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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 27 2013: Mr. Hoopes,
    Even though Wikipedia is not yet "commonly accepted" as a valid source for common scientific inquiry, I'll respond to your offerings.

    The article on "Pseudoscience" begins thus: "Pseudoscience is a claim, belief, or practice which is presented as scientific, but does not adhere to a valid scientific method, lacks supporting evidence or plausibility, cannot be reliably tested, or otherwise lacks scientific status."

    Let's break that down. Psuedoscience is:
    1.) Claim, Belief, or Practice
    2.) Presented as scientific
    3.) Does not adhere to a valid scientific method (protocols)
    4.) Lack supporting evidence
    5.) Lack of plausibility
    6.) Cannot be reliably tested
    7.) OR - lacks scientific status.

    The first two observations are consistent with scientific protocols. Indeed, that is what science is, "claim, belief, or practice which is presented as scientific." The third, "Does not adhere to a valid scientific method," is a observation that is contingent on our understanding of "valid." The fourth is the primary requirement for constituting a "valid" scientific method: Evidence. Everyone (including Sheldrake, Hancock, and scientists at large) agrees that scientific inquiry must be evidential. The fifth observation, that of "plausibility," is where we begin to have divergent opinions. What, indeed, is plausible? Under this observation, the "scientist" may dismiss another "scientist's" argument, which is backed with evidence, and following the scientific method, if that argument seems "implausible." Further, if those claims fail in observation six - that they cannot be reliably tested - then we have reached an impasse, wherein anything that we cannot reliably test (read: "investigate"), consequently cannot be scientifically researched. How interesting that "consciousness", which many would agree "cannot be reliably tested," is the subject of this debate. Lastly, "psuedoscience" is anything that, seventh, "lacks scientific status." Like Wikipedia.
    • Mar 27 2013: The first point is that "pseudoscience is a claim, belief, or practice which is presented as scientific". Hancock didn't present his idea as scientific at all (and only touches on a science a few times), thus it fails this first vital criterion for being pseudoscience. Thus nothing else that follows is of consequence for this particular issue.
      • Mar 27 2013: So, what category does Hancock's presentation fall into, if not scientific? Journalistic?
        • Mar 27 2013: Politics mainly. It's a demand for political change. He argues that we should have a sovereign right to explore our consciousness and that governments have absolutely no business legislating against a certain areas of the human mind. Thus the title of the talk.
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        Mar 27 2013: Yep, great point.
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          Mar 27 2013: What in the world are Graham Hancock's credentials to be promoting, discussing, or critiquing a specfic political point of view on TEDx?
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      Mar 27 2013: Mr. Thompson, you note, "How interesting that 'consciousness', which many would agree 'cannot be reliably tested,' is the subject of this debate." I think "which many would agree" falls under the category of weasel words. Can you provide any reliable sources. (Don't feel compelled to cite Wikipedia if you don't want to.)

      The scientific discipline of psychology has been reliably testing consciousness since its inception. Or perhaps you have a different definition for what consciousness actually is. Would you care to share it?
      • Mar 27 2013: Dear Mr. Hoopes,

        "The scientific discipline of psychology has been reliably testing consciousness since its inception" is false. Psychology was a horror show for many years, simply on account of our misunderstanding (perhaps non-understanding is a better word) of consciousness. (I am not saying that psychology is a futile effort - simply that it has not been "reliably testing consciousness since its inception.")

        Unfortunately, since my understanding of conscious is infantile (and I readily admit it), I cannot give you a definition. I will, however, prove to you that you do not understand it very well either in a single question.

        1 - What is beauty?

        Please confine your answer to scientific principles. You may even cite Wikipedia, although you will weaken your credibility (as any scientist publishing a work for peer-review will tell you).
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          Mar 27 2013: "1 - What is beauty?"

          Well, that's easy. Beauty is a subjective appreciation of the aesthetic qualities of something, whether material or imagined. It can be apprehended by one or more of the five senses (visual, auditory, olifactory, tasting, or tactile) or described independent of those. As a subjective appreciation, however, its definition is far from universal. A single individual may identify the beauty in something that no one else can identify, understand, or accept. Beauty can also be identified by a group based on shared subjective aesthetic values.


          As for scientific principles, you would need to refer to the physiology and biochemistry of the senses as well as human cognition.

          By the way, I could also answer the question, "What is beautiful?" but I don't have any confidence that you'd agree with my response given that beauty is subjective. "In the eye of the beholder," as it were.

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