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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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  • Apr 1 2013: on a related topic... wow. surprised to see this being covered on KurzweilAI.

    "Pseudoscience or suppression of radical ideas?

    So which specific speakers does TED object to? “The names of note they wanted us to qualify for them were Marianne Williamson, Russell Targ, Larry Dossey, and Marilyn Schlitz,” Taylor told KurzweilAI in an email."

    ~ http://www.kurzweilai.net/ted-removes-tedxwesthollywood-license-speakers-failed-to-gain-scientific-acceptance
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      Apr 1 2013: Targ said, “People on [the TED Conversations] blog have asked what I was going to talk about . That’s easily answered. I was co-founder of a 23-year research program investigating psychic abilities at Stanford Research Institute. We were doing research and applications for the CIA, Defense Intelligence Agency, Air Force and Army Intelligence, NASA, and others.

      "In this $25 million program we used ‘remote viewing’ to..."

      Hmm. Has there also been a clandestine, U.S. government-sponsored contract to marshall the "power of prayer"? Maybe during the Bush administration? I can think of some religion-oriented universities that would have been all over that.
      • Apr 1 2013: @ John Hoopes, So are you comparing Stanford to, say, Bob Jones, or what really is your point?
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          Apr 1 2013: Well, yes, actually. Bob Jones, Oral Roberts, Liberty University, and countless others. Are you suggesting that only elite secular universities such as Stanford should be receiving government contracts for using psi and other paranormal powers? I think many U.S. taxpayers and voters would disagree. If the process were truly democratic, would Stanford get the bucks? I think universities--especially religious ones--should be able to compete equally in demonstrating the effectiveness of the quality of their metaphysics and the power of their paranormal abilities.
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          Apr 1 2013: The Healing Power of Prayer?
          http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/06/090617154401.htm

          Long-Awaited Medical Study Questions the Power of Prayer
          http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/31/health/31pray.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

          From the second article (published in 2006):

          "The study cost $2.4 million, and most of the money came from the John Templeton Foundation, which supports research into spirituality. The government has spent more than $2.3 million on prayer research since 2000."

          Nice work, if you can get it.
      • Apr 1 2013: @ John Hoopes, Again. Your point?
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          Apr 1 2013: That public funds (and private ones also) are regularly expended on topics that many consider to be in the realm of pseudoscience. For believers, scientific rejection of things metaphysical or paranormal is invariably inconclusive but affirmation of the "truth" is usually conclusive because that's that nature of belief. But then, in science nothing is ever really conclusive because science is not about proving the "truth" but offering the most reasonable and parsimonious explanation based on the available empirical evidence.
      • Apr 1 2013: @ John Hoopes, Wouldn't it make sense to hear what Russell Targ has to say and look at his research before you dismiss it as pseudoscience?
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          Apr 1 2013: Yes. I wasn't aware that I had dismissed it as pseudoscience. Why do you think I have?
      • Apr 1 2013: Mr. Hoopes. You're playing games. You conflated the prayer study with Targ's research. I asked you why. You said because government funds pseuedoscience all the time. You raised this issue and now you're trying to be slippery and back away from it. "Oh, I'm just going to casually mention these studies that I think are pseudoscience for no particular reason. Just 'cause. But I never implied that Targ's study was in any way pseudoscience. Oh no. Why would anyone think that." Give me a break.

        But at least you've given up all pretense of arguing in good faith. So I'll take my leave.
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          Apr 1 2013: Maybe I'm picking nits, but I said nothing about Targ, only government-funded research on the "power of prayer" (which was not part of his study, as far as I know). It is you who are conflating. That said, I do think many claims about remote viewing have been pseudoscience and in thinking about government funding also had in mind "The Men Who Stare at Goats", which is about military research on things paranormal. You read a lot into my implications. Are you attempting to practice mind-reading?
      • Apr 1 2013: You said nothing about Targ?! Your quote of Targ conflated with the thing about prayer research is what I asked you about. It's at the top of this mini-thread. I mean, are you serious?!

