Era Keys
  • Era Keys
  • Ormond Beach, FL
  • United States

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The recent uproar on the letter from TEDx about GMO's, 'food as medicine', and natural healing.

Recently on facebook, articles and other social networks has been a mind boggling debate on letter TEDx sent out after a conversation started on reddit about TEDx's view on bad science/pseudoscience (found here: Many people are going on the rampage of saying "TED is Dead" and others are applauding TED for banning such ideas. What everyone seems to be missing is this part of the letter:

"Red flag topics

These are not “banned” topics by any means — but they are topics that tend to attract pseudo-scientists. If your speaker proposes a topic like this, use extra scrutiny. An expanding, depressing list follows:

Food science, including:

GMO food and anti-GMO foodists
Food as medicine, especially to treat a specific condition: Autism and ADHD, especially causes of and cures for autism
Because of the sad history of hoaxes with deadly consequences in the field of autism research, really look into the background of any autism-related talk. If you hear anything that sounds remotely like, “Vaccines are related to autism,” — RUN AWAY. Another non-legitimate argument: “We don’t know what works, so we have to try everything.” Pretty much all the time, this argument is designed to cause guilt in suffering parents so they’ll spend money on unproven treatments."

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    Aja B.

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    Oct 4 2013: Hi folks, I just wanted to be clear that the rumors about TED "banning" discussion of food and health topics are not true. We have not banned these topics, and we have no relationship with Monsanto. In fact, we have many great talks on food and health that challenge entrenched ideas in smart and creative ways.

    A few TED Talk suggestions:

    Dean Ornish and William Li, each on how food affects our wellness,
    Food activists like Jamie Oliver, Tristram Stuart and lunchbox hero Ann Cooper,
    Peter Attia with a bold new idea about obesity,
    Guerrilla gardener Ron Finley,
    Gary Hirshberg on GMO labeling,
    Jimmy Botella on natural foods and GMOs,
    and Tyrone Hayes' research into pesticides in our food chain.

    I hope this helps clear things up.


    Aja B.
    TED Conversations Team
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    Lejan .

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    Sep 21 2013: Era,

    as much as I see valid and useful information in this 'uproar letter', to me it is missing two fundamental points:


    TED's slogan is about 'IDEAS worth spreading' and not 'FACTS worth spreading'

    Which by its very concept is a completely different thing altogether.


    'It is not your audience’s job to figure out if a speaker is offering legitimate science or not. It is your job.'

    I don't think so! And given the scope of ideas presented, it seems almost naive to demand this!

    If '...millions of children went without vaccines, and many contracted deadly illnesses as a result. ' because their parents watched A SINGLE TED talk on that topic, those parents should be held responsible to not have consulted different opinions on such an important matter! Sorry folks, ignorance is meant to stay a 'personal problem' only!


    If TED would stick to all this guidelines, it wouldn't take long for this site to become 'pay for view' only and thereby exclude millions of viewers who could not or would not afford to pay for it.

    A stringent peer review system is highly expensive, slow and not flawless as well. It would transform TED into a video-based version of 'Nature' and such alike, which isn't of the spirit I think TED represents.

    If TED would have existed at that time and was controlled as suggested, we would never have heard about the IDEA of FLYING, presented by the Wright brothers, as flying machines were considered 'hum-buck' by the scientific establishment in those days. What a loss!

    I don't wish any future speaker of TED talks ever to prove his/her 'access right' by showing a PhD certificate first, or any other degree, as it is also naive and worldly innocent to connect those with any proof of excellence. You can easily buy all of those titles if you wish to! Pricey, but possible.

    No, ideas got to be controversial, provocative, mind moving! And most impotently, ideas have a natural right to fail, which deviates them from facts!
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      Sep 22 2013: I agree that by TED proclaiming such virtues that it is limiting itself and it's audiences on the topics that can be breached in an open and intelligent forum. By limiting even these topics, what other topics are they limiting that have not even reached the stage yet?

      The "TED's slogan is about 'IDEAS worth spreading' and not 'FACTS worth spreading'" is what hit the head on the nail for me. Judgement and social criticism does not belong in science nor in TED's organization.
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        Sep 22 2013: RE: "I apologize if my debate. . ." I understand. No apology necessary. It's just that I am not accustomed to debates where the question is left wide open. I understand now this is a debate with no particular question. Thanks for clarifying. Be well.
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        Lejan .

