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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 31 2013: I fail to see how the ideas of either Sheldrake or Hanciock can be "hidden away" when they have been widely published and distributed and are available in hundreds (thousands?) of videos and websites that are readily available at a few keystrokes. Both of these individuals have been making the same points ad nauseam for decades. It is impossible to censor, hide, or suppress their ideas, though it is possible to disavow their meriting TED sponsorship and that is what has been done.
    • Mar 31 2013: Yes, but that is because of the action of the anti-censorship crowd who took it upon themselves to make these videos available. You argument is a bit like saying the losing side in a war wasn't trying to win because it lost. Humorous, yes, nonsensical, yes, interesting, no, accurate, no.
    • Mar 31 2013: John dont try deflect the critisism thier motives are precisely this and they are only still out there is thanks to others who are equaly outraged by such selfritious behavour.
      • Mar 31 2013: John doesn't understand that nobody need die, or even be hurt, for it to be attempted murder.
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        Mar 31 2013: No, Adrian. There is nothing that either of them said that wasn't already out there in their books, videos, blogs, etc. Declining or withdrawing TED sponsorship is not censorship.
        • Mar 31 2013: But deep down you know it is...
    • Mar 31 2013: What I find so out rages about this behaviour it permiates from the top down. And atitudes like this at the heart of our "so called intelectual thinking" is suicide. Not to mention shallow confined reality they are peddling is precisely manipulated and tailored to subdue you and assist in getting you to conform to thier agender.
    • Mar 31 2013: John, you write:

      ...these individuals...making the same points ad nauseam for decades...

      You seem to be echoing something Jan Irvin said to me about Rupert Sheldrake that I could not agree with, that he is party to the whole "Gaia conspiracy" Esalen roller-coaster.

      In the "Science Delusion" Sheldrake is arguing very well in my opinion for independent science outside of prescribed a priori assumptions. This is healthy and he is not alone in that respect. Dr Mae-Wan Ho and others have been protesting the corporatization of science for years.

      Do you recall an interview on the gnosticmedia podcast with Dennis McKenna, that raised a crucial question that somehow got passed over by Jan, but was subsequently picked up in another podcast by the anthropologist Jay Courtney Fikes? If memory serves, that was the second interview with Dennis, in which he started to bring up the difficult issue of verification and authenticity of direct knowledge imparted by "plant" intelligences through the agency of ingested entheogens ~ particularly in a ceremonial context.

      Jay Fikes explained this in terms of his own initiated background as a Huichol elder with ample experience of peyote ceremonies. His explanation brought the notion of ancestral spirits into the psychic frame. Now I think this is of great relevance to our understanding of genetic intelligence as a phenomenological inheritance that is mediated through ceremonial rites, and that can only manifest when the appropriate protocols and ethical prescriptions are adhered to and respected.

      This leads us foursquare into the realm of indigenous religious praxis. So I do not see how TED can justify excluding informed consideration of such spirituality and animist ethics, from its own notions of propriety with respect to content ~ and intent. Unless, of course they are insinuating that indigenous cultures are merely primitive, uneducated and entirely superstition-bound.
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        Mar 31 2013: First off, I'm extremely skeptical about the quality of Jan Irvin's evaluation of evidence for his Esalen/eugenicist conspiracy. His bias is extreme and poisons his interpretations. It was I who first introduced Jay Fikes to Jan, so yes, I've been following some (but not all) of these interviews.

        It is the difficulty of verification that takes this subject out of the realm of science and into areas of faith and belief. I agree with you. I don't think that TED can justify excluding informed consideration of such spirituality. However, that must be done in an ideologically neutral, objective fashion. Otherwise, it runs the risk of becoming evangelical discourse (as I think Hancock's is). I don't think TED has asserted that indigenous cultures are "primitive". However, traditional indigenous assertions of reality are pre-modern, nonscientific, and highly subjective. While they may suggest hypotheses (about telepathy, visions, etc.) that can be tested, the conclusions that proceed from mythology are different from those that proceed from scientific inquiry. I don't think the phrase "superstition bound" is helpful. I do think that understanding the boundaries of faith-based assertions and empirically testable hypotheses is critical. One of the things that is required is a clear identification of myth vs. amoral (not immoral) objective scientific discourse.
        • Mar 31 2013: OK thanks for the acknowledgment.

          Leaving aside Jan's preoccupations for the present, if you are right about Hancock's evangelism, could that not be ascribed to countless other contributors? Where do we draw the line between enthusiasm and tub-thumping, apologist spiritualism or plain chicanery for that matter?

          What seems to be relevant here is that Graham Hancock is claiming that these encounters have had ongoing therapeutic value, and that the value is due to the modus operandi of Ayahuasca in an indigenous ceremonial context.

          So this formal context is very significant for these perceived effects to be operative. In other words he is describing the power of empathetic participation in a cultural experience that has had demonstrable benefits for his mental and psychological ~ and arguably, spiritual ~ well-being, and possible ramifications for the health of the greater ecosystem, because, presumably, he ends up talking about it at TEDx Whitechapel.

          The question is, do we care? Or is it relevant and appropriate for a TED event?

          You say no, it isn't. The audience seemed to appreciate him though.

          What about Rupert's ten dogmas? Is that not a suitable science topic?
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        Mar 31 2013: You note, "In other words he is describing the power of empathetic participation in a cultural experience that has had demonstrable benefits for his mental and psychological ~ and arguably, spiritual ~ well-being, and possible ramifications for the health of the greater ecosystem..."

        The same could be said for a representative of Alcoholics Anonymous, Scientology, the Mormon Church, Americans for Prosperity, the Vatican, Lubavitchers, or the Taliban. The problem with promoting one ideological position is that it becomes indefensible not to promote others. I think that TED must strive to remain ideologically neutral.

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