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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: For some informative background on Graham Hancock and his strategies, I encourage you to read the essay "The Atlantean Box" by Christopher Hale in Archaeological Fantasies: How Pseudoarchaeology Misrepresents the Past and Misleads the Public, edited by Garrett Fagan (2006).

    Hale is not an "academic gatekeeper" but a documentary filmmaker and producer of "Atlantis Reborn" (2000), a critique of pseudoarchaeological idea made for the BBC series Horizon.

    Hale describes his experience with resistance from Hancock after he had produced a responsible documentary debunking Hancock's assertions about ancient Egypt and his allusions to an undocumented "lost civilization."

    I would also recommend the excellent blog posts by Jason Colavito, who is also not an "academic gatekeeper" but an independent writer like Hancock. These include:

    Dusting for Fingerprints (a review of Hancock's book "Fingerprints of the Gods")

    Dusting for Fingerprints II

    Diving for Answers (a review of Hancock's book "Underworld")

    I would love to see TED extend an invitation to Colavito to do a talk about pseudoscience, pseudoarchaeology, and contemporary mythology. He's extraordinarily well-informed and has a great sense of humor to boot.

    His blog site:
    • Mar 27 2013: Jason Colavito merely scoffed. He said nothing to disprove Hancock's conjectures. The point is, whether or not you, or Hancock or anyone else wants to call some lost civilization, "Atlantis," makes no difference. The fact is, as Colavito himself pointed out, there are many similarities in cultures that can't be swept away by claiming, coincidence. They need to be examined thoroughly with only one objective; find the truth if possible. Scoffing "revolutionary ideas," is the height of arrogance.

      What I see in my own studies is how tenured scholars dismiss ideas because they don't fit with mainstream culture. Douglas Bryce put it more succinctly: " .... how many doctoral candidates conceal their revolutionary ideas until after they get tenure? I have read interviews with several who did that because they would never have a career otherwise."
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        Mar 27 2013: There are in fact many similarities in ancient cultures that archaeologists do not "sweep away" at all. Rather they have become the subject of thoughtful, detailed, and nuanced arguments that are as old as archaeology itself. The details have been and are being examined thoroughly. One excellent example of this is the excellent book by the late Bruce Trigger:

        Understanding Ancient Civilizations: A Comparative Study

        There is nothing "revolutionary" about Hancock's ideas. Postulation of some ancient "lost civilization" as an explanation for supposed similarities between Egyptian and Mexican pyramids and the like was widespread in the 18th and 19th centuries. These ideas have been thoroughly explored and discarded on the basis of detailed evidence and comprehensive argumentation. Most of the ideas that Hancock's supporters assert are "revolutionary" were articulated by Madame Blavatsky and members of the Theosophical Society over a century ago. This should be clear from a recent biography of Blavatsky by Gary Lachman:

        Madame Blavatsky: The Mother of Modern Spirituality

        Another excellent source on this is "The Elder Brother: A Biography of Charles Webster Leadbeater" by Gregory Tillett (Routledge & Keegan Paul, 1982).
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      Mar 27 2013: Again, Graham did not mention anything about his archeology theories on this talk. That is NOT what we're discussing here. His talk was about ENTHEOGENS, mainly AYAHUASCA. Those have nothing to do with archeology, and from someone who has experienced what he discussed, those ARE ideas worth spreading. It's not my opinion based on books, papers, and other people's opinions - it's my opinion based on personal experience. And until you have the kind of experienced he referred to in his talk, you CANNOT have an informed opinion about anything he discussed. Period.
      • Mar 28 2013: That's a good point, Camila.


        The debate essentially boils down to: Which do we trust more? The "objective" abstractions of the physicalist account of Universe? Or the self-evident knowledge of direct experience?

        That anyone can argue the former is astonishing to me, since it relies ultimately on the latter.

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