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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:

http://blog.ted.com/2013/03/19/the-debate-about-graham-hancocks-talk/

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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 22 2013: As a former user of stimulants, DMT being one, I'd like to give my view on it.

    It's not suprising to me that people have moving and/or even life-altering experiences when they are under the influence of these drugs - heck, that's why people take them. And that's fine, people should be able to chemically alter their brains as they wish to.
    What does not follow from having a wonderful experience is giving it a truth-value about reality. I mean, testimonials are not regarded as evidence in science - even if it altered someone's worldview.
    There are perhaps medicinal or enjoyable purposes to use Ayahuasca, but that's it. Nothing wrong with that, you just have to accept that your experiences during the 'high' is not evidence for anyone else.

    I quit doing drugs, that does not mean that anyone else needs to quit. Science and rationality fills my life with meaning now, more than any chemical compound ever could.
    • Mar 22 2013: Just wondering why you think: a) this was supposed to be primarily a scientific presentation, or that his testimonial was supposed to be scientific evidence; b) that he was giving it a truth value to the experience when he quite specifically said he wasn't; and c) that your normal experience, including your experience of science and rationality, is not mediated by chemical compounds?
      • Mar 24 2013: a) If it is not, then I apologize for misunderstanding the presentations' intent.
        b) I was giving my take on it after reading through the comments here. There seemed to be some conflation between the personal value of the experience and the experience being a way to gain knowledge about the world. Not that you can't, but it's not an effective way of learning truths about the natural world.
        c) I did not say it was not?
        • Mar 24 2013: "it's not an effective way of learning truths about the natural world."

          Hi Daniel,

          I was wondering if you could clarify what you mean by this. Thanks.
    • Mar 22 2013: @ Daniel Lehnberg,

      You write: "I mean, testimonials are not regarded as evidence in science - even if it altered someone's worldview."

      This is not entirely accurate -- at least if you consider softer sciences such as psychology and sociology. Research in such fields relies heavily on self-reporting of subjective experiences. That certainly presents some challenges, particularly as it relates to pharmaceutical research. Pain and psych meds have proved to have astronomical placebo rates because of the subjective nature of physical pain and mental state. But, in short, I don't think its fair to say that reporting of subjective experience has no role in the sciences.

      Aside from that: what Steve Stark said.
      • Mar 24 2013: Thanks for pointing that out, Time.
        I should have made clearer that it is not sufficient evidence to demonstrate a claim being true - the pharmaceutical research is not solely dependant on testimonials. My bad.
    • Mar 22 2013: Just out of curiosity, what's the rationale for classifying DMT as a stimulant?
      • Mar 22 2013: Was about to mention..
      • Mar 24 2013: Sorry about the confusing statement. As "stimulant" I meant something along the lines of "an externally produced chemical that interracts with the brain/alters perceptual experience during the rush" or a broader term like "narcotic compounds" - which I felt was not accurate.
        I forgot about stimulants having a different meaning in english, again, my bad. It is classed as a tryptamine, if I remember correctly.
        • Mar 24 2013: Hi Daniel,

          According to my research, DMT is endogenously produced; that is, naturally within one's own body.

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