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        Sep 23 2013: Era,

        like many others, TED is 'just' another organization and as such it will have its own judgment about what will be published under its name and what not. To me this is the legitimate right of any host to do but, depending on the persons responsible and who is funding it, there is always a chance of censorship.

        This is why we should always avoid singles source information to increase the chance to get to see more of the whole pictures.

        Here is a link to three talks which have been held at TED and TEDx events and got banned later and and which you won't find on TED's site here anymore:

        To me, all three talks share an interesting idea, but if I apply certain agendas to them, it becomes clear to me, why those have been sorted out.

        Now GMO food is a complete different story, as it involves 'big money', which makes it very likely, that any related and so called 'scientific information' is published in ways, which doesn't damage the picture the industry behind likes to give to the public.

        As I am a GMO critic, I am very sensitive about information I get to hear about it, yet I do not expect TED to make up my mind on this and myself. Thats still on me and TED one source of many.
  • Sep 24 2013: Hello, from now until I hear a different policy from TED, I will be boycotting this site. I have enjoyed things in the past, but the line was just crossed big time. Supporting Monsanto? Supporting GMO's? NOT supporting open discussion of "Food as medicine?
  • Sep 20 2013: I have read the letter to the TEDx community on TEDx and bad science. While I feel the majority of the letter was diplomatic some unnecessary adjectives found their way into the email which may have offended the sensibilities of the "food as medicine" crowd. Unfortunately, instead of taking this as a cue to develop a rigorous argument in favor of their views they have chosen a smear campaign which is now getting some traction on social media. GMO's are a hot topic right now and many feel strongly about them one way or another. The headline "TED aligns with Monsanto" has really struck a chord. Personally I am in favor of labeling GMO's however, that doesn't mean I think TED should be a platform for "soft science". I think this is a classic false dichotomy of "embrace food as medicine" or "TED is in league with Monsanto". The real merit of science is being able to revise your point of view as new information is presented. Perhaps there is no danger in GMO's, maybe they cause cancer, maybe autism has nothing to do with vaccines...we'll never know unless all hypothesis are examined and given equal scrutiny. And perhaps once there are published results with statistically significant findings TED will host talks on them!
    • Sep 21 2013: I'm having trouble following, you seem to understand whats going on with this. so i hope i can trouble you with my confusion.
      1. I thought originally that Monsanto had entered TED and was pushing pseudo science charlatans into the spot light to try and of course make themselves appear to be less insane (yes GMO is neither evil nor good, just a tool but we both know how monsanto is with this tool) so i thought TED was becoming obliging for this.
      2. is TED not giving into all their demands for spotlight and now a smear campaign has been put in motion by monsanto to try and cause TED problems?
      3. Is TED allowing Monsanto into the spot light but keeping a close eye on them like any other voice?

      sorry to bug you, can you help a random internet brother out here on this?
      • Sep 23 2013: I don't have any information on the relationship between Monsanto and TED, and I have never had any cause to believe there is a relationship between them. Where have you heard otherwise, I would be interested to read your source.
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    Sep 24 2013: Discussing GMO food seems almost elitist.....take 2

    This article is written by a a chemist interested in the history and philosophy of science and he makes several point that are worth considering in this Scientific American blog essay.

    “I actually find the anti-GMO folks’ argument about not trusting GMOs simply because they have “not been tested enough” to be disingenuous, selective and cherry-picked at the very minimum. Let’s say that tomorrow Whole Foods introduces a new brand of spirulinadetoxwhatever health supplement containing feelbetteramine from a wholly natural plant found in the foothills of Bolivia. Do we think for a second that the anti-GMO folks won’t be lining up at their nearest Whole Foods, no matter that this novel substance is as much or even more untested than a GMO?”
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    Sep 23 2013: The U.N should buy all of Thailands surplus rice stocks that the govt has stockpiled from subsidizing it's rice growers, i don't know if they use GMO but if they are overgrowing how many other countries have overproduction?
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    Sep 21 2013: Discussing GMO food seems almost elitist when there are in the world that have very little food, but I''m sure I just opened the door for a load of comments from people that want to educate me on the subject.

