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Graham Hancock and Rupert Sheldrake, a fresh take

Posted by: Tedstaff

We’ve been reviewing the response this past weekend to our decision to move two TEDx talks off the TEDx YouTube channel and over here onto the main TED Blog. We’d like to recap here what happened and suggest a way forward.

UPDATE: To discuss the talks, view them here:

The debate about Rupert Sheldrake’s talk
The debate about Graham Hancock’s talk

Four years ago, TED began an experiment in which we granted free licenses to people who wanted to organize their own local events in which ideas could be exchanged, with talks captured on film and uploaded to YouTube. These events use the brand name TEDx, where x stands for “self-organized.” Organizers pledge to work within a set of rules, but then they have freedom to run the event themselves. Speakers are invited without our pre-approval. Requests to hold TEDx events poured in from all over the world, and to date, more than 5,000 have been held, with around 8 more every day. There’s been TEDxBoston, TEDxAmsterdam, TEDxBaghdad, TEDxKabul, TEDxSoweto, and so forth, a thrilling explosion of idea sharing that has spawned more than 25,000 recorded talks on YouTube (uploaded there by the organizers themselves, without our prescreening). We have selected more than 200 TEDx talks to appear on ourmain TED.com homepage, where they have attracted millions of views. This growth is made possible by our deliberately open approach.

The obvious question is “how do you ensure the quality of these events”?

Our approach is to empower organizers to achieve greatness, by providing detailed guidelines – and guidance – on what works and what doesn’t. And we’re constantly amazed at how good most of these events are. But we also count on the community to help when things go wrong. Occasionally a TEDx event will include a speaker who causes controversy or upset. When that happens, someone in the community will flag the talk, and we have to decide how to respond.

One option would be to have an “anything goes” policy. We could just say that these events are the responsibility of the local organizer and wash our hands of it. The problem with that stance is that we would soon find the TEDx brand and platform being hijacked by those with dangerous or fringe ideas. And eventually credible speakers would not want to be associated with it. TED’s mission is not “any old idea” but “ideas worth spreading.” We’ve taken a deliberately broad interpretation of that phrase, but it still has to mean something.

The hardest line to draw is science versus pseudoscience. TED is committed to science. But we think of it as a process, not as a locked-in body of truth. The scientific method is a means of advancing understanding. Of asking for evidence. Of testing ideas to see which stack up and which should be abandoned. Over time that process has led to a rich understanding of the world, but one that is constantly being refined and upgraded. There’s a sense in which all scientific truth is provisional, and open to revision if new facts arise. And that is why it’s often hard to make a judgement on what is a valuable contribution to science, and what is misleading, or worthless.

Some speakers use the language of science to promote views that are simply incompatible with all reasonable understanding of the world. Giving them a platform is counterproductive. But there are also instances where scientific assumptions get turned upside down. How do we separate between these two? We have done two things as a tentative answer to this question:

- we’ve issued a set of guidelines to TEDx organizers.

- and we’ve appointed a board of scientific advisers. They are (deliberately) anonymous, for obvious reasons, 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.

When Sheldrake and Hancock’s talks were flagged, the majority of the board recommended we remove them from circulation, pointing out questionable suggestions and arguments in both talks. But there was a counter view that removing talks that had already been posted would lead to accusations of censorship. It’s also the case that both speakers explicitly take on mainstream scientific opinion. This gives them a stronger reason to be listened to than those who simply use scientific sounding language to make nonsensical claims. So we decided we would not remove the talks from the web altogether, but simply transfer them to our own site where they could be framed in a way which included the critique of our board, but still allow for an open conversation about them.

What happened next was unfortunate. We wrote to the TEDx organizer indicating our intention and asking her to take the talks off Youtube so that we could repost. She informed the speakers of what was coming, but somehow the part about the talks staying online got lost in translation. Graham Hancock put out an immediate alert that he was about to be “censored”, his army of passionate supporters deluged us with outraged messages, and we then felt compelled to accelerate our blog post and used language that in retrospect was clumsy. We suggested that we were flagging the talks because of “factual errors” but some of the specific examples we gave were less than convincing. Instead of the thoughtful conversation we had hoped for, we stirred up angry responses from the speakers and their supporters.

We would like to try again.

