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Discuss the note to the TED community on the withdrawal of the TEDxWestHollywood license.

For discussion: http://blog.ted.com/2013/04/01/a-note-to-the-ted-community-on-the-withdrawal-of-the-tedxwesthollywood-license


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  • Apr 2 2013: on a related note...

    excellent response by Rupert Sheldrake on the TED/TEDx controversy.

    TED, Jerry Coyne, PZ Myers, you've been served!


    Dr. Rupert Sheldrake: I do see Chris Anderson’s point of view and indeed, I had a long conversation with Chris Anderson on the telephone. We got on perfectly well. I wasn’t particularly angry with him or anything like that. It was a reasonable conversation. They do have a point. There’s a lot of rubbish and there has to be some kind of filter. So I’m not against the idea of a filter but what I am against is the idea of applying the filter in a very partial kind of way.

    There are lots of things up on the TEDx website which are controversial. For example, there are a lot of talks by militant Atheists which a lot of people find controversial. A lot of people disagree with what they say and think they’re actually wrong in a variety of ways. But those haven’t been flagged up or put in the Naughty Corner. Those have been allowed absolutely free run on the Internet. They’re put up on the main website, talks by people like Richard Dawkins, for example.

    The difference here is that my talk was flagged up as being pseudo-scientific because Jerry Coyne didn’t like it. Well, Jerry Coyne is a very bigoted man who writes very loud-mouthed things on his website. I don’t take him very seriously. I mean, he’s a polemicist, a kind of Dawkins-type polemicist. So they pay a lot of attention to what Jerry Coyne and PZ Meyers said on their websites. If there had been a similar attack by, for example, Christian Fundamentalists on Dawkins they would have ignored it. But if it’s by scientific fundamentalists then they pay attention, and what’s more don’t just pay attention but dig themselves into a hole trying to justify this.

    read more: ~ http://www.skeptiko.com/rupert-sheldrake-censored/
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      Apr 2 2013: "But if it’s by scientific fundamentalists then they pay attention, and what’s more don’t just pay attention but dig themselves into a hole trying to justify this."

      This rhetoric sounds awfully familiar. In fact, it's pretty much the same as the rhetoric that came from the "intelligent design" camp while Kitzmiller v. Dover was being argued.

      Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District

      However, in that case, it was clear that the Dover Area School District lost.
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        • Apr 2 2013: Debbie, Can't you see that what Sheldrake says is just like the intelligent design people... and the World Ice Theory people... and the Nazi eugenicists... Let's please not forget the Nazi eugenicists.


          It's just like all the bad people everywhere who've been disliked by good scientists. But not like any of the good people who've met with resistance. No. Never.

          How is it the same? Well, it is. Take my word for it because I was very familiar with the rhetoric of all of them. So there.


          Relaaaax Debbie. I'm sure a detailed analysis will follow showing exactly how Sheldrake's 30 minute interview was just like the rhetoric of all those ignoble ghosts of science past. It will involve, I am sure, a comparable rhetorical artifact from each of those other three movements. I'll wait here, with my hands folded neatly on my desk and await the brilliant rhetorical criticism to follow. I wonder what methodology will be employed. I'm partial to Burke's Pentad myself, but I'm willing to take a wait and see.
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          Apr 2 2013: The Story of Hanns Hoerbiger's World Ice Theory

          "His book came out in 1917, during the First World War, and did not attract much attention. But afterward, a mass movement based on the theory appeared. Its members exerted considerable public pressure to get the theory accepted. The 'movement' published posters, pamphlets, and books, and even a newspaper, 'The Key to World Events.' One company would only hire those who declared themselves convinced of the truth of the theory. One astronomer at Treptow Observatory spent half his time answering questions on the theory. Some followers even heckled astronomical meetings, crying 'Out with astronomical orthodoxy! Give us Hoerbiger!' Along the way, the name was changed from the Graeco-Latin Glazial-Kosmogonie to the Germanic Welteislehre ('Cosmic Ice Theory'), or WEL for short. In the 1930's, the 'movement' became more and more pro-Nazi (Hoerbiger died in 1931, so we cannot tell what his opinion would have been). Supporters of the WEL said things like: 'Our Nordic ancestors grew strong in ice and snow; belief in the Cosmic Ice is consequently the natural heritage of Nordic Man.', 'Just as it needed a child of Austrian culture--Hitler!--to put the Jewish politicians in their place, so it needed an Austrian to cleanse the world of Jewish science.', and 'the Fuehrer, by his very life, has proved how much a so-called 'amateur' can be superior to self-styled professionals; it needed another
          'amateur' to give us a complete understanding of the Universe.' Alas, Hitler himself was not enthusiastic about the idea, and the Propaganda Ministry felt obliged to state that 'one can be a good National Socialist without believing in the WEL.'"
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          Apr 2 2013: A project at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science:

