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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: Recent studies undertaken at Johns Hopkins University demonstrated that "When administered under supportive conditions, psilocybin occasioned experiences similar to spontaneously occurring mystical experiences that, at 14-month follow-up, were considered by volunteers to be among the most personally meaningful and spiritually significant of their lives."


    Psilocybin is a tryptamine closely related to DMT, the active component in Ayahuasca. Psilocybin is found in magic mushrooms. The experiences of these different substances and others are at once very different and very similar. Their 'healing' effects are widely recognised by those experienced in using them. This understanding is necessarily an underground one. The substances are illegal, so mainstream understanding of them has long suffered. Things are beginning to change on that front.

    As has been mentioned, it is difficult for a researcher to be taken seriously in the traditional scientific community if they themselves are taking the substance they're researching. This is a problem. I think we can only get so far with questionnaires and brain scans. For this reason I support Hancock's work to describe the experience in the first person. If the language he uses in doing so seems slightly crude, it is only because he is coming from a place that has been oppressed for so long that it has grown distant.
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      Mar 19 2013: I believe you're talking about Roland Griffiths' work at Johns Hopkins, which he presented at TEDxMidAtlantic in 2009. Note the nature of Griffiths' talk, and his claims. (Note that this talk was not distributed on TED.com, despite being thoroughly rooted in science — and no one is claiming "censorship.")

      • Mar 19 2013: And note that it IS on the TEDx YT channel. And note that the person you were responding to didn't say anything about censorship.
      • Mar 19 2013: I'm confused about your response to my post. Yes I am talking about the work of Roland Griffiths, and I linked his study. I didn't say anything about censorship of Griffiths' work.
        • Mar 20 2013: My response was to Dave Troy's response to your post.
      • Swati T

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        Mar 20 2013: Why (Dave Troy) are you unable to formulate a relevant response to Lewis's post?

        You missed the point.

        I am not sure if your brain processed the text in the same way, but I suggest you go back and read it...carefully.
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      Mar 20 2013: I was pointing out, for other readers of this thread, that Griffiths talk which was fundamentally on the same topic as Hankcock's didn't generate any controversy because it was framed in a scientific context. There is a place for subjective descriptions of first-hand experiences, it just may not be TED's YouTube channel.

      Lewis' points are well made; I was merely expanding on them so that folks understand that TED is not inherently opposed to discussion of this topic, but there is a difference between a scientific talk and one which is more subjective and speculative. That difference seems to be at the core of this debate.
      • Mar 20 2013: I don't see anything wrong with a subjective account of first hand experience, and there are many examples of such on a range of topics hosted by TED.

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