We plan to repost both talks in individual posts on our blog tomorrow, Tuesday; note a couple of areas where scientists or the community have raised questions or concerns about the talks; and invite a reasoned discussion from the community. And there will be a simple rule regarding responses. Reason only. No insults, no intemperate language. From either side. Comments that violate this will be removed. The goal here is to have an open conversation about:

- the line between science and pseudoscience

- how far TED and TEDx should go in giving exposure to unorthodox ideas

We will use the reasoned comments in this conversation to help frame both our guidelines going forward, and our process for managing talks that are called into question.

Both Sheldrake and Hancock are compelling speakers, and some of the questions they raise are absolutely worth raising. For example, most thoughtful scientists and philosophers of science will agree it’s true that science has not moved very far yet in solving the riddle of consciousness. But the specific answers to that riddle proposed by Sheldrake and Hancock are so radical and far-removed from mainstream scientific thinking that we think it’s right for us to give these talks a clear health warning and to ask further questions of the speakers. TED and TEDx are brands that are trusted in schools and in homes. We don’t want to hear from a parent whose kid went off to South America to drink ayahuasca because TED said it was OK. But we do think a calmer, reasoned conversation around these talks would be interesting, if only to help us define how far you can push an idea before it is no longer “worth spreading.”

Comments (418)

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  • Joe Kurtz commented on Mar 18 2013

    I find it highly ironic if not painfully germane that a presentation centered around the theme of a “war on consciousness” is being actively suppressed.

    • Stephen Collins commented on Mar 18 2013

      Define “suppressed”, Joe. Both talks have been removed from the TEDx channel on YouTube and given it’s own, high-traffic, highly public space for the conversation to continue.

      Both the presenters can pitch equivalent talks to any forum that will take them, and can argue their position both here and elsewhere.

      That sounds to me like the antithesis of “suppression” to me.

      It is, to be frank, also the case that TED is entirely within its right to pick and choose who they publish on their own platform.

      • Bernardo Kastrup commented on Mar 18 2013

        “TED is entirely within its right to pick and choose who they publish on their own platform.”

        I completely agree. But to preface their presentations with defamatory — and incorrect — remarks represents not only an astonishing lack of courtesy and respect towards people who donated their time, for free, to the TED cause — under invitation — but also places their sources of income at risk. Is this how you reward the people — the presenters — upon whom your entire platform depends? Who would be crazy to risk presenting at TED(x) under such conditions?

        • Stephen Collins commented on Mar 18 2013

          I think many of the suggestions that TED is making “defamatory” statements reflect a cultural perspective on this matter.

          Speaking from an Australian perspective (as this is where and what I am), I’d certainly consider much of the conversation robust, and more than a little of it to be intemperate (particularly from supporters of the two presenters, though they aren’t the only ones).

          As a TEDx organiser, I would certainly be prepared to take a stand on not publishing a talk should a presenter I selected make claims on a scientific or medical basis that couldn’t be supported. That’s not to say it would need to align with the consensus view; rather that the claims would need to stand up under review and could be publishable in something like Nature or SciAm.

          Regardless of what a presenter says, neither TED nor TEDx organisers are under any compulsion to publish those talks. Nor, to be frank, are TED or TEDx organisers under any compulsion to explain their reasons for not publishing. Indeed, the release presenters sign for a TEDx talk states this.

      • Conor O'Higgins commented on Mar 18 2013

        “TED is entirely within its right to pick and choose who they publish on their own platform.”
        Of course. But people will no longer trust them to spread innovative ideas.

        • Stephen Collins commented on Mar 18 2013

          That’s certainly a risk. Though I think the overall diversity of talks – both on TED.com and tedxtalks.ted.com – would have many not draw that conclusion.

          There are at least two talks I’ve been present for at TED events that have never been published. I truly wish they had. Though I don’t for a moment consider the ecosystem of views TED exposes any less broad, not TED less trustworthy as a consequence.

          YMMV, of course.

          As I’ve noted elsewhere, this entire exercise is a no-win for TED. They’re damned if they do (and the quality of commentary on the posts illustrates that in living color), and damned if they don’t.

          The level of belligerence and sense of entitlement on the part of the presenters is mind boggling, and the discourse on both sides leaves a great deal to be desired.

        • Troy Tice commented on Mar 18 2013

          Hi Stephen,

          I am just curious what struck you as belligerent in Sheldrake’s response.

        • Stephen Collins commented on Mar 18 2013

          Hoping this works, as we’re at maximum reply depth…

          Troy, what bugs me is the sense of entitlement to be published and heard that Sheldrake appears to be possessed of. And the apparently paper-thin skin he has.

