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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: Unfortunately there is a vocal group out there trolling for every opportunity to pigeonhole TED into a "materialistic/atheist" bucket. They are playing the victim card and it's polarizing and tiring.

    But contrary to these allegations, TED is open on its beliefs, it's just firm on its values.

    Thanks, TED, for being authentic and true to your values. Ignore the pitchforks; your supporters who matter appreciate the challenging job you face upholding your standards across thousands of events worldwide. It's what enables us TEDx organizers to get some of the brightest minds in the world on our stages and in our audiences.

    TED cannot be all things to all people. Or it becomes nothing.
    • Apr 2 2013: You're right, there are some very vocal pitchfork-wielding trolls out there trolling for TED to become a materialist/atheist front - Jerry Coyne, for one, and PZ Myers for another. And yes, they do play the victim card - the card in question being that if scientific evidence that contradicts their ideology is allowed to be heard then civilization will fall. Unfortunately, TED appears to have swallowed their alarmist rhetoric whole, and has taken quite a few steps to becoming the materialist/atheist front those bloggers desire. At least we kinda know where TED stands now, and in which direction it is moving.
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        Apr 3 2013: That impression is mistaken, Steve. We embrace lots of different views here. We get lots of heat from atheists and from creationists, from the left and from the right ...from pretty much everyone, come to think of it. That's OK. Ideas matter. They're worth arguing over. There's no hidden agenda or direction. Just a passion to learn.
        • Apr 3 2013: Chris - Having followed this drama with great interest, I can understand why TED is being seen as being less than honest with their decision.

          The initial criticisms of Sheldrake and Hancock were withdrawn and replaced with nothing. No representative from TED has been forthcoming with a coherent explanation of why Sheldrake, Hancock, Targ, et al. are banned. The accusation that Rupert Sheldrake engages in pseudoscience has been soundly rebutted. The members posting to the discussion have represented a broad range of viewpoints, except for their near unanimity that TED's censoring of the Sheldrake and Hancock talks was a mistake.

          If you have a passion to learn, you have certainly been schooled by this debacle. Yet, you seem to be unwilling to address the substance of the controversy, either by defending your position or correcting your error. It creates the appearance in the opinion of many that there is a thinly concealed agenda behind your actions.
        • Apr 3 2013: Chris, I appreciate your response and don't want to sound unduly critical, but I do think there is an agenda, albeit not a hidden one. That is, it seems pretty clear that you've decided to operate, where science is involved, from a world-according-to-Jerry-Coyne perspective. I think that is a mistake.

          That being said, I do understand that you have to walk a fine line and that you will never please everyone, but I do think the route you have chosen is unnecessarily restrictive. There is a very great difference between Rupert Sheldrake and Dean Radin on the one hand and Derek Acorah and Russell Grant on the other. Jerry Coyne sees no difference, indeed he probably dislikes Sheldrake and Radin more because they are actually doing proper science and getting results he, for one reason or another, desperately wants not to be true. I think, then, that TED could likewise make a distinction and allow talks on such subjects only from those with solid published research behind them.

          I would therefore ask you to watch this video and ask yourself whether you really think there should be no place in TED for a carefully worded discussion of such things from carefully selected cautious advocates.

          Or simply look at the papers cited above discussing telephone telepathy. How can those intriguing ideas possibly not be worth sharing in a cautious manner.
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      Apr 2 2013: Namecalling is out-of-line and unproductive, 'Z'. Your criteria for identifying trolls could probably be applied equally well to the numerous and vocal groups clamoring for support of fringe ideas that are definitely not worth spraeading. Strong-armed strategies were used to keep Hörbiger's pseudoscientific theories alive. History shows how these tactics work. They don't belong on TED.
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        Apr 2 2013: I think TED was very transparent in the Sheldrake-Hancock affair. You don´t seem to agree.. why?
        • Apr 2 2013: "I think TED was very transparent in the Sheldrake-Hancock affair."

          Jose, can you then maybe please try to explain how TED's science board remaining anonymous equates transparency?

          [Keeping in mind, this still after having had Sheldrake and Hancock address TED's initial sloppy critiques on their censored TEDx talks, and TED then remaining silent.]