        You're ridiculous, man. I'm done.
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          Apr 1 2013: I quoted Targ but my general comment was about research on things metaphysical and paranormal. I said nothing sbout Targ's specific research because I'm not familiar with it other than to have recently learned that it's not up to TEDx standards.
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          Apr 1 2013: I think our discussions would go better if you didn't make so many assumptions. My specific words were, "That public funds (and private ones also) are regularly expended on topics that many consider to be in the realm of pseudoscience."
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      Apr 1 2013: A relevant book about Targ's research (which I haven't yet read):

      The Psychology of the Psychic
      http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Psychology_of_the_Psychic
      • Comment deleted

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          Apr 2 2013: "The scientific community rejects remote viewing due to the absence of an evidence base, the lack of a theory which would explain remote viewing, and the lack of experimental techniques which can provide reliably positive results. It is also considered a pseudoscience."

          Remote viewing
          http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Remote_viewing

          I think the "successes" of remote viewing can be explained as examples of confirmation bias and cherry-picking. That is, remembering the hits and forgetting the misses and picking only the data that supports your favored hypothesis.

          Confirmation bias
          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confirmation_bias

          Cherry-picking
          http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cherry_picking_(fallacy)

          It is inspiring to believe that psychic powers work, which is why people do. However, their failure to hold up to careful scrutiny time and time and time again suggests they are only fantasy.
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          Apr 2 2013: It's interesting to consider the CIA's interest in remote viewing, telepathy, psi, etc. it would be fascinating to see a test case in which someone charged with espionage claimed to have gotten the information with psychic methods. Would it still be considered espionage from a legal perspective if the CIA couldn't prove that it *wasn't* due to psychic powers? I think ultimately the acceptance or rejection of psi will be decided in the courts as, for example, when someone claims they know the details of a crime not because they were the perpetrator but because they're psychic. As far as I know, no jury has yet been persuaded.
        • Apr 2 2013: The scientific community doesn't reject remote viewing. Some people within (and some without) the scientific community reject it. Independent scientific panels set up to appraise the data, by contrast, have all come to the conclusion that something interesting is going on. Here, for example, is a quote from Jessica Utts, who was part of a scientific panel selected to appraise the evidence officially:

          "Using the standards applied to any other area of science, it is concluded that psychic functioning has been well established. The statistical results of the studies examined are far beyond what is expected by chance. Arguments that these results could be due to methodological flaws in the experiments are soundly refuted. Effects of similar magnitude to those found in government-sponsored research at SRI and SAIC have been replicated at a number of laboratories across the world. Such consistency cannot be readily explained by claims of flaws or fraud."

          http://www.ics.uci.edu/~jutts/air.pdf

          Unclear why you are so anti-science John.
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          Apr 2 2013: Time Walker, I did not post a quote from Targ as an appraisal of the quality of his work but as evidence that substantial government funds were being expended on research and even applications of paranormal and psychic powers (which for me include "the power of prayer" in a metaphysical sense.) My point was about public perception of this research (avoided because it was clandestine) and whether other such research could be done surreptitiously by religious organizations (who I'm sure would love to get funded to pray.)

          "But here you are, dismissing Targ's work without any interest in looking at it, based on someone else's assessment from years ago."

          You are once again making unfounded assumptions that are incorrect. You say I don't have any interest in looking at Targ's work, which is false. Please be a more careful reader and don't attribute to me words that I haven't written or thoughts that I haven't expressed. Much as you might like to, you cannot read my mind. When you try, you fail.
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          Apr 2 2013: Another relevant book (made into a relevant movie):

          The Men Who Stare at Goats
          http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Men_Who_Stare_at_Goats

          The Men Who Stare at Goats (film)
          http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Men_Who_Stare_at_Goats_(film)

          I think it's been demonstrated that just because research is clandestine doesn't mean it is valid. In fact, the reason it may be clandestine is because it would be found invalid.