          Scientists and indeed, those wishing to speak at conferences and be published across a wide range of disciplines both within and outside the sciences, are normally subject to review and close scrutiny by their peers (often anonymously), and are generally subject to criticism, and occasionally being “un-published” (which is something of a non-sequitur) as a consequence.

          TED, to my mind, is taking a stand on choosing not to publish (though still giving a place for discussion of) talks that don’t meet the level of veracity they wish to be associated with. I don’t have a problem with that.

          I do have a problem with people – both presenters and their supporters, and those opposing them as well – waving their arms like Kermit the Frog, crying “censorship” when such a claim is demonstrably not the case, and engaging in a discourse that brings little or nothing to the conversation other than finger pointing and claim-counter-claim.

          If we’re going to settle matters like this like grown-ups, TED can state its position, the presenters can state theirs, and anyone else wanting to buy in can too; so long as we all limit the hyperbole and finger-pointing. Perhaps then we can reach either consensus, or an agreement to disagree.

        • Conor O'Higgins commented on Mar 18 2013

          “The level of belligerence and sense of entitlement on the part of the presenters is mind boggling”
          What did they say that gave you this impression?

          “and the discourse on both sides leaves a great deal to be desired.”
          Sure. Most internet message boards have plenty of thoughtless comments. I find it best to ignore them and just read/reply to the better thought-out fraction. On TED, this fraction is higher than elsewhere on the internet.

        • Troy Tice commented on Mar 18 2013

          Hi Stephen,

          Fair enough. Of course, I disagree with your perception of Sheldrake, but I’ll agree to disagree.

        • Stephen Collins commented on Mar 18 2013

          And we CAN agree to disagree, and still be adult about it. More of that would get these matters talked out in a useful way. Thanks for the adult discourse :)

        • Troy Tice commented on Mar 18 2013

          No problem. :) Discussions about the nature of consciousness are bound to get heated, since at their core they are about nothing less than one’s worldview. Still, hopefully we can keep the charges of “fundamentalist materialist” and “woo-woo” to a minimum, or at least ignore those flinging mud.

        • Steve Stark commented on Mar 19 2013

          Stephen
          I note you keep thanking people for their “adult discourse”, but I also note that you refer to many of us as “waving [our] arms like Kermit the Frog”. Perhaps you could try to keep your comments on the same adult level as those who have debated you. I ask because, childish insults like that only serve to raise the heat of any debate while at the same time raising the prospect of escalation. And since TED noted in the introduction above that it wanted to keep things civil at all times, it would help if you could refrain from such crude caricatures of those with whom you disagree.

          Thanking you in anticipation of your cooperation in this matter.

      • Sebastian Penraeth commented on Mar 18 2013

        Stephen, I appreciate your take on things here.

        The question of what we call this is taking up too much of the conversation, I think (as I add to it). Censorship is inflammatory and not technically accurate. Suppression is perhaps too vague. What… “reduced”, “sequestered”,”slightly restricted in exposure”? TED seems to want to underplay this by calling it a “move”. Can we all just accept something in the middle and get on with it?

        • Stephen Collins commented on Mar 18 2013

          Sebastian, I agree wholeheartedly. As I said elsewhere (in slightly different words) – we talk it out, players state their positions, others join in, we limit hyperbole and arm-waving and in the end either consensus, or an agreement to disagree results.

          To me, that’s a position, as someone who works with change and uncertainty in his day job, I can happily settle on.

      • James McManus commented on Mar 18 2013

        Where are the highly public blog posts for discussion of the “vortex math” guy and the “rich don’t create jobs” guy, and various others who were quietly deleted? They don’t exist, like this one wouldn’t if not for the blowback.

        If TED/TEDx don’t want certain types of views expressed, then they shouldn’t invite speakers who routinely express those views. It’s disgraceful to go back and try to make it look like it never happened.

        Maybe it means TED should not give the TEDx organizers so much autonomy. Lesson learned FOR THE FUTURE. But the criticism that TED is receiving for this ongoing practice of deception is wholly appropriate.

        • Stephen Collins commented on Mar 18 2013

          As TEDx organisers (I am one), we’re well aware of the extent to which we need to curate talks. It’s a matter of much discussion amongst the organiser community and between organisers and TED. And there’s not universal agreement by a long stretch. Mistakes will (and have) been made.

