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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 4 2013: Who is Russell Targ?


    "Russell Targ is a physicist and author who was a pioneer in the development of the laser and laser applications, and was co-founder of the Stanford Research Institute’s investigation into psychic abilities in the 1970s and 1980s. His work in this new area, called remote viewing, was published in Nature, The Proceedings of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and the Proceedings of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Targ has a B.S. in Physics from Queens College, and did graduate work in physics at Columbia University. He received two National Aeronautics and Space Administration awards for inventions and contributions in lasers and laser communications; and invitations were accepted in 1983 and 1984 to present remote viewing demonstrations, and to address the USSR Academy of Sciences on this research. He is co-author of five books dealing with the scientific investigation of psychic abilities: Mind Reach: Scientists Look at Psychic Abilities, The Mind Race: Understanding and Using Psychic Abilities, Mind at Large: Institute of Electronics and Electrical Engineers Symposium on the Nature of Extrasensory Perception and most recently, Heart of the Mind: How to know God without belief, and Miracles of Mind: Exploring nonlocal consciousness and spiritual healing. In 1997 Targ retired from Lockheed Martin Missiles & Space Co. as a senior staff scientist, where he developed airborne laser systems for the detection of wind shear. "
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      Apr 5 2013: Okay, but the message repeated here over and over and over again is that an argument must be based in its own merits and not on other criteria. In the debate on Graham Hancock, I argued over and over again that his past work was relevant to the issue of his reliability. I repeatedly cited his lack of scientific or academic background and past publications (none of which were peer-reviewed). However, many participants (including people in this conversation) complained and claimed over and over that none of that mattered.

      When it comes to Targ, suddenly background and past publications are relevant and the rhetoric shifts to his reliability and reputation as a basis for evaluating his suitability as a TED speaker--criteria that were claimed to be meaningless in the case of Hancock.

      One argument could be that Targ is identified as a scientist while Hancock is not. However, Hancock's talk referred to scientific concepts and evidence (human evolution, dates for cave paintings, botanical classifications, molecular chemistry, pharmacology, ecology, etc.) and he spoke in scientific terms, stating premises while also claiming to explain "the truth" (in those words). One might argue that Targ talks as a scientist when he is discussing lasers but a pseudoscientist when he is talking about ESP.

      I detect a double-standard here, especially with respect to the issue of speaker credibility, reputation, and reliability. Is it unreasonable to expect some consistency? Why? Should the TED talks that proposed speakers make or intend to make be based on their own merits or also on speakers' past work and reputations?
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        Apr 5 2013: Targ has had an exemplary career as a scientist. Why would that disqualify him from being a TEDx speaker? It shouldn't! It seems to me that only makes him more interesting.

        My argument is that a well-credentialed scientist like Targ is someone I'm interested in hearing from. How is that any kind of a double-standard?
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          Apr 5 2013: I don't think it's exemplary if he's widely acknowledged--especially but not exclusively in the scientific community--to be doing pseudoscience. That's a fairly significant taint and compromises his credentials. I don't know if you've consulted the debate on Hancock, but the double-standard issue only makes sense in light of that.
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          Apr 5 2013: One could say that Hancock has had an exemplary career as an author of fringe pseudoscience. Should that disqualify him from being a TEDx speaker? I think so, but others argued not. You think credentials matter in Targ's case, but others rejected them in the case of Hancock. That's what I'm referring to as an inconsistency and double-standard.
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        Apr 5 2013: Pseudoscience is just you making things up John. Kind of like the followers of Guerrilla Skepticism re-editing Wiki to suit their purposes.


        In what version of reality did I ever reject Hancock's credentials?
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          Apr 5 2013: Pseudoscience is not just me making things up. Targ has been claimed to have been doing pseudoscience since the 1970s, as documented early on in this 1980 book by a scientist with impeccable credentials:

          The Psychology of the Psychic

          His research has since been widely debunked by others, as documented by the references for which citations are provided on these pages (if the Woo Posse hasn't removed them).

          Russell Targ

          Remote Viewing

          The issue is not one of rejecting Hancock's credentials but of accepting them. Frankly, I don't know or care how you feel about them. I was explaining what I meant by a double-standard.
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          Apr 5 2013: Skeptic's Dictionary - Remote Viewing
        • Apr 5 2013: The Wikipedia article also tells me that the results from his his research at SRI have been succesfully and independently replicated at Princeton, with further improved methods. So, I don't understand why is he still labeled with 'pseudoscience'? Maybe the problem is that there are just not that many researchers or institutes (getting paid) in that field? Worthy further investigation, not conclusive but hinting at real effects, and in need of a new theory. . Yes, that's what we want to see! That's just reasonable, and why not informing the public about this exciting process currently going on in science, as with talks on TED?