          Doesn't transparency = openness, communication, accountability?
        • Apr 2 2013: Jose - Some of the reasons the TED is not being perceived as transparent are:

          1. The claims of pseudoscience against Sheldrake and Hancock came from anonymous sources.
          2. Sheldrake and Hancock responded point-by-point to the criticisms showing them to be factually inaccurate. TED never followed up with credible criticisms of the two videos.
          3. After opening the threads, TED management went invisible. They promised to review the contents of the discussion pages and render a final decision. Instead, they have been silent.
        • Apr 2 2013: Transparent?! TED still hasn't provided its reasoning for removing those two talks. It had to cross out the first set of reasons because they were so thoroughly refuted. We still don't know why, to this day, the super-secret science board deemed the talks so faulty as to require removal. Either their reasons were always demonstrably false or TED took very bad dictation when it proffered its first set of reasons.

          Both authors offered to debate anyone TED would put forward and allow them the opportunity to prove their work. TED indirectly, through a spokesperson, to a reporter, declined.

          TED avoided the discussion threads of both those talks like. the. plague.

          That's what you call transparent? I don't think that word means what you think it means.
        • Apr 3 2013: What is transparent about a decision by an anonymous "science board", anonymous for the "obvious reasons", without giving reasonable arguments? Or was it really the concern about "kids flying to Brazil trying Ayahuasca", for example? Why no response to Sheldrake's and Hancock's rebuttal of the initial accusations and Sheldrake's offer for debate, from any official at TED?
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        Apr 2 2013: how cool is that? here is the conversation in a nutshell:

        G: Is transparency a TED value?
        C: You don´t seem to agree.. why?
        G: I could certainly go into this, but I don't want to hijack this thread

        • Apr 2 2013: But see: Ms G's first post was a question about whether transparency was a TED value, and the response was not to answer this straightforward question but to bring up a specific instance which Ms G had already said she didn't want to go back to. Then Ms G explained that she didn't really want to discuss that specific issue and asked again about the general point. Then you came in with your incorrect summary. And then I came in and corrected you.
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          Apr 2 2013: Wian:

          TED has the right to decide what ideas they want to spread. They clearly indicated why they changed the distribution channel and explained the reason and the mechanics of the decision = That is transparency.

          Your profile has no photo and it is blank except for your (fake?) name = that is not transparency.

          You understand the difference now?
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          Apr 2 2013: Steve:
          I have rephrased my question to avoid deflection. See above. But I'd like to point out that you have made an extraordinarily large amount of comments (about 400 in the last 10 days or so) ALL about these two issues. You hide behind a blank profile, a fake name, and photoshopped image. You show no interest in TED beyond bashing it on this particular issue. A better example of a cowardly troll you would struggle to find.

          Debbie Gallagher and I may differ on one or two issues but she is a real member of the community expressing her views in a constructive way. That is a debate worth engaging in.
        • Apr 2 2013: Jose, I understand what you're getting at, but no, I don't have amnesia, so I know my own name: it's Afrikaans, like me, from South Africa. I have attended two TEDx conferences and I don't see why I must be compelled to upload a profile picture to be eligible for debate. Silly proposition.

          It seems like you're now addressing the TEDxWestHollywood's licence withdrawal. For, TED's explanation of the "reason and the mechanics of the decision" to censor Sheldrake and Hancock's talk certainly wasn't transparent.

          I'll simply be repeating myself here as you're not addressing my (and Dan Booth Cohen's) initial comments above appropriately.

          I was addressing your question to Debbie on why she doesn't agree with you in saying that "TED was very transparent in the Sheldrake-Hancock affair."

          [It's so funny, a previous actual troll who eventually got deleted also accused Steve of being a troll earlier. He was challenged to actually, wait for it, READ all of these 400 comments, and then come back and label Steve as a troll again, with a straight face,,, Care to take the challenge, Jose?]
        • Apr 2 2013: Jose
          You appear to have a touch of the conspiracy theorist about you. That's the first point. The second point is that if you look above (and elsewhere) you will see I made a number of helpful suggestion for TED. The one above is basically this: sort out your internal processes and when things go wrong act with a bit of dignity instead of trying to lay the blame on blameless individuals and then holding them up in public while TEDdies (like you) throw all manner of insults their way. As regards the rest of your post, what was it, I've forgotten already and can't really be bothered going to all the trouble of scrolling up.
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        Apr 2 2013: Debbie:
        I thought it was clear, just in case, I'll spell it out = I think TED is an organizations that values and practices transparency.
        Though I appreciate you not wanting to go back to the other subject, yet my question stands. How is TED not being transparent on the WestHollywood issue?
        They have the right to revoke a license, they did so and explained why. I get that you don't agree with the decision, but I don't get why you think it wasn't transparent.
        • Apr 2 2013: Jose - The explanation TED gave for cancelling West Hollywood is:

