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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 20 2013: There have been a great deal of comments on this thread - and personally I think it speaks to TEDs transparency that the talks are online (and have perhaps been viewed even more now than they would have been elsewhere) and that they can be the topic for debate on science and pseudoscience. Contrary to some of the comments to 'man up and make a decision' I think it has sparked debate, shared some ideas worth spreading, even if they aren't always ideas that are shared.

    Hancock's talk is spirited and I appreciate him sharing his personal journey and connection to a topic he clearly feels very passionate about. As a scientist I am not shut off to discussions that challenge traditional ideas, but I would ask that they stand up to evidenced-based enquiry. Hancock discusses many individual stories about communities using DMT - but I need more than anecdotal evidence to be convinced of the effectiveness of these methods in treating the various conditions he discusses, without data I can't judge a theory's merit and so by definition it passes into the realm of pseudoscience.
    • Mar 20 2013: 1. Perhaps you should read Benny Shanon's Antipodes of the Mind, or Rick Strassman's DMT: The Spirit Molecule, or check out some of the literature on Soma or the kykeon, or even watch the TEDx talk by Roland Griffiths on the effects of psylocibin. Then you might find that what Hancock says is fairly well in line with current scientific research on the history and effects of hallucinogens, and would not have to guess (wrongly) about the lack of support for what he says.

      2. You seem to imagine that your lack of knowledge of the data in some way translates into an actual lack of data, and thus your definition of pseudoscience is pretty much everything that you don't know about. See point (1) above for details.

      3. Which traditional ideas do you take him to be challenging?
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        Mar 20 2013: Steve - I was commenting on Hancock's talk and its contents. I will look up the references you suggest, and will read the study posted by Noah with interest. And yes, then I will evaluate to the best of my ability whether or not what Hancock says is supported by evidence. So thanks for the suggestions.
        However, I think the comment stands that he used mainly anecdotal evidence in his talk. Now I understand that this builds the narrative of the piece, fair enough, but in that context (of Big Pharma versus alternative medical practices) I think it was worth discussing.

        And no, I don't assume pseudoscience to be "pretty much everything that I don't know about."
        • Mar 20 2013: Of course he used anecdotal evidence in his talk. It was an 18 minutes informal talk that ranged over many topics and was primarily socio-political in nature.
          My point about your definition of pseudoscience was that it relied heavily on the notion of what data you have and what judgement you can come to, when that has nothing much to do with it at all. This would be reasonable enough if the discussion was purely theoretical, and were it not for your definitive statement that Hancock's (not-even-attempting-to-be-science-in-any-event) talk was pseudoscience. It's a very nasty accusation to make against a professional man who has given up his time to talk for free at a conference, and not the kind of accusation I think should be made willy-nilly. I gather, sadly, that TED as an organisation has no such qualms, and some even think Hancock should be appreciative of such abuse coming from an organisation like TED, but I do not and think it would be reasonable if you withdrew your accusation (using the edit function) until such time as you were able to assess the evidence.

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