          Cosmic Ice Theory – science, fiction and the public, 1894–1945

          "Taking a closer look at representations of the theory’s epistemic objects as they appear in the media of popularization suggests that the popularity of the Welteislehre was to a large extent the result of its subversive attraction based on an unsettling and fascinating amalgam of scientific terminology and methodology with popular images and clichés. How exactly did this differ from representations in contemporary physics and cosmology? How should fiction in science at this time be understood? Similar questions are raised concerning Hörbiger’s strategies of self-fashioning which mixed equally the fantastical and the serious, drawing on personae as disparate as Renaissance polymaths and contemporary experimentalists. By providing all the necessary clues to convince his audience that what they saw was truly 'scientific,' he produced sensations of authenticity that made the distinction between 'serious' scientific work, committed to objectivity and rationality, and mere dramatic banter about it almost impossible, at least for the broader public"

          Sound familiar?
        • Apr 2 2013: Ooh, ooh, ooh! I can play the association fallacy game too:


          "Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis... was a Hungarian physician now known as an early pioneer of antiseptic procedures. Described as the "savior of mothers",[2] Semmelweis discovered that the incidence of puerperal fever could be drastically cut by the use of hand disinfection in obstetrical clinics.[2] Puerperal fever was common in mid-19th-century hospitals and often fatal, with mortality at 10%–35%. Semmelweis postulated the theory of washing with chlorinated lime solutions in 1847[2] while working in Vienna General Hospital's First Obstetrical Clinic, where doctors' wards had three times the mortality of midwives' wards. He published a book of his findings in Etiology, Concept and Prophylaxis of Childbed Fever.

          "Despite various publications of results where hand-washing reduced mortality to below 1%, Semmelweis's observations conflicted with the established scientific and medical opinions of the time and his ideas were rejected by the medical community. Some doctors were offended at the suggestion that they should wash their hands and Semmelweis could offer no acceptable scientific explanation for his findings. Semmelweis's practice earned widespread acceptance only years after his death, when Louis Pasteur confirmed the germ theory and Joseph Lister, acting on the French microbiologist's research, practiced and operated, using hygienic methods, with great success. In 1865, Semmelweis was committed to an asylum, where he died at age 47 after being beaten by the guards, only 14 days after he was committed."

          Of course there are some key differencesl... but those don't matter.
        • Apr 2 2013: Okay, this wasn't my association fallacy, but it's a good one, and I think on point in this sub-thread. Ben Stein, in Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, argued that evolution theory is bad because it fueled the Nazi eugenics movement.

          Huh? Good one, right?

          I could do this all day. It's fun.
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      Apr 2 2013: Sorry, Debbie, but drawing a comparison between two different things is not association fallacy. If it were, it would rule out any possibility of comparative analysis, which is absurd.

      Association fallacy

      I teach at a university in Kansas and have witnessed two rounds of debates about first Creationism and then intelligent design in the public schools. I know the rhetoric about "scientific fundamentalists" well and have heard it before ad nauseam. In fact, the arguments made by Sheldrake about the barriers erected by science are not that different from the ones used to argue in favor of "intelligent design" as a viable scientific theory. A comparison of Sheldrake's "The Science Delusion" with Ben Stein's "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed" would be instructive. No, making that comparison would not be association fallacy.

      Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed

      If you're unfamiliar with arguments for intelligent design, here are some links:

      Intelligent Design Network

      Explaining the Science of Intelligent Design

      Questions about Intelligent Design
      • Apr 2 2013: I wonder John, will you ever say anything relevant about the topic under discussion? I suspect not.
        • Apr 3 2013: You are right, the political atheist / materialists can't tell the difference between scientific parapsychology lab research which has nothing to do with intelligent design or creationism.
      • Apr 2 2013: Haha, what's constructive about comparing creationists and Sheldrake again?
      • Apr 2 2013: Gee, I dunno, John, I don't know what conclusions you could draw by confirming Sheldrake and creationists debate the same observations of science.
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          Apr 2 2013: Well, one conclusion might be that people of faith (as Sheldrake and creationists admit to be) have issues with science not admitting supernatural causes. That's pretty much a no-brainer.
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          Apr 2 2013: Maybe so. Love is one of those mysterious things that defies rational analysis.

          You may not have noticed, but I do try to make a habit of providing sources with my posts whenever possible. I do that more than most (including yourself) and yet you're still not satisfied. Unrequited love is such a bummer.

          I actually like Wikipedia and find it to be readily accessible to most people. It's also free and quick to find, unlike the much of the primary material that I can access through my university library but cannot legally make available to you.

          The logic as you've laid it out here is not at all representative of my thinking. Thanks for the additional insight into yours.

          You write, "Without this demonstration, your statement amounts to little more than claiming Sheldrake's work is closely akin to that of the proponents of intelligent design."

          Well, yes. That's *exactly* what I intended. However, that is definitely not an example of guilt by association.
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          Apr 2 2013: You've asked for primary sources, so I'll provide one:

          A Correct Definition of Religion Resolves the Conflict Between Science and Religion, by John Calvert

          You'll note with interest that this essay directly addresses the ideas of Jerry Coyne, a blogger who has been claimed as having had a key role in contacting TED about Rupert Sheldrake and Graham Hancock.

          The essay is by attorney John Calvert of the Intelligent Design Network.

          Happy reading!
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          Apr 2 2013: "But it does appear to be the kind of thinking you wish to encourage."

          Well, it's not. Appearances can be deceiving, an issue at the heart of these discussions.

          I haven't suggested Sheldrake's rhetoric is "bad," it's just not good science. My point is that, like intelligent design theory, it is flawed because of its dependence upon things supernatural.

          You can stand by your definition all your like. That doesn't make it at all correct and undermines your own credibility. Why would you want to do that?

          Our respective comprehensions of reality have very important flaws, too. Fortunately, Wikipedia is always getting better. You know where the term "Gish Gallop" comes from, right? It was coined by my friend Eugenia Scott when referring to Creationism advocate Duane Gish. I think there are many similarities between Sheldrake and other pseudoscientists under discussion and Gish.

          Duane Gish

          Gish Gallop
      • Apr 3 2013: Mr. Hoopes, can you cite specific examples in the Calvert paper of flawed reasoning? You seem to say that it's "bad science" -- I would agree that philosophy and science are different domains. What's difficult, I think, to understand is that materialism is not scientifically credible. I'm not sure why this is so difficult to understand, but this entire debacle illustrates that it is.

        The claim, "but it works!" is true, but fails to appreciate the extent to which previous theories now discarded also work. Hence, we use Newtonian mechanics despite its being contraindicated by quantum mechanics.

        I personally don't care if TED decides to only endorse science predicated on materialist principles. That's their prerogative. My opinion, however, is that by aligning with those philosophical values, they limit themselves unnecessarily.

        Like you, I am incredulous when fantastic claims of the supernatural are bandied about. But I see materialism itself as a fantastic idea, unfalsifiable, and with no special evidential support that cannot be equally applied to other philosophies.

        I suspect there are alternate philosophies with greater explanatory power than realism, or materialism. What evidence exists from the cutting edge tentatively suggests this. As you say yourself, in an earlier comment, there are babies in that bathwater. By throwing it all out, TED may have hastened its own irrelevance. At least we know now where it stands.

        At any rate, I'm glad I got to watch and be a participant in these discussions. I learned a great deal. Mr. Craig Weiler wrote a great piece about the democratizing influence of the Internet on the emergence of a well-informed netizen subculture. I think that's an idea worth spreading.

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