          "..As Gordin documents with detailed examples, “individual scientists (as distinct from the monolithic ‘scientific community’) designate a doctrine a ‘pseudoscience’ only when they perceive themselves to be threatened—not necessarily by the new ideas themselves, but by what those ideas represent about the authority of science, science’s access to resources, or some other broader social trend. If one is not threatened, there is no need to lash out at the perceived pseudoscience; instead, one continues with one’s work and happily ignores the cranks.”

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        Apr 5 2013: Targ's evidence for his work is found in peer-reviewed journals, such as Nature. You don't seem to have any peer-reviewed work backing up your claims. It's just you making stuff up. Anyone can edit Wiki, as I'm sure you know.

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          Apr 5 2013: You apparently missed my comment on the abstract of the Nature article, whose results are far from impressive. There are peer-reviewed works critical of Targ's research in the articles I mentioned. I am really not just making stuff up about how Targ's work is regarded. If I were able to provide you with additional peer-reviewed work to back up my claims, would it make any difference with you? A simple "yes" or "no" will suffice.

          Did you read and understand the discussion this morning about the fetishization of peer-reviewed journals? Again, a simple "yes" or "no" will suffice.
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        Apr 5 2013: I've read all of the relevant articles, including the entire back and forth of arguments in the journal Nature. The skeptics really couldn't come up with anything better than they didn't like what the data showed, so it MUST have been wrong, even if they aren't sure how it could have been wrong.

        It's promissory materialism. You can't find a good alternate explanation for something that could suggest evidence for psi, but your argument is that some day that explanation will appear. That's hardly convincing.
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          Apr 5 2013: Some people may be lacking in imagination, but there are lots of alternate explanations something that could suggest evidence for psi. Hoaxing (which has been notoriously and successfully perpetrated on the lab at Stanford), perceptual errors (confirmation bias, apophenia, etc.), misreporting, and so forth. I can have a student in my class who I feel is probably cheating even if I don't know *how* he's cheating. Intuition actually does count for a lot in the practice of science. Ask any medical diagnostician.

          I haven't argued that someday an explanation will appear. I suspect there are myriad explanations. Some phenomena are just too complex to explain. In the case of psi, it may be that relevant data are lacking, but that doesn't mean that ESP is real.
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        Apr 5 2013: Given your apparent paranoia, no study will ever convince you, will it? Let's face it, the evidence for aspirin reducing the chance of having a heart attack is weaker than the evidence for psi.

        I've given you peer-reviewed journal articles as evidence. Your only response is Wikipedia nonsense.
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        Apr 5 2013: It's hard to take you seriously, John. It wasn't so long ago that you were concerned the West Hollywood TEDx talks could be a precursor to the next holocaust.

        You have such a sad view of the world. Your students cheat. You think people are stupid and can't be trusted. You can't believe peer-reviewed science articles because maybe it's fake. Was the moon-landing fake too John? Just curious.
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          Apr 5 2013: Your worldview seems to be that of a pollyanna, Sandy. The sad reality is that students do cheat, people make stupid decisions, claims can't be trusted, and occasionally both research results and peer-reviewed journal articles are faked. That's the way things actually are and it is the reason why good critical thinking skills are necessary.

          I cited Alan Sokal's paper earlier, but are you familiar with the Sokal Affair? It is essential to consider, because it actually happened.

          Sokal affair

          I do not think the moon landings were fake, but I can imagine how they might have been faked. Do you have utter confidence that everything peer-reviewed journal articles, government sources, and the media tells you is true? Just curious.
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          Apr 5 2013: Actually, no double-standard at all. By my *single* standard, each would be deemed inappropriate for similar reasons, ones that are also in line with TED policies and the decisions TED staff has made.

          The double-standard about which I'm complaining is the clamor to ignore or disallow consideration of Hancock's past publications and reputation while at the same time trumpeting Targ's past publications and reputation as the reason why he merit's TED sponsorship.

          Do you understand this yet? It is not my own personal distaste at all, which would be unfair, but the application of the same standard, objective criteria for both men.