          I’d argue that not every decision to take down a talk needs an explanation – 4 or so in 16,000-ish isn’t a bad rate, I’d suggest. The vortex math talk is demonstrably rubbish and the jobs talk was pretty hyperbolic, without substantive evidence to back it. As an event curator (not just a TEDx, but others, too) I wouldn’t have published them either.

          It is, after all, TED’s platform to use as they choose. That they bother to give us reasons for their decisions is a courtesy, yet the bashing and arm-waving continue at the expense of reasoned discourse.

        • James McManus commented on Mar 19 2013

          I think I called the vortex math “gibberish” in another comment, but I can also agree with “rubbish”. That speaker shouldn’t have been invited to talk in the first place. But he was. He donated his time to give the talk and the video was published. Then it was censored, apparently to protect TED’s brand.

          I just dispute the hyperbolic claim that keeping such videos available would damage the brand. Yes, if TED(x) regularly invited such speakers, that would surely be the outcome. But out of thousands of presentations, a few are destined to be controversial or just plain bad.

          What has harmed TED’s brand, in my view, is the handling of this situation.

      • Bernardo Kastrup commented on Mar 19 2013

        “I think many of the suggestions that TED is making “defamatory” statements reflect a cultural perspective on this matter.”

        What?! To call someone’s presentation ‘reckless’ and ‘pseudo-scientific’, pointing to ‘factual errors’ that, as it turns out, weren’t there, is not reckless? An appeal to cultural relativism here seems extraordinarily naive.

        I don’t care whether TED/TEDx host their talks, or anybody else’s, on their site. TED has the right to host, or not, whatever they want without explanation. It’s their bloody platform. I also don’t care about the tone of the comments made by readers afterwards. None of this is my point.

        But to preface two talks, given for free by people who made a gracious effort to contribute to TED, with that kind of defamatory and factually-incorrect statements is, in my Western European view, an atrocious ingratitude and disrespect. Frankly, I still find it hard to believe this happened at all.

      • John Hill commented on Apr 16 2013

        YouTube gets more traffic. “Suppressed” is showing the videos for a month and then pulling them.

        Also, TED, based on the following video, kinda sounds like a cult.

        Can we only drink your Kool-Aid, TED?

      • francisco bourgeois commented on Jun 4 2013

        “TED is entirely within its right to pick and choose who they publish on their own platform.” — you are taking the debate to a place where the true point of the debate seems to be senseless. “Supressed” ? you manage language and phrases in order to avoid the true debate. I understood very well the sense that “Bernardo Kastrup” gave to the word -supressed- and Im almost sure you`ve got his point too.
        You want us to believe that because you supposedly opened a debate here on the blog then your are not looking “suspicious” for us because you take the Rupert Shaldrek video out of youtube. The point is that Ted seems to be not completely trustable and specially when Rupert Shaldrake as well as Graham Hanckok have given good replies to Ted`s accusations. That`s the point. And it has nothing to do with Ted`s freedom to post whatever they(you) want;it`s about the action not about Ted`s rights.You delete their videos from the youtube account,youtube has more views than your blog,youtube is more significant that`s why your action caught our attention.
        It`s also suspicios your anonymous set of experts-scientist judging this case.
        Reminds me inquisition.

  • Sebastian Penraeth commented on Mar 18 2013

    The sequestering of these two talks is spectacularly ironic, given their content, and a magnificent example of irrational moral coordination – dogmatism in action. TED staff have admitted that their stated reasoning for doing so was ‘clumsy’, which is a positive sign. Nevertheless, what I have seen here has little to do with science and everything to do with morality. Both Sheldrake and Hancock have ‘sinned’ according to the moral viewpoint of Dawkinsian materialists, certainly, but also to the broader moral viewpoint held by many highly educated liberals and scientists. When the closely held beliefs of a group are challenged, especially when those speaking out are members of said group, the blinders go on, reason goes out the door and the dogmatists bark. Every group does this, and every group has blind spots particular to them, as well as a few shrill boundary guardians.

    If, however, one wishes to look for signs of bad science, look no further than the top scientific journals. Many papers pass peer review despite statistical errors, poor methodologies, confirmation bias, even outright fraud. Many studies are never replicated, and often when negative replications have been done, the journals refuse to publish the results. John Ioannidis, an epidemiologist at Stanford, has argued that “most published research findings are false.”

    The rotten heart of science is stuffed with money. That is the biggest problem we face – funding. However, as Sheldrake points out, materialism dominates the head of science… and it is flawed.

