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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: The theme for the Tedx event held in January this year at which both talks occurred was:

    “Visions for Transition: Challenging Existing Paradigms and Redefining Values (for a beautiful world)”

    That’s exactly what Sheldrake and Hancock did.
    Both talks received extensive hits and were extremely popular before they were removed from their original platform.

    Hancock’s talk is an exposition about his (and others) personal experiences exploring human consciousness. He has never claimed to be a scientist.
    Sheldrake, who IS a well known scientist, has successfully addressed the reasons put forward by Ted for removing his video. No pseudo science has yet been proven that I can see from reading this blog.

    Putting aside the censorship debate and also outrage expressed over an anonymous science board deciding what can and can’t be viewed by the public on the main Ted platform…it’s really just not fair of Ted to play with Sheldrake and Hancocks reputations this way. So, Ted, please re-instate these videos to their original platform and let’s move forward.
    • Mar 20 2013: Yep, bottom line, that's what's up. Restore the talks to their previous forms and let the debate continue there. TED is continuing to step in it, who do they have for PR over there? Time for some new PR blood TED.
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      Mar 20 2013: It's completely irrelevant what the theme of the TEDx event was, or whether the talks fit into the theme. TED is a media company that makes curatorial decisions about what content it wishes to share under its brand. It has been this way from day 1 - this is nothing new. There are probably hundreds of talks from the TED Conferences that never make it onto TED.com.

      You also forgot to mention that Sheldrake opened his talk by promoting his book -- a clear violation of the TED rules that he should have read before taking the TEDx stage...
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        Mar 20 2013: Seriously? It is quite convenient that this "small" point got ignored. If Sheldrake did, in fact, open his talk by promoting his book, then the talk should have never been uploaded because it is ABSOLUTELY a violation of the TEDx rules. That puts the TEDx organizer in a difficult spot - if they had seen an advance copy of his slides and this was an "ad lib" addition by Sheldrake, then that is pretty sleezy but as an organizer, nothing you can do about it.
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          Mar 20 2013: It probably should have been edited out. It wasn't an overt "buy my book" but he opens (1:30 in) with "What I do in my book, which is called..." and then goes on to name its two different titles, depending on where you'd be buying it.

          It's a tough spot. Obviously someone like Elizabeth Gilbert will reference her book in her story about becoming an author. But Sheldrake essentially just says "this is the argument I made in my book, which I'm going to repeat to you today."
        • Mar 20 2013: So now you're accusing Sheldrake of being sleazy. You people have no shame.
        • Mar 20 2013: Al Meyers, FYI I have flagged your post for calling Sheldrake's behavior "sleezy".
        • Mar 20 2013: I think that given the limitations of an 18-minute presentation, it is not "sleazy" for Sheldrake to make an offhanded comment to the effect that he has laid out this case in far greater detail elsewhere -- especially given the tendency of some to nitpick an obviously limited argument to death. While the point of Sheldrake's book reference is legitimately debatable, it is far from a shameless plug.

          If TED wants to keep these talks civil, its representatives should refrain from levying further inflammatory insinuations at its speakers.
        • Mar 21 2013: If your point, Mr Meyers, is that it's reasonable for TED to enforce their self-promotion rule, then I am in agreement with you. If TED had said, "We have a rule not to allow talks where speakers refer to their own books; Sheldrake referred to his book, so we're not posting his talk", I would have found that perfectly reasonable and fine (and I think most people here would have).

          However, the reality of the situation is very different.

          What happened is this:
          TED posted the talk. It was up for two weeks before a rude atheist blogger complained about it. TED invited the community to discuss the talk. The community was about 70% in favour of keeping it up. TED took it down, citing complaints from their community and making a rake of demonstrably bogus allegations about the talk.

          That's why they're losing all their credibility, not because of the self-promotion rule.
      • Mar 20 2013: Define "promoting."

        Sheldrake says at 1:32:
        "What I do in my book The Science Delusion, which is called Science Set Free in the United States, is take the ten dogmas or assumptions of science and turn them into questions, seeing how well they stand up if you look at them..." This is the only mention of his book.