    "Almost all the hungry people, 852 million, live in developing countries, representing 15 percent of the population of developing counties. There are 16 million people undernourished in developed countries (FAO 2012).
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      Sep 21 2013: If GMO's were just meant to feed all the hungry ... yet, they don't seem to be ...
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        Sep 22 2013: RE: "Just a suggestion, consider to just skip debates who's headlines aren't clear to you."So it is clear to you what the question for debate is? Please share it with me because I really don't know what it is even though the subject is interesting to me and I would like to join. So you find my request for clarification to be inappropriate? Please explain your suggestion to avoid joining a debate simply because the question is not clear. I see you are a translator here on TED so consider not using the contraction "who's" when the proper word is "whose".
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          Sep 22 2013: There is nothing wrong in joining a debate whose question isn't clear to you and asking for clarification, so that you can decide if you like to join or not.

          What seems inappropriate to me is to expect headlines to be understandable to you right away and at all times by any author, and to 'suggest' this to those who happen not to know about your faculty of abstraction. This to me is impolite, especially as Era did try to clarify her debate to you already.

          And what shall I share here with you, as your 'stance' on this debate seems to be 'stated in the Sheldrake related posts here on TED Conversations' already?

          I answered to what my understanding of this debate was and if I was right on the money on this or missed the point by half a galaxy I will only know if Era likes to let me know about it. Do I expect her to do that?

          No, I don't. but I am glad if she does.
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          Sep 22 2013: I apologize if my debate seemed too vague but that was what I was actually going for. I know that many debates have very pointed directions. I wanted this debate to be open for talk on all components of this issue: from what TEDx's letter states, to the replies in online articles and forums, to the issues TED is talking specifically about (GMO, 'food as medicine' and natural healing). I mostly posted this debate to learn more about these topics and express my ideas on these matters.
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        Sep 22 2013: Here is both sides to the issue.


        By 2050, the world's population is projected to rise to 9 billion from just over 7 billion currently. Proponents of genetically modified foods say they are safe and can boost harvests even in bad conditions by protecting against pests, weeds and drought. This, they argue, will be essential to meeting the needs of a booming population in decades to come and avoiding starvation.

        However Doug Gurian-Sherman, senior scientist for the food and environment program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, an advocacy group, said genetic engineering for insect resistance has provided only a modest increase in yields since the 1990s and drought-resistant strains have only modestly reduced losses from drought.

        Moreover, he said conventional crossbreeding or cross-pollinating of different varieties for desirable traits, along with improved farming, are getting better results boosting yields at a lower cost. In fact, much of the food Americans eat has been genetically modified by those conventional methods over thousands of years, before genetic engineering came into practice.

        "Overall, genetic engineering does not get nearly the bang for the buck as conventional breeding" and improved agricultural practices, Gurian-Sherman said. His organization advises caution on GM foods and favors labeling, though it acknowledges the risks of genetic engineering have sometimes been exaggerated.

        Andrea Roberto Sonnino, chief of research at the U.N. food agency, said total food production at present is enough to feed the entire global population. The problem is uneven distribution, leaving 870 million suffering from hunger. He said world food production will need to increase by 60 percent to meet the demands of 9 billion by 2050. This must be achieved by increasing yields, he added, because there is little room to expand cultivated land used for agriculture.
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          Sep 22 2013: Without doubt, the upcoming challenges to feed an ever growing world population as you describe are high, yet I don't believe we need GMO's to secure that for many centuries to come, as there are better alternatives at hand already - which are, lets say, just not as 'copy safe' as some 'financial engineers' wished them to be.

          One of these alternatives is called 'Terra Preta' which covers more that 'just' increased yield, as well as carbon-dioxide absorption and comes with an inbuilt 'moisture management'. Unfortunately for some, it is 'common knowledge' already since ages and therefore and despite all of its advantages, non-patentable.

          To establish a worldwide secure food supply we have to rethink the whole current concept of agriculture anyway, because at present almost all of it depends 100% on fossil fuels, including its fertilizers, of which we already know they aren't endless. But those fundamental changes won't happen over night and by the fact, that these methods aren't all prize-wise 'competitive' in our given markets, makes this change even more unlikely which seems to become an unavoidable time issue the moment the given plenty of fossil energy is running scarce at our fuel-pumps.

          In my opinion, this topic is of highest priority and belongs to be coordinated by the UN and this without the dominating 'help' of certain lobbyists.