    Despite their challenging premises, both these talks are quite positive in outlook. These men are pointing the way towards a brighter, freer, more fulfilling tomorrow, not only for science but for humanity.

  • Bret Simmons commented on Mar 18 2013

    I am glad you are keeping the conversation alive. I also support 100% your commitment to civil discourse. We are going to disagree strongly about this issue, but there is no reason we can’t be civil and respectful in the way we express ourselves and respond to others.

    I provided commentary in your original post requesting feedback. I stated that while I did not agree with everything Sheldrake had to say, I understood the macro argument he was advancing and thought it was relevant. I stated that in my humble opinion, it would be a shame if his video was removed.

    While I disagree with this specific decision, I appreciate your efforts to protect the integrity of the brand. This is good for all of us that love TED and TEDx. In the process, you are not always going to get it right. One of the reasons you will make errors is you simply can’t be entirely objective. You have stakeholders to please, and those stakeholders have both cognitive biases and in some cases positions to protect.

    I am confident you will get it right more often than you get it wrong and will be willing to forgive you when you don’t. Unless, of course, you remove a video from my event :)

    Bret

  • Gafin Morgan commented on Mar 18 2013

    “are so radical and far-removed from mainstream scientific thinking” – e.g. The sun is a star – Giordano Bruno, Italian Benedictine Monk and Scientist, BURNED by the inquisition for his radical ideas.
    “these talks a clear health warning” – ? Are these talks really going to affect my health or is this just clear inflammatory language.
    Completely crazy. TED you were a source of inspirational, radical thought and creative thinking, the greatest expression of science. Now a charnel ground of censorship and sterility.

  • D Schneider commented on Mar 18 2013

    “For example, most thoughtful scientists and philosophers of science will agree it’s true that science has not moved very far yet in solving the riddle of consciousness. But the specific answers to that riddle proposed by Sheldrake and Hancock are so radical and far-removed from mainstream scientific thinking…”

    And whose fault is that? Maybe one of the reasons it’s so “far-removed from mainstream scientific thinking” is because of the irrational position the scientific community has taken. Particularly when it comes to the ban and moratorium on psychedelic aided consciousness research for the past 50 years. Not claiming “the problem of consciousness” would be “solved,” but, my god, have we clipped our own wings. Take away microscopes from biologists and see how far they get studying the cell. I posted this in the last discussion, but it’s buried pretty deep and is worth repeating here:

    What your “Science Board” needs to be up in arms about is the travesty of policy (and science) that has been the outright ban on psychedelic research for the past 50 years. While this irrational suppression has seen an ever so subtle shift in recent years (mostly focused on MDMA to treat PTSD…though Dr. Roland Griffiths has done some work with psilocybin in end-of-life care and Dr. Rick Strassman had a DMT clinical study in the early ’90s), the by-and-large moratorium and taboo is an affront to and assault on everything science supposedly stands for. Alan Watts provides clear insight as to why this is in his fantastic essay “Psychedelics and Religious Experience”:

    Psychedelics and Religious Experience
    http://deoxy.org/w_psyrel.htm

    See in particular the section “Opposition to Psychedelic Drugs” (which speaks to its resistance by both Western religion and on secular grounds).

    Psychedelics can be important tools for studying consciousness in general, and the “mystical” states of consciousness in particular. This, in part, seemed to be what Hancock was getting at. Experiences previously possible for only a small minority of people, and difficult to study because of their unpredictability and rarity, are made reproducible under suitable conditions. This is a realm of human experience that should not be rejected as outside the realm of serious scientific study, for, in the words of William James:

    “No account of the universe in its totality can be final which leaves those other forms of consciousness quite disregarded.”

    In another post, I mentioned the book “The Highest State of Consciousness” by John White, which is an anthology of a number of fantastic essays, articles, and academic papers that explores these experiences that challenge current scientific paradigms/dogmas. This includes material from conductors of early psychedelic research, which I would be more than willing to bet has been largely overlooked and/or ignored by the “mainstream scientific” community.