          My main feeling about Targ's research is moral outrage at the idea that $25M of tax dollars was spent on the pseudoscience of remote viewing. Which gullible official decided that was okay? Maybe this guy?

          Albert Stubblebine
          http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albert_Stubblebine

          Are there similarly funded clandestine studies being undertaken on prayer by religion-based universities at the behest of religious individuals? That was my original question.
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          Apr 2 2013: "That makes you a) a liar and b) one lazy, slip-shod excuse for an academic."

          Time Walker, you have slipped into open ad hominem. Calling me a liar is false and defamatory. Please retract your statement.
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          Apr 2 2013: Steve, cherry-picking a report from 1995 is not persuasive.
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        Apr 2 2013: I'm sorry you think so narrowly, Debbie. The quote from Targ came from the article on Kurzweil's page. Its content is quite straightforward.

        The book, written by a qualified researcher and summarized in Wikipedia, Amazon, and elsewhere, specifically addresses Targ's work.

        The Psychology of the Psychic
        http://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/1573927988

        I am no more required to read Targ's latest book to draw conclusions about him and his work than I am to read the latest books by Glenn Beck, Ann Coulter, or Sarah Palin in order to draw conclusions about them. Primary literature is important, sure, but there are good reasons why we have reviews and other commentary. Scholarship includes knowing how to use them.

        The book by Marks and Kammann was originally written in 1980, over 30 years ago, and addressed both Targ and Sheldrake, among others. I can't tell that Sheldrake and Targ's work is any more valid today than it was then, which seems consistent with claims for the paranormal and psi made a century ago, two centuries ago, etc. The claims made for psi are perennial yet remain unsubstantiated. Have you read "Occult Chemistry" (1908)? It was cutting-edge psychic research for its time.

        Occult Chemistry
        http://books.google.com/books?id=6L_79_pT2UEC&printsec=frontcover&output=html_text&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0
        • Apr 2 2013: Mr. Hoopes, Above, I asked you:

          "Wouldn't it make sense to hear what Russell Targ has to say and look at his research before you dismiss it as pseudoscience?"

          You replied:
          "Yes. I wasn't aware that I had dismissed it as pseudoscience. Why do you think I have?"

          But here you are, dismissing Targ's work without any interest in looking at it, based on someone else's assessment from years ago.

          You selectively quoted Targ above, leaving out the following:

          “In this $25 million program we used ‘remote viewing’ to find a downed Russian bomber in North Africa, for which President Carter commended us. We found a kidnapped U.S. general in Italy, and the kidnap car that snatched Patricia Hearst. We looked in on the US hostages in Iran, and predicted the immanent release of Richard Queen, who was soon sent to Germany. We described a Russian weapons factory in Siberia, leading to a U.S. congressional investigation about weakness in U.S/ security, etc."

          “We published our scientific findings in Nature, Proc. IEEE, Proc. AAAS, and Proc. American Institute of Physics. I thought a TED audience would find this recently declassified material interesting. And no physics would be harmed in my presentation.”

          So, good enough for a slew of scholarly journals, but not good enough Mr. Hoopes to give it a look, despite the fact that you agreed with me that the research should be consulted before dismissing it. That makes you a) a liar and b) one lazy, slip-shod excuse for an academic. Who needs to look at newly declassified research when they can look to a 30 year old book? Excuse me, the write-ups on Wikipedia and Amazon ABOUT that book.

          "A relevant book about Targ's research (which I haven't yet read)"

          "I can't tell that Sheldrake and Targ's work is any more valid today than it was then, which seems consistent with claims for the paranormal and psi made a century ago, two centuries ago, etc."

          Of course you can't... because you're not willing to look at the evidence yourself.
      • Apr 2 2013: @ JH, Didn't read your mind. Read your words. Quoted them. Pretty straight-forward, really.