          It is actually Sandy who has said she would use subjective, personal criteria--her interest in hearing what they have to say--as the basis for approval.
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        Apr 5 2013: John, you are quite the alarmist. Do you know what would have happened if the Sheldrake and Hancock talks had been left on the TED channel?

        The world would have gone on as per usual. TED would still be a place with "ideas worth sharing". Chris Anderson would have a lot more time to devote to things other than this one mess he hasn't been able to clean up.

        You're the one who has suggested the world needs to be protected from ideas you don't agree with. I personally am able to read the evidence and decide for myself. You're the one who thinks allowing West Hollywood TEDx to take place is a dangerous thing to do. I think you're just being silly.

        I can understand what you are afraid of. You are afraid that your world view might not hold up to scrutiny. The cracks are already there and getting bigger all the time.

        I have too much respect for science not to be curious about how things work. Anomalies are what science uses to find out where the flaws in the models happen to be. That's the first step to a better understanding to the world. It's intellectually dishonest to cover up anomalies and pretend they don't exist.
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          Apr 5 2013: Little sparks can start big fires, Sandy. I think you might feel differently about this if you had some skin in the game.

          History provides plenty of examples of academic pogroms in which professional scholars who did not toe the party line were shipped off to prisons, concentration camps, and gulags. It still happens today. History also provides plenty of examples of individuals doing iffy research who, once they gain credibility with the credulous or with ideologues, continue to do iffy research while wielding power in universities, granting agencies, and the like. You may not recognize the dangers, but I submit that is because you do not know the history of these things very well. You seem completely comfortable to ignore it.

          No, I'm not afraid that my worldview might not hold up to scrutiny. It has held up quite well for a long time now and I'm really not too worried that it won't continue to do so. I don't see any significant cracks, even if you do. However, if the history of science is any indication, most of what's reality has yet to be even imagined and a great deal of what's been imagined has yet to be proven real.

          I think curiosity about the world is a wonderful thing. If I didn't, I wouldn't do what I do for a living. Anomalies definitely are what science uses to find flaws or deficiencies in the models that happen to be. In fact, I have been discussing some fascinating ones with a colleague just this morning. If you don't think I've sought to reveal them, investigate them, learn from them, and publish the results of that, then you know nothing about my own scholarship.

          Your apparent ignorance of the relevant issues I've mentioned is neither flattering to you nor helpful to further discussion.
        • Apr 5 2013: Precisely. It's like the "remarkable lack of curiosity" Sheldrake attributes to scientists who insist that anomalous readings of the speed of light are simply errors to be ignored. What do we learn days later? Two studies show there's fluctuation. Good scientists don't just write off the outliers. It's rather like building a cabinet with one of those sets from Ikea and finding you have spare bits at the end and just chucking them. The cabinet may look fine now.... but over time, who knows...
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        Apr 5 2013: How am I ignorant of the issues, John? I'm the one who has actually read the literature on psi.

        You can't stop progress, John. You can try. You can be afraid. But change happens.

        I can understand the fear that the anonymous science board has in regards to having their names known publicly. Could they end up looking as misguided as the people who tried to suppress Galileo's work? Possibly. Time will tell.
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        Apr 5 2013: John, I believe education, free access to information, and open discussions are helpful to society, not dangerous. They can be dangerous to oppressive governments. Look at how social networking media is being used to affect change in many parts of the world. They can also be used against oppressive organizations of varying sorts.

        Maybe TED needs to use suppression of information to protect itself from the public, which seems to be turning against it.

        And maybe Jerry Coyne, and other militant atheists, need to suppress knowledge that doesn't support their organization's stated dogma.

        But the world will go on happily without these oppressive groups.
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          Apr 5 2013: To each his own. For me, your attitudes represent the oppression of knowledge.
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        Apr 5 2013: How is promoting open discussion about psi oppressing anything? Or are you just afraid that people will pull back the curtain and see what's really going on with Jerry Coyne, Chris Anderson and the anonymous science board?
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          Apr 5 2013: I did not say it was promoting open discussion about psi that was oppressive, I said it was your attitudes. That would include your tendency towards fallacious interpretations, which you just illustrated again quite clearly.

          I am not afraid that anyone will pull back any curtains on Coyne, Anderson, or TED. I am not inclined to believe conspiracy theories such as the one implied by your question.

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