          "We disallow speakers who use the language of science to claim they have proven the truth of ideas that are speculative and which have failed to gain significant scientific acceptance."

          They they went on to say, "Our decision was not based on any individual speaker, but our assessment of the overall curatorial direction of the program."

          Here is the lack of transparency: The criteria is "we disallow speakers..." The decision is "not based on any individual speakers." Presumably, none of the individual speakers is claiming to they have proven the truth of ideas..., but the overall curatorial direction of the program is.

          This can be understood as saying, "Russell Targ is qualified to speak at a TEDx event, but if he does, it can not be a TEDx event." If this is not a lack of transparency, can we call it a Catch-22? (a paradoxical situation in which an individual cannot avoid a problem because of contradictory constraints or rules)
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        Apr 2 2013: "because I understand that TED has a board of anonymous advisors"

        i wonder what would happen if the names were public. don't answer that, rhetorical question. we know what would happen: quote mining their life of work and all other material they might have ever published. ad hominem attacks on their personality, views on unrelated issues. citation of unfounded allegations, in forms of dozens of links to verbose websites. army divisions marching to call them out on their own blogs, websites, and on forums they attend. barrage of emails "requesting a fair debate". army divisions appearing on any public talk or discussion they happen to be invited to, reciting the same stupid accusations framed as questions.

        so is ted open for this? can we ask for a little transparency?? we, the sheldrake zealots deserve it!
        • Apr 2 2013: You again assume too much.

          It's about integrity, look it up. Contextually here = to be willing to elucidate on your actions to your community/audience.

          Why not try empathizing for a change, Krisztián? Imagine you were invited to do a talk on your life's work only to afterwards discover the talk being relegated and unjustifiably pre-framed to fit somebody else's subjectively biased worldview. You then attempt to reasonably address their criticisms point by point only to be met with silence and the whole fiasco seemingly bordering on character assassination.

          It's this "silence." That's the gist. Where's the accountability? Transparency simply can't be claimed.

          What may also happen in your sketched scenario, Krisztián, is that the science board members would have the opportunity to act with integrity - stand by their decisions and elaborate there on. So that, progress can actually be met. The trolls can and will probably be moderated away.

          The science board (or maybe just one member professionally related to the issue) have a good enough of a head start to analyze all the comments and constructive criticisms from the past few weeks.

          Anything less would just be cowardly.
        • Apr 2 2013: What, exactly like what you tried to do to Sheldrake you mean. The Pinter doth project too much.
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        Apr 2 2013: Hola Debbie,

        Too much transparency would be bad, as is the case with all good things.

        "Making personal medical histories of TED employees public" would be more transparent but a bad idea. This silly example should make my point that what we want is not FULL transparency, but the best balance possible between the interests of the different parties involved. An example of this is that I like the fact that the TED profile does not publish my email. The question is what level of transparency is best for the TED community/organization as a whole.

        As I understand it TED has to go out and ask for opinions on specific technical/scientific issues, these experts/scientists are not paid for their time and effort. If their names and opinions were made public, then I suspect they might be less candid or less inclined to give an opinion at all. The TED team would lose a vital element to help them make a decision.

        Well, in spite of your previous protestations in your second paragraph you go back to the "other" issue of "Vetoed"/"Censored" talks. The fact that they explain why they changed the communication channel for these talks is what makes it transparent. The fact that some people don't agree with the explanation does not make it any less transparent, it makes it debatable.

        Going back to WestHollywood. They discussed it privately with the licencee, but failed to agree on the content. So they clearly explained to the public why they pulled the WestHollywood license. That is transparency at its best.
        • Apr 2 2013: "Too much transparency would be bad, as is the case with all good things."