        People can read your written record here and decide for themselves whether you've thoroughly embarrassed yourself as an academic. You can try to slime your way out of it with a lot parsing of your own words but I've seen better sophists than you fail when confronted with the weight of the evidence they've built against themselves.
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          Apr 2 2013: You are seeing things and reading your own wishful thinking into my statements. No wonder you have problems with critical appraisal of pseudoscience.
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          Apr 2 2013: "Of course you can't... because you're not willing to look at the evidence yourself."

          That statement is false and factually incorrect. How can you know what I'm willing to do without reading my mind? I never said I had no interest in reading Targ's work. You are putting an unwarranted, wishful spin on the evidence, exactly as do researchers on psi. I think you need to seriously evaluate your own thought processes before they result in more errors.
        • Apr 2 2013: I think Timewalker is spot on in his assessment. You comments here have been amongst the most consistently disingenuous I have ever encountered. You will stoop to any level to retain your position on any point, no matter how small. The "dreamer" case is a good example, as is the constant demand for definitions before anyone is allowed to comment. I mean, the fact that there are certain types of altered states associated with psychedelics is simply not up for debate, and yet you chose to debate this very point for hours in order to prevent discussion of the actual topic at hand. I would advise you to show this thread to a philosopher at your university and ask them to comment on the content and tactics of your arguments here.
      • Apr 2 2013: "How can you know what I'm willing to do without reading my mind? I never said I had no interest in reading Targ's work." ~ John Hoopes

        "I am no more required to read Targ's latest book to draw conclusions about him and his work than I am to read the latest books by Glenn Beck, Ann Coulter, or Sarah Palin in order to draw conclusions about them. Primary literature is important, sure, but there are good reasons why we have reviews and other commentary. Scholarship includes knowing how to use them." ~ John Hoopes

        My point is that you are drawing conclusions about Targ without looking at his work -- something you've just said you can do. Perhaps some day you will read his work. You're right. I can't say that for sure. But I do know that you're dismissing him in the here and now without any real basis of knowledge.

        As to my calling you a liar, I did so because I caught you in a blatant falsehood and I demonstrated it with quotations. If you'd like, I can change liar to hypocrite, but that's as far as I'll go.

        I find your intellectual laziness stunning. You come onto a site to bash a writer and admit you haven't been able to get through his books, which somehow doesn't preclude you telling us what's in them. Then you proceed to misrepresent and distort them, based partially on second-hand sources, and partially on God only knows what. It's that distorted.

        Then you belittle an accomplished researcher based on a 30 year old book you googled up but haven't read and claim that you don't need to read the primary source to draw conclusions about it? Really?!

        Parse away. I care not.
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          Apr 2 2013: "As to my calling you a liar, I did so because I caught you in a blatant falsehood and I demonstrated it with quotations."

          No you didn't and you haven't. I never made the claims you attribute to me: That I wasn't interested in Targ's work and that I wouldn't read it. Those are demonstrably false.

          You're right, I said I couldn't get through Hancock's books. However, "reading his work" does not require reading every word on every page, cover to cover. That would be absurd, especially in academic research.

          My post quoting Targ was not about Targ but about government funding of research on paranormal phenomena. The fact that you couldn't get my point from the beginning is telling. You see what you want to see. That's why you make so many errors.
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          Apr 2 2013: There is an ongoing fallacy that I see repeated in so many "fringe" arguments: That the only knowledge that can be trusted is what one obtains personally from direct experience. Examples would be, "You can't judge this film (Zeitgeist, Thrive, etc.) unless you watch it" or "You can't say anything about ayahuasca unless you've tried it" or "You can't evaluate this author unless you've read his book" or "You can't understand this man unless you've watched his TED talk." Bollocks. Direct experience is just one path to knowledge, but it's fraught with problems. Those include susceptibility to artful propaganda or the logical illusions and verbal sleight-of-hand of skillfully manipulative presenters. That's why we rely upon a community of scholars upon whose expertise and opinions we value. Yes, it's always *best* to consider the primary source material, but it's definitely not required or necessary. If that were so, no one would be considered to speak authoritatively on works originally written in Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, or Latin, not to mention countless other works in translation. Primary sources are important, but not essential. A good scholar goes to them only when they are adequately prepared to do so critically.
        • Apr 2 2013: However poor personal experience is, it is a piece of the jigsaw that, in some cases (eg, psychedelics), cannot be replaced with anything else. Thus someone without the experience, will always be, ceteris paribus, in a far far poorer position than someone with the experience. This is especially true when the phenomenology of the experience is the question at hand. In such cases there is simply no substitute for the experience however much high-sounding waffle someone can come up with to try to conceal that simple fact. You're not in Kansas now Dorothy!
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          Apr 2 2013: "However poor personal experience is, it is a piece of the jigsaw that, in some cases (eg, psychedelics), cannot be replaced with anything else."

