silly and abusive complaints about the piece you wrote, the NYT decided it would be a fine thing to bad mouth you to the world, publicly thank the abusive complainants, and invent a load of false allegations in order to ingratiate itself further with the complainants. And then finally imagine that after you had written a reasoned response the head honcho at the NYT publicly taunted you about some irrelevant nasty stuff about you he dug up in Wikipedia. How would you feel? What would you think of brand NYT?
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          Mar 19 2013: TED didn't invite Graham to speak, the organizers of TEDxWhitechapel did. And TEDxWhitechapel is free to post the content wherever it wants. But TED gets to decide what content is shared on the TEDx channel - just like the NYT decides what to publish in its newspaper and on its website.
      • Mar 19 2013: Relying on the distinction between TED and TEDx is passing the buck. You can replace "New York Times" with "someone who was licensed to represent themselves as the New York Times-x, for the benefit of the New York Times" and nothing changes in the analogy.
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          Mar 19 2013: Many talks on the main TED stage also never make it to the website. TED never makes any guarantees it will post talks from its conferences. It has been this way from Day 1. TED has always made editorial decisions about what content it feels comfortable associated with its brand.

          And it has shared TEDx talks about psychedelic research before, such as Roland Griffiths' talk from TEDxMidAtlantic. In this specific case of Graham's talk, it felt the talk was not rooted in proper scientific study, which is a valid concern.
        • Mar 20 2013: @Nate
          You are missing the point. The point was about the false accusations, defamatory comments, innuendo of dishonesty, and general abuse TED hurled Sheldrake and Hancock's way because they had the temerity to give a talk at a conference organised under the TED/TEDx banner. The particulars of the contracts are not really the issue.
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        Mar 20 2013: Nate, you are absolutely correct here, and I am glad to see you are jumping into the foray. At the end of the day, Hancock and Sheldrake should be thanking TED for the incredible social media promotion they're getting. Negative PR is still PR.....as a former media executive, I should know : )
        • Mar 20 2013: So if I go on the internet and make outrageous uncalled for allegations about you, you'd be just fine with it? If no, then why should Hancock/Sheldrake thank TED for it? And if yes, then have a word with Chris and ask him to drop the ban on abuse and we can see if you're willing to put your money where your mouth is? Deal?
        • Swati T

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          Mar 20 2013: "Negative PR is still PR.....as a former media executive, I should know : )"

          Are you kidding?

          What fundamentally flawed statement.

          You don't have to be a former media executive to instantly realize that there are simply far too many examples that contradict that...why? Because that is a flawed statement.

          Ruining a person's reputation does just that...ruins a person's reputation.
        • Mar 20 2013: Al, so you should be thanking Sheldrake and Hancock as well for the massive negative PR you are getting.
        • Mar 20 2013: Al, as a former marketing manager I strongly disagree with your statement. How would you feel if defamatory statements about you would be spread over the Internet? Bad PR is of course PR but it is what it is: bad, not good for your reputation.

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