        If using one of his (very relevant) works as a platform to begin talking about the topic is promoting the work, then yeah I guess he's guilty of promotion. I see the book's relevance though.
      • Mar 20 2013: No one is disputing Ted’s legal right to decide the content of its site. However the problems here are:
        1. In this case the talks were put on the site, they proved extremely popular and then were removed.
        2. They were removed because a “science team” which is anonymous therefore very hard to challenge, decided the talks were “unscientific”.
        3. Hancock, as already mentioned is not a scientist, was not speaking at a scientific conference and was discussing a topic (consciousness) that mainstream science has generally chosen to steer well clear of other than a few people like Sheldrake.
        4. The Conference’s express purpose was to challenge and explore “existing paradigms” which is exactly what happened.
        No one is saying Ted should not have certain standards. Several posts in the earlier discussions go into this in depth. What people are saying is that in this instance, Ted’s behavior has been unfair notwithstanding its legal rights. Perhaps the problem here is we've made the mistake of seeing Ted as an open information sharing forum instead of a media company policing its content with a science board, even when the issues under discussion are better vetted in some other way. After all science describes consciousness as "the hard question", meaning traditional scientific tools don't work well here.
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          Mar 20 2013: But don't you see the conundrum you are creating? It's not about legality, it's about TED being a media company that decides what content it is comfortable sharing. In this case, it decided after the talk was posted (due to the open nature of the TEDx YouTube channel that requires no approval), and facilitated discussion about the talks. It was also very open and transparent about the decision it made.

          If the main reason for attacking TED is that the talk went up and was then removed, TED will be forced to start reviewing talks in advance to make sure it is comfortable sharing them under its brand. And instead of a talk like Graham's being moved to a separate venue and a discussion happening, the talk will simply never be shared - just like hundreds of talks from TED Conferences that never make it to TED.com for various reasons. How is that better than what happened today?
        • Mar 20 2013: Part 1 of 2:
          @Nate Mook Thank you for providing us with a better understanding of the internal workings within TED. I understand you are trying to make the best out of a messy situation. However, the messy situation appears to be partly due to procedural issues on your end, such as TED not reviewing TEDx talks in advance to make sure they concur with TEDs editorial viewpoints. Removing them AFTER they have been posted and gained tens of thousands of viewers, supporters and comments, as this case well illustrates is an extremely awkward, painful, and ultimately damaging way of asserting editorial control over your content.

          The analogy of the New York Times brought up in this thread is a perfect one. I would argue TED is very similar to the opinion page of the New York Times – in-depth news analysis with a powerful editorial bent. For the opinion page the New York Times vets their authors, approves their content and then publishes their piece. If the piece proves to be controversial its a win-win situation for both author and media outlet. It draws in many more readers to the opinion page and results in long comment sections, letters to the editor, an increased potential for advertising, links to other blogs, etc. That is the role of a media outlet – to present both news and allow a public debate.

          The crucial point is that no matter how heated the discussion becomes, no matter how many influential or powerful voices weigh in pro or con, once the New York Times publishes the piece they STAND BY THEIR AUTHOR. The opinion piece always stays on the opinion page forever. They do not remove or sequester the opinion piece online AFTER they have published it. It remains on the opinion page where it continues to inform and inspire debate for years and years to come.
        • Mar 20 2013: Part 2 of 2:
          @Nate Mook If TED had decided to keep these videos on the official TEDx channel and simply added a disclaimer that these videos were controversial they would be respecting and honoring their TEDx event coordinators, the presenters who were invited in good faith, and perhaps most importantly the general intelligence of their viewers. The debate would have continued, however heated it may be, but it would foster discussion and debate, and like the New York Times opinion page be a win-win for all parties involved.

          However, as we all know that is not what happened. This PR debacle is the direct result of ignoring standard media protocol and heavy-handedly editorializing content after official publication rather than vetting it beforehand. It's been a frustrating exercise I'm sure for many of you, and I'm quite confident you are reviewing your procedures. But one thing is very clear - this messy affair has resulted in a dramatic tarnishing of TEDs reputation on many levels, the exact opposite of what was originally intended.

          I do hope you reconsider this move and restore the videos to their rightful place.
      • Mar 20 2013: It's relevant inasmuch as that if TED has a massive bee in it's bonnet about certain paradigms not being questioned then it should have refused to allow a conference about challenging them, or at least asked for further details, instead of waiting until some people complained and then seeing if they can abuse the offending speakers sufficiently to get back in the good books of the complainants. No?
      • Mar 20 2013: Nate, several times you write TED is a "media company"... but TED's website states "TED is a nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading".

        Chris/TED should come clear about it. You are either a profit-seeking company with all your sponsors etc., or you are a non-profit? Is your aim private profit or advancing the public good?
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      Mar 20 2013: you have a point here. i was wondering what was going on on that tedx event. probably the entire thing does not deserve the ted logo, and it was given a go ahead by mistake. ted did not research the organizers and the speakers thoroughly enough, and only realized what kind of stuff they gave their name to after it happened. this "conversation" is an attempt to reduce the harm done, and at the same time neutralize the fanatic army of religious newage antiscience zealots.
      • Mar 20 2013: "Better a fanatical member of an army of religious newage anti-science zealots than a Hungarian who can't seem to grow a proper mustache", as Napoleon famously quipped.
    • Mar 25 2013: What tickles one's ears is not necessarily true.

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