          This is your opinion, is it not?
        • Apr 2 2013: Jose
          I don't think anyone is asking for DNA samples to be made available. Rather, I think there is some genuine doubt as to whether TED even has (or had) a science board and thus people are interested in its make up (assuming it exists). It's also obvious that TED having to cross out everything the "science board" wrote about the two previous censored talks calls into question their expertise. One argument I made previously (when I wasn't just trolling) was that prospective speakers would probably like to know the stance of TED's board - particularly if they are going to risk having their names dragged through the mud on account of some half-baked assessment by this shadowy anonymous group.
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        Apr 2 2013: Debbie, the list of advisers you claim is secret and that leads you to believe TED does not practice a healthy transparency has been published in the "About Us" section of the website for years. See the list of the "Brain Trust" at http://www.ted.com/pages/about

        Can you now accept that TED is acting in a healthy transparent way?
        • Apr 2 2013: Can you then now without any doubt say that that "Brain Trust" is precisely who TED is referring to when talking about their "Science Board"?
        • Apr 2 2013: The problem is that the brain trust you suggest is(?) the science board was already there when TED announced the science board would be anonymous for "obvious reasons". Thus if that's them why did TED not just say so, and if it isn't then who is.
        • Apr 3 2013: The "brain trust" has a smattering of people in science-related fields and lot of other people of other backgrounds. Nowhere does it say anything about a "science board" per se. And, as Steve notes, TED has said point blank that they are keeping identities of the science board secret. How does this list in any way answer the question asked?
        • Apr 3 2013: "Tedstaff" initially wrote:

          "[W]e’ve appointed a board of scientific advisers. They are (deliberately) anonymous, for obvious reasons [sic], but they are respected working scientists, and writers about science, from a range of fields, with no brief other than to help us make these judgements. If a talk gets flagged they will advise on whether we should act or not."
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        Apr 3 2013: Debbie, thanks for the kudos, much appreciated. I'm engaging in a debate with you because you seem like a reasonable person, with an honest question (meaning you will change your mind if shown evidence) :)

        Regrettably when I got into this discussion earlier I failed to realize that a group of trolls recently joined this community with no interest in it beyond bashing TED because they are unhappy their idols were "disrespected". I regret having "fed" them which keeps them trolling on a bit more ... :(

        But to answer your reiterated question: Remember that TED is a very small organization (see list of staff) ... Who else could they be referring to?

        Looking at that list gives you a clear indication of the range of people advising TED and you can infer what kind of advice TED is getting.

        Also having met and talked with most of the TED management and staff at the different conferences I'm convinced they are honest, dedicated and hard working people trying their best to spread great ideas around the world.

        TED could not exist if it did not curate its talks. And there will always be people unhappy that TED cut this or that idea (which I assume is your case).

        But I think its unfair to say the TEDx team was not transparent their revocation of the WestHollywood TEDx license, or that TED is not a transparent organization. Can we agree on that?
        • Apr 3 2013: So the posts above which already refute your suggested explantion.
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        Apr 3 2013: Hola Debbie,

        Your comment: "it gave an impression of a TED board dancing to the tune of a particular kind of world view". Is loaded and unkind. The TED organization is nobody's puppet, they make up their own mind and have started a worldwide revolution in the distribution of ideas.

        Neither Jerry Coyne nor the CEO of Koch Industries are on the TED Brain Trust, nor affiliated with the TED organization. So why use them to question TED transparency?

        You claim the pulling of the TEDx license from WestHollywood was not transparent, but...

        You know WHAT happened: WestHollywood lost the TEDx licence.
        You know WHY the pulled the licence: Content of the talks.
        You know WHO pulled the licence: TEDx team.
        You know HOW they pulled the licence: by informing the licencee.
        You know WHERE they pulled the licence: TED's NY office.
        You know WHEN they pulled the licence: March 2013.

        I agree the decision is debatable, and here we are, debating it ad-nauseam.

        But it was a transparent decision!
        • Apr 3 2013: "As a note: Please know that whether or not you have time or energy to contribute here, the talk is also under review by the TED team. We're not requiring your volunteer labor -- but we truly welcome your input. And we're grateful to those who've written about this talk in other forums, including but not limited to Jerry Coyne, PZ Myers, Kylie Sturgess and some thoughtful Redditors." http://www.ted.com/conversations/16894/rupert_sheldrake_s_tedx_talk.html

          Mr. Coyne clearly has more sway with TED than do the many, many, many people who protested these decisions.