    Featuring:

    1. “Altered States of Consciousness” by Stanley Krippner
    2. “The Search for Ecstasy” anonymously from the magazine Mind Alive
    3. “The Supra-Conscious State” by Kenneth Walker
    4. “States of Consciousness” by Roger W. Wescott
    5. “Visionary Experiences” by Aldous Huxley
    6. “The Perennial Philosophy” by Aldous Huxley
    7. “From Self to Cosmic Consciousness” by Richard M. Bucke
    8. “Self-Transcendence and Beyond” by Robert S. De Ropp
    9. “Transcendental Experience” by R.D. Laing
    10. “Mystical States and the Concept of Regression” by Raymond Prince and Charles Savage
    11. “The Mystical Experience: Facts and Values” by Claire Myers Owens
    12. “Mysticism and Schizophrenia” by Kenneth Wapnick
    13. “On Creative, Psychotic and Ecstatic States” by Roland Fischer
    14. “Psychotherapy and Liberation” by Alan W. Watts
    15. “Zen Buddhism: A Psychological Review” by Edward W. Maupin
    16. “The Psychology of Mysticism” by U.A. Asrani
    17. “The Ecstasy of Breaking-Through in the Experience of Meditation” by Lama Anagarika Govinda
    18. “Drugs and Mysticism” by Walter N. Pahnke
    19. “LSD and Mystical Experience” by G. Ray Jordan, Jr.
    20. “Transcendental Meditation” by the Students International Meditation Society and Demetri P. Kanellakos
    21. “The Experimental Induction of Religious-Type Experiences” by Jean Houston and Robert E.L. Masters
    22. “Meditation and Biofeedback” by Durand Kiefer
    23. “Trance Dance” by Erika Bourguignon
    24. “Transpersonal Potentialities of Deep Hypnosis” by Charles T. Tart
    25. “The ‘Core-Religious’ or ‘Transcendent’ Experience” by Abraham Maslow
    26. “In Search of the Miraculous” by P.D. Ouspensky
    27. “Introduction to the Tao Te Ching” by Arthur Waley
    28. “Death and Renewal” by Richard Wilhelm
    29. “The Resurrection of the Body” by Norman O. Brown
    30. “The Mystic Union: A Suggested Biological Interpretation” by Alexander Maven
    31. “This Is It” by Alan W. Watts
    32. “From ‘The Magus’” by John Fowles
    33. “Postscript: Psychical Research in Relation to Higher States of Consciousness” by W.G. Roll

    And that’s just scratching the surface. See, the problem isn’t the lack of evidence, or lack of promising results that demanded further study – it’s the irrational ban and suppression not only of these substances, but even of studies utilizing these substances (which, again, is going on 5 decades long). If that travesty of science hadn’t occurred, we could very well be swimming in mounds of supportive “scientific” material. That being the case, the work/data is out there if you’re willing to look…it’s just frozen in time.

    For example (and in addition), this detailed account of Dr. James Fadiman’s early work with psychedelics and creativity (including how he was even given a notice that all research was to be terminated immediately in the middle of one such study):

    The Heretic
    http://www.themorningnews.org/article/the-heretic

  • Troy Tice commented on Mar 18 2013

    A few comments:

    “No insults, no intemperate language. From either side. Comments that violate this will be removed.”

    I agree that the conversation should be moderated to remove intemperate comments, but I hope it is done fairly. I have my doubts on this. This post still refers to Hancock’s “army of passionate supporters” who “deluged us with outraged messages.” Earlier Chris Anderson was not so charitable when he described Hancock’s supporters as “hordes.” I will admit that many of the comments were intemperate, but this criticism, still implicit here, strikes me as hypocritical given that Jerry Coyne’s blog posts on Sheldrake and Hancock were dripping with derision and yet he was explicitly thanked by TED.

    “Both Sheldrake and Hancock are compelling speakers, and some of the questions they raise are absolutely worth raising. For example, most thoughtful scientists and philosophers of science will agree it’s true that science has not moved very far yet in solving the riddle of consciousness. But the specific answers to that riddle proposed by Sheldrake and Hancock are so radical and far-removed from mainstream scientific thinking that we think it’s right for us to give these talks a clear health warning and to ask further questions of the speakers.”

    Please do indeed ask further questions of the speakers. It would be wonderful to have something new and interesting come out of this controversy, maybe TED sponsored debates, for example. Still, I don’t see the need to keep your advisory board anonymous, especially given the firestorm this has created. Transparency would go a long way toward repairing the damage

    You are correct to point out that consciousness is one of science’s most intractable riddles. Yet given that it has been so intractable, why would not the answer be “radical” and far-removed from “mainstream scientific thinking”? The Journal of Consciousness Studies, the premier academic journal on consciousness, publishes articles by scholars whose methodologies and philosophical approaches vary considerably. In the most recent issue, for example, they have articles on “Non-local Consciousness A Concept Based on Scientific Research on Near-Death Experiences During Cardiac Arrest” and “Unconscious Neural Specificity for ‘Self ‘ and the Brainstem.” They even had an entire special issue devoted to the work of Rupert Sheldrake. Despite what scientistic ideologues like Jerry Coyne and P.Z. Myers would have us believe, we are far from being able to state equivocally that mind equals brain.

