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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: TED, you drag these talks from one debate to the other, still focussing on whether they are "pseudoscience", which distracts from the real problem. Your science board has enough data (the talks themselves and additional responses provided) to make a clear case for or against the talks being pseudoscience. Check the statements in questions, check the facts, follow them where they lead, and stand by whatever you find. This is not the real problem here.

    It's this: If you were able to make a clear case for taking these talks down because they're PS, you would have done so by now. But instead of doing the only logical thing, leaving/putting them back with the other talks and supporting them with clear arguments against allegations made by Myers, Coyne etc. - you refuse to make a stand and delegate the decision to the public. But what more do you want to hear ? You have multiple comment threads, exceeding in total far more than 1000 comments on the matter, you have detailled and in case of Sheldrake exceptional replies by the speakers - it's up to you to make a decision, and deal with the consequences.

    You can't please eberybody, so what's it going to be ? Please man up and make a decision, instead of inviting us to state the same points we already made over and over, until everybody runs out of steam and this whole things blows over.
    • Comment deleted

      • Mar 20 2013: Thanks Debbie ;)

        watching these two new debates for a day, they are further testimony for what TED is really doing, which is evading the real problem - taking a stand. And to clarify, this is not going to be a stand just for or against these talks, but about the topic that lies at the heart of the debate since its beginning: materialism and science. The debate started with two talks that questioned the materialist interpretation of scientific findings, and were taken down after some undeniably staunch and dogmatic proponents of this interpretation complained about these talks. TED is afraid to become part of the struggle between those holding on to materialism and trying to establish it further as the only real answer, and those refusing to just shut up and believe, who point out it's too early to accept any one particular interpretation. Instead TED fragments this debate to the breaking point...an initial debate, a blog post followed by a long debate in the comments, now two new, separate debates, one for each talk, ever to postpone addressing the real issue of materialism and modern science. Gladly welcoming, it seems, the further fragmentation of these debates into sub-topics revolving around curation or censorship, pseudoscience, drugs, anecdotal talks vs. talks discussing hard evidence...

        CENSORSHIP - you made clear your position about this not being censorship, so you surely need no debate on this.

        PSEUDOSCIENCE - you have two talks, responses by the speakers and a massive amount of debate/opinion - it's not that fuzzy, tricky a decision to make. Besides, a talk still hosted by TED (Elaine Morgan about the Aquatic Ape theory) gives stage not just on a TEDx YT-channel, but on the main TED page, to a theory widely discussed as pseudoscience on the web (for example by Jerry Coyne) - but not challenging materialism. No debate needed on your pseudoscience stance it seems.

        cont'd. below
      • Mar 20 2013: DRUGS (and their dangers) - Tim Brown, mescaline. Roland Griffiths, psilocybin. Just two examples of two TED talks mentioning positive aspects of drug use - but not questioning materialism. As long as they don't call people to recklessly use drugs (which Hancock clearly never did), no problem in my opinion. Ken Robinson's talks come to mind - they're not about drugs, but do you feel the need to take them down, because his portrayal of a stifling education system and highlighting of a free, less controlled development of our personally dominant faculties might inspire kids to drop out of school ? Since he sure didn't make being in school look very attractive. Your stance on drugs seems pretty clear-defined as well.

        ANECDOTAL - For example, the talks I just mentioned, by Ken Robinson, are highly anecdotal in nature, and so is the evidence he gives for his OPINION. He surely didn't swamp the audience with data supporting his stance. Neither did he...question materialism.

        All this goes to show, you don't need a community debating these sub-topics. You need these drawn-out debates to pacify those who want to see the two talks in question back up, while all the while pacifying the other side by not having them back up anywhere but a corner of the blog, where in a few weeks noone will really find them any more unless specifically looking. If you were interested in anything but this, in a real debate about the central issue - you, the visionary TED, would host public debates on this, to really give it publicity. Between outright proponents of materialism, and more moderate voices (Thomas Nagel comes to mind these days). But you're afraid of the mine field.

        cont'd. below
      • Mar 20 2013: Not to be a cynic, but eventually this whole controversy will run out of steam, without you having had to really come out on the core of it all, or at least having a full-blown, TED conference-hosted debate on this - is this materialism, that obviously runs pervasively through mainstream science and 'consensus reality' really the answer ? That's what started this, and so far, your silence on this will end it. TED - evasive diplomacy worth studying.

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