          The rules of the game have therefore been set in such a way that they prevent any unbiased appraisal. How convenient.
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        Apr 2 2013: The psychology of a bigot:

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bigotry
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          Apr 2 2013: Your implication being that Targ's work is ultimately based in faith, not science? I suspect that's correct.

          Is TED an appropriate venue for religious/spiritual arguments?

          Is it appropriate to use taxpayer funds for projects based on the metaphysical power of prayer? I don't think so. If that's bigotry, so be it.
      • Apr 2 2013: I took your point Mr. Hoopes. You're lumping Targ's research under pseudoscience of questionable value to the taxpayer.

        "That public funds (and private ones also) are regularly expended on topics that many consider to be in the realm of pseudoscience. For believers, scientific rejection of things metaphysical or paranormal is invariably inconclusive but affirmation of the "truth" is usually conclusive because that's that nature of belief. But then, in science nothing is ever really conclusive because science is not about proving the "truth" but offering the most reasonable and parsimonious explanation based on the available empirical evidence." ~ John Hoopes

        "My main feeling about Targ's research is moral outrage at the idea that $25M of tax dollars was spent on the pseudoscience of remote viewing. Which gullible official decided that was okay? Maybe this guy?" ~ John Hoopes

        But you haven't looked at the RESEARCH. You're prejudging it. How can you be so bloody outraged when you don't know the results. (Outraged, but not dismissing it? Really?!)

        And, by the way, it's "clandestine" and classified because it's related to espionage and undercover operations. The prayer studies, which actually started under the Clinton administration, were not classified. They were and are a matter of public record.

        And then you started talking about a 30 year old book to justify your use of that truncated quote -- addressing Targ's credibility, not the research dollars.

        "I'm sorry you think so narrowly, Debbie. The quote from Targ came from the article on Kurzweil's page. Its content is quite straightforward.

        The book, written by a qualified researcher and summarized in Wikipedia, Amazon, and elsewhere, specifically addresses Targ's work."

        So parse away and tell me that you're not dismissing Targ's work and that you were only concerned with the expense on something you haven't prejudged when you clearly have. You're written record speaks for itself.
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          Apr 2 2013: As I wrote, "topics that many consider to be in the realm of pseudoscience." You morphed that into my claiming that Targ's research was pseudoscience when in fact I had made no such claim nor had even (at that point) evaluated his work. Wishful thinking has got the best of your imagination.

          I'll admit that phrases such as "many consider" and "in the realm of" are inspecific, but you read them as saying something they in fact do not say.
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          Apr 2 2013: Your defininition of "dismissing" is apparently different from mine. For me, questioning or even disparaging someone's work is not dismissing it. Dismissing, in my mind, is absolute. As I've told you (in my own words above) it is important to give something adequate consideration before dismissing it. I have dismissed nothing.
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          Apr 2 2013: I think you owe me an apology.
        • Apr 2 2013: You owe everybody here an apology!
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          Apr 2 2013: Bollocks.
      • Apr 2 2013: "I had made no such claim nor had even (at that point) evaluated his work" ~ John Hoopes

        And you have now? You've evaluated it? Have you run off and read it? Or by evaluation do you mean that you read write-ups of a 30 year old book on Amazon and Wikipedia?

        "I think you owe me an apology."

        Do you?

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