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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: To be honest, I don't think it's right at all for TED to decide what is worthy of people's attention or not. I've followed TED for years because of the intriguing and often controversial ideas their speakers present. There has always been something fresh and stimulating to find. At what point did TED start deciding what should and shouldn't be heard? Each speaker should be allowed to present whatever it may be that he or she is passionate about and believes in. It's up to us to decide how we feel about it and whether or not it's worth our attention. I was always under the impression that TED believed in spreading ALL the ideas, no matter how controversial. It seems now though that TED is more geared towards handing out pats on the back to the entrepreneurial and scientific community rather than being a true supporter of global awareness and everyone's ideas - not just the ones they agree with.

    If this is how things are now then TED is no longer about Ideas Worth Spreading, they're about Ideas Worth Marketing.
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      Mar 19 2013: TED from day 1 has always decided which talks to post and which to not. Just as the New York Times decides what op-ed pieces to publish and which to not. That is the nature of any media company.

      If you thought otherwise, you were unfortunately mistaken!

      But TED is also not blocking or censoring this talk. In fact, they are drawing special attention and discussion to it. What they have decided is they are not comfortable sharing the talk under the TED brand, which is 100% in their right to do, and something they have always done.
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        Mar 20 2013: This is an important point that few understand. The role of curation. The only reason TED talks ever acquired a reputation for being worth watching is because we fought like crazy to ensure that only good stuff appeared on the site. People may say just let anything go. Then I invite them to open a website for serious content that does that, and watch what happens.

        The decision to open up to TEDx events and create a Youtube channel for them was a huge risk for this very reason. We believe overall TEDx brings in far more of the great than the problematic. But it is absolutely not an option for us to just wash our hands of any and all curatorial decisions on that channel. It's just really hard work to do that without upsetting people - as this episode so powerfully illustrates.
        • Mar 20 2013: Curation is challenging, no question. And I agree that a HUGE part of the value of TED lies in its curation.

          The issue for me (and I do believe many others) is that the curation in this case was poorly done in two regards.

          1) The presentations were posted and THEN taken down. Curation is normally a gate through which worthy content passes after review. Not a shepherd's crook yanking someone off stage that has strayed from the script.

          2) Most damning, the reasons given for the shepherd's crook were spurious and demonstrably false. It's clear to me that the reasons expressed were based on impressions (prejudices?) formed well beyond what is contained in these presentations.

          The first problem appears both censorious and incompetent. A more terrible combination would be hard to find in the world of curation.

          The second issue called in to question the integrity of TED as a whole. That may sound overly harsh, but imagine if you had been told you had said things you knew perfectly well you hadn't said. And everyone in the world could confirm your version of reality! This leads to all sorts of questions about motives, etc.

          I do think the level of dismay and protest is a bit out of scale with the offenses. And I personally continue to value what TED brings to us (and has brought). But none of that changes the reality that there are serious issues with what was said under TED's name. And things were handled in an incredibly clumsy and embarrassing manner.

          So yes, thank you for all you've done. Thank you. But do please understand where most of us are coming from here.
        • Mar 20 2013: I think that most of us are aware that TED is exercising it's right as curator (although there are strong suspicious regarding third party influence. Stakeholders hold stakes, afterall).

          The backlash has to do with judgement and criticism of that curation.
        • Mar 20 2013: @Chris, thank you for taking the time to better elucidate TED's position here.

          Please understand that at least 75% of the outrage and animosity here is due to the way this was initially handled, e.g. framing the videos with refutations that clearly misrepresented what both speakers had to say, leveling wikipedia-based accusations of "pseudoscience" on the speakers, and leaving them up for days without adequate response.

          Regarding the challenges of curation, 165k+ people watched these videos before they were pulled. While there was some healthy criticism and debate, the response from the community was overwhelmingly positive, and the videos appealed to a large audience beyond dedicated Hancock/Sheldrake groupies and stoners. I can think of no better illustration of public response to ideas worth spreading.

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