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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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    • Apr 2 2013: Sheldrake's book that caused the stir, A New Science of Life, was published in 1981. It is interesting therefore that Marks and Kamman should be able to discuss/dismiss its contents a year before its release. This is surely a case where the primary sources should be checked (if for no other reason than to verify the psychic powers of the authors in reviewing something not yet published). Re Kammann, it is interesting that he subsequently resigned from the pseudoskeptic organisation CSICOP due to the lack of integrity with which their only actual investigation of "paranormal" phenomena was conducted.

      Details are here:


      For the inside story on the fiasco, here is another member of CSICOP who resigned, Dennis Rawlins. It is a bit long and heavy-going but Rawlins' initial summary is worth quoting here for obvious reasons.

      "I USED to believe it was simply a figment of the National Enquirer's weekly imagination that the Science Establishment would cover up evidence for the occult. But that was in the era B.C. -- Before the Committee. I refer to the "Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal" (CSICOP), of which I am a cofounder and on whose ruling Executive Council (generally called the Council) I served for some years.
      I am still skeptical of the occult beliefs CSICOP was created to debunk. But I have changed my mind about the integrity of some of those who make a career of opposing occultism. I now believe that if a flying saucer landed in the backyard of a leading anti-UFO spokesman, he might hide the incident from the public (for the public's own good, of course). He might swiftly convince himself that the landing was a hoax, a delusion or an "unfortunate" interpretation of mundane phenomena that could be explained away with "further research."

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      Apr 2 2013: "As for not reading the latest books by people like Sarah Palin et al, you may not need them to draw conclusions . But your conclusions will be far more accurate if you do."

      That's correct, Debbie. Far more accurate if I do, but not invalid or even incorrect if I don't.

      "How do you know your secondary source has faithfully recorded your primary source?"

      In scholarship, it's a judgment call based on other knowledge and the value of intuition (something that is ironically lauded in fringe and pseudoscience but disparaged when used in mainstream science--ironic.)

      "Always work on a primary source if it is possible."

      I would agree with that. However, someone who works on *only* the primary source and privileges it over critical material is likely to succumb to any inherent errors, fallacies, illusions, and propaganda it may contain. After all, we're only human. Before approaching any primary source, it is essential to consider it within in as complete and representative a critical framework as possible. Knowledge and scholarship progresses. At least, in many areas.

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