    “ED and TEDx are brands that are trusted in schools and in homes. We don’t want to hear from a parent whose kid went off to South America to drink ayahuasca because TED said it was OK.”

    I am sorry, but this is just silly. First of all, whose kid –I am assuming you mean middle school- or high school-aged kids here since anyone 18 and up is legally an adult – have the means to travel to South America on a lark? Most people who take ayahuasca do so because they are adults who are interested in exploring inner-space. Hancock never defended the recreational use of entheogens in his talk, which this silly comment seems to imply.

    • Joe Anderson commented on Mar 18 2013

      Well said Troy. On the one hand TED now pleads for temperance and threatens to remove any comment they deem intemperate- on the other hand they have felt the need to publicly thank and associate themselves with people like PZ Myers and Jerry Coyne. Just google “PZ Myers Eucharist Controversy” to see the kind of people TED has aligned itself with in this matter. Myers and Coyne are the furthest thing from being respectful or polite. I fully expect TED to be biased in how they decide to remove (censor) comments.

    • D Schneider commented on Mar 18 2013

      “Maybe TED sponsored debates, for example.”

      Great suggestion! I was thinking the same thing.

      As to your last point, Hancock went out of his way to insist:

      “It’s no joke to drink ayahuasca… Nobody is doing this for recreation… and I’d like to add that I don’t think any of the psychedelics should be used for recreation.”

      No one can control the choices of others, but that was about as responsible as advice can get on these matters, in my opinion. As ayahuasca begins to gain exposure on the internet and in popular culture (like the movie Wanderlust and the TV show Wilfred…even if their depictions were way off…it was also mentioned on 30 Rock), and psychedelics gain a resurgence in interest, the last thing we need is more of this abstinence-only/”lets pretend like it doesn’t exist” approach. That all but guarantees they will be taken recklessly and foolishly. What we need is more people like Hancock saying, “if you’re going to make that choice, make it an informed one.” And, in Hancock’s view, that means for them to be taken in reverence and with careful consideration to set and setting. In that spirit, Terence McKenna once remarked:

      “The first place you should go if you are taking a new drug is the library.”

      It would be nice if society allowed for safe and guided access to these experiences, as almost every clinical study done under controlled conditions has been able to all but eliminate any detrimental effects – that includes the end-of-life care psilocybin studies currently being performed by Dr. Roland Griffiths at Johns Hopkins University (in which subjects report some of the most profound experiences of their life). Unfortunately, that’s not the case.

    • Frank Matera commented on Mar 18 2013

      Troy Tice commented on Mar 18 2013
      Please do indeed ask further questions of the speakers. It would be wonderful to have something new and interesting come out of this controversy, maybe TED sponsored debates, for example

      I would love to see it happen but I doubt it will happen. Rupert Sheldrake for example has in the past put out many requests for debates with the likes of Richard Dawkins and company… and the silence has been deafening.

      In a debate Rupert Sheldrake would and has in the past destroyed skeptics when it comes to intelligent debate… because being a skeptic is easy. You give an opinion completely independant of the actual data, using nothing but proclamation and theories to try and convince people there is nothing to see here.

      It is easy to be a skeptic when you have the “last say” which is in effect what happens ALL of the time and happened here as well on TED. It was only because people did not accept the last say that Sheldrake and Hancock were able to counter their argument and set the record straight.

      Those skeptics that have investigated the field that they are skeptical about (Like PSI) soon realise that there is more than something to it, and debating that with scientists like Sheldrake that have spent 30+ years investigating it, is just setting themselves up for failure. They know they cannot mount an argument against it.

      • commented on Aug 21 2013

        Frank says:”because being a skeptic is easy. You give an opinion completely independant of the actual data, using nothing but proclamation and theories to try and convince people there is nothing to see here.”

        Really Frank? So I guess you’re okay with anyone coming forward with their pet theory, no matter how ridiculous and counter to the facts we currently know?

        Should we give that person a free pass or should we exercise the proper skepticism and ask those coming forward with alternative theories to demonstrate their claims?