          March 23: Jerry Coyne complains about the TEDx West Hollywood event.

          March 30: Jerry Coyne crows about the revocation of West Hollywood's license and urges his readers to keep the pressure on.

          In contrast, Graham Hancock and Rupert Sheldrake so thorughly refuted TED's stated reasons for removing the lectures, TED had to retract them and cross them out. But they still haven't restored the lectures to the main platform.

          In the crossed out explanation, btw, was yet another reference to Jerry Coyne, more specifically to his blog post on the subject, and to the "careful rebuttal" by Sean Carroll that Coyne posted. Ironically, as Mr. Sheldrake pointed out, Carroll's rebuttal actually VALIDATED Sheldrake's points, as per the speed of light. If reason had won the day, at that point, TED would have apologized and reinstated the talk. But its fealty to Coyne's discredited blog post seems to have won the day despite its demonstrable incorrectness. http://blog.ted.com/2013/03/14/open-for-discussion-graham-hancock-and-rupert-sheldrake/

          So, please, let's not pretend that TED isn't paying a lot more attention to Coyne's commentary, despite its being demonstrably false, than the many people who corrected the record.
        • Apr 3 2013: Jose, here's a,little history lesson. Shedlrake and Hancock give talks in January (which go down a storm) and they are then posted to YT (where they go down a storm). The pick up huge amount of views (over 150k in three weeks) and nobody makes a peep. Someone in TED must have noticed these very popular but still no peeps. Jerry Coyne makes a blog post about Sheldrake's talk and that talk comes down almost immediately. A day or so later Coyne makes a blog post about Hancock and his talk comes down almost immediately.
          TED's "science board" then gives reasons for removal which include specific false claims about both talks identical in content to specific false claims made on Coyne's blog (plagiarism is often uncovered by identical errors fwiw). Emily Mcmanus (from TED) thanks Coyne publicly and goes to Coyne's blog to thank him and asks for the further help of Coyne and his followers to cleanse TED of talks they dislike.

          Meanwhile, back in West Hollywood in early January (or earlier) TED grants a license (no doubt after many formal TED processes have been completed) to TEDx West Hollywood and a programme is put together and announced online. For two months nobody makes a peep. Jerry Coyne blogs about West Hollywood and TED almost immediately cancels the license.

          Now, in such a case, it is legitimate to ask whether one particular blogger is perhaps exerting too much influence. And adding to the concern are the wacky views of the blogger in question, and the fanatical content from both blogger and readership often found on the blog - the AAAS it is not.
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        Apr 3 2013: Hola Debbie,
        I was not aware of Mr. Coyne being referenced by TED, I'll look it up, but that debate really belongs in another thread.
        Happy that we can agree ref WestHollywood.
    • Apr 2 2013: Kristina 'Z' Holly - the TEDx Rupert Sheldrake talk had over 130,000 views before it was controversially taken down from youtube. They are TEDx customers too. You say TED is open on it's beliefs. What does an organisation that is open on it's beliefs look like? Does it look like TED? You say TED is firm on it's values. Well I can't really comment on that because I don't think I've seen a TEDx page that lists it's values.

      and this - "your supporters who matter?" well yes, we know who TEDx's supporters are who DON'T matter, - quite a large group, a group the size of 200,000 youtube views size group.

      You say TED cannot become all things to all people. I tend to agree, and I am not aggrieved as TED is not a place I would really go to to view innovative, cutting edge thinking.
      I am not trolling to put anyone in a materialist bucket, though if that is the bucket you are in then say so.
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        Apr 2 2013: Hi Gary,

        Views does not equal supporters. Most viewers of the talk will probably continue to be a part of the TEDx community.

        I'd venture most of those viewers will understand TEDx is free to curate which talks it wants on its site, by whatever standard the TEDx team considers best.

        So you don't think TED is innovative or cutting edge ... What is it that you like about TED and TEDx?
        • Apr 2 2013: There's nothing I like about TED really, I watched a few talks a while back and found them minimally interesting, I think I saw a good one on happiness I think. I don't even know why I'm here except for the Sheldrake controversy and a love of thinking and messageboarding, lol

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