          Forgive my skepticism, but if an industry claims to help fighting world hunger, yet uses its very technology for 'licensing' their 'intellectual property'' by disabling the natural ability of reproduction of their seeds, then I am in doubt of their true intentions.

          This isn't fighting world hunger anymore, this is enslaving farmers to remain their customers. Not by free choice, but because of removing this very choice from them.

          It may be good for a plant to resist its natural pests, but if farmers can't afford them anymore, there is no use at all and no hunger stilled.

          We need a multitude of local and natural solutions!
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          Sep 22 2013: I want to specifically reply to this portion of your post:
          "Moreover, he said conventional crossbreeding or cross-pollinating of different varieties for desirable traits, along with improved farming, are getting better results boosting yields at a lower cost. In fact, much of the food Americans eat has been genetically modified by those conventional methods over thousands of years, before genetic engineering came into practice."

          In specific to the sentence that talks about how Americans have been eating genetically modified foods through conventional methods for over thousands of year.

          Over time organisms evolve to the pressures applied by their environment, their natural environment. Including us: the human species. What the concern is that GMO's is removing the natural process of evolution and adaptation from the equation. What happens when you place a highly evolved organism into an organism that has not evolved at that speed yet? What happens when you continue to place that evolved organism into the un-evolved organism?

          Evolution is a process that takes years and years to produce an organism with the desired trait by trail and error. By removing the natural process of evolution in plants but not in the humans that are consuming them, what are the consequences: long term and short term?

          Not only in the stance of the human organism but what about the soil that the plants are in? The soil is a key component to a plant's survival. By changing the way a plant acts in it's environment we are also changing it's environment. What are the consequences of such actions?
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    Sep 21 2013: What happens when you introduce wheat or sugar to a people who have never had it in their racial history?
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      Sep 21 2013: re: when you..."

      Who is the "you?"
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        Sep 22 2013: Right, i should've typed "modern man" It happened to my people 250 years ago, i'm not putting any blame on any group as it is the past but the effects on a group is rather interesting. 250 years is less than a minute when it comes to our genomes but it is beside the point and well...rather outside the topic. I just thought someone out there might know.

        As far as i know Europe rejected GMO?

        If TED councils prospective organizers to make sure their proposed speakers have adequate science to backup their talks then they are entitled to publish their letter, either way we'll know in 250 years if there is any effects.
  • Sep 21 2013: I feel as if most, probably all although I can't read them all, are taking things out of context from the letter, or just flat out ignoring the way things were phrased. I do think that its ok that TED is warning potential speaker organizers that there are wackos out there that are pushing the wrong information. I can't say that I agree that the letter was worded well. I know on first reading I was quite offended that they would say food medicine was pseudoscience, but then I stepped back and read what they were really saying. That isn't something that everyone does which is probably where all of these nasty TED bashing articles are coming from.
    On topics that I would like people to hear more about, Food medicine and GMO's are definitely two, but I know the reason the topics should be "censored" for a lack of better words. I have done extensive research on GMO's and hold the opposite stance of the general public because I waded through all the muck that is what TED should be trying to avoid.
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    Sep 20 2013: What is the question for debate?
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      Sep 20 2013: What is your stance on TEDx's letter and the articles stating "TED is Dead" like this one:
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        Sep 21 2013: Who is Natural News and Mike Adams, the self appointed "health ranger?" He wrote another blog attacking TED for its handling of the Sheldrake debate.
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        Sep 21 2013: My stance is stated in the Sheldrake related posts here on TED Conversations. Just a suggestion, consider stating the debate question more clearly in your headline.
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          Sep 21 2013: Just a suggestion, consider to just skip debates who's headlines aren't clear to you.
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    Sep 20 2013: I believe that this letter was very diplomatic in it's response to the hype about TEDx being choosy about the type of science to portray on their stage. However even the easy going attitude gone about in this letter cannot deny the fact that TEDx is being choosy about these particular subjects. Many subjects in science have been broadcast as proven facts to later been found as fraud, even in highly acclaimed subjects and sections. The political and economical factors behind these types of science is what makes this such a 'unproven' field. Being hushed and set aside as co-factors in health and vitality. In the long run what we eat, how we act and what we think/believe in determine every step of every days health in the overall not the moment by moment.