        Being a skeptic is easy when the claims being put forth by the likes of Sheldrake are so patently false. Sheldrake is making claims that would require wholesale revisions of physics and biology so I think skepticism of his claims are entirely justified.

    • Kyle Martin commented on Mar 20 2013

      “What about the children” is the oldest propaganda ploy in the book.

  • Graham Hancock commented on Mar 18 2013

    While appreciating the retraction implicit in the crossing out of TED’s original statement about the content of my TEDx presentation, “The War on Consciousness,” I would like to respond to some of the incorrect allegations made in that original statement:

    (1) TED says of my “War on Consciousness” presentation: “…he misrepresents what scientists actually think. He suggests, for example, that no scientists are working on the problem of consciousness.”

    The only passage I can find in my presentation that has any relevance at all to this allegation is between 9 mins 50 seconds and 11 mins 12 seconds. But nowhere in that passage or anywhere else in my presentation do I make the suggestion you attribute to me in your allegation, namely that “no scientists are working on the problem of consciousness.” Rather I address the mystery of life after death and state that “if we want to know about this mystery the last people we should ask are materialist, reductionist scientists. They have nothing to say on the matter at all.” That statement cannot possibly be construed as my suggesting that “no scientists are working on the problem of consciousness,” or of “misrepresenting” what materialist, reductionist scientists actually think. I am simply stating the fact, surely not controversial, that materialist, reductionist scientists have nothing to say on the matter of life after death because their paradigm does not allow them to believe in the possibility of life after death; they believe rather that nothing follows death. Here is the full transcript of what I say in my presentation between 9 mins 50 seconds and 11 mins 12 seconds: “What is death? Our materialist science reduces everything to matter. Materialist science in the West says that we are just meat, we’re just our bodies, so when the brain is dead that’s the end of consciousness. There is no life after death. There is no soul. We just rot and are gone. But actually any honest scientist should admit that consciousness is the greatest mystery of science and that we don’t know exactly how it works. The brain’s involved in it in some way, but we’re not sure how. Could be that the brain generates consciousness the way a generator makes electricity. If you hold to that paradigm then of course you can’t believe in life after death. When the generator’s broken consciousness is gone. But it’s equally possible that the relationship – and nothing in neuroscience rules it out – that the relationship is more like the relationship of the TV signal to the TV set and in that case when the TV set is broken of course the TV signal continues and this is the paradigm of all spiritual traditions – that we are immortal souls, temporarily incarnated in these physical forms to learn and to grow and to develop. And really if we want to know about this mystery the last people we should ask are materialist, reductionist scientists. They have nothing to say on the matter at all. Let’s go rather to the ancient Egyptians who put their best minds to work for three thousand years on the problem of death and on the problem of how we should live our lives to prepare for what we will confront after death…”

    (2) TED says of my “War on Consciousness” presentation: “… Hancock makes statements about psychotropic drugs that seem both non-scientific and reckless.”

    I profoundly disagree. In my presentation I speak honestly and openly about my own damaging and destructive 24-year cannabis habit and about how experiences under the influence of Ayahuasca were the key to breaking this habit. I also say ( 3 min 46 seconds to 3 min 50 seconds) that “I don’t think any of the psychedelics should be used for recreation.”

    (3) TED says of my presentation: “He states as fact that psychotropic drug use is essential for an “emergence into consciousness,” and that one can use psychotropic plants to connect directly with an ancient mother culture.”

    Nowhere in my talk do I state as a fact that psychotropic drug use is “essential” for an “emergence into consciousness.” Nowhere in my talk do I state that “one can use psychotropic plants to connect directly with an ancient mother culture.”

    (4) TED says of my “War on Consciousness” presentation: “He offers a one-note explanation for how culture arises (drugs), which just doesn’t hold up.”

    I refute this. What I say (between 1 min 06 seconds and 1 min 54 seconds) that some scientists in the last thirty years have raised an intriguing possibility — emphasis on POSSIBILITY — which is that the exploration of altered states of consciousness, in which psychedelic plants have been implicated, was fundamental to the emergence into fully symbolic consciousness witnessed by the great cave art.

    (5) TED says of my “War on Consciousness” presentation: “… it’s no surprise his work has often been characterized as pseudo-archeology.”

    Of what possible relevance is this remark? Many different people have characterised my work in many different ways but at issue here is not what people have said about my work over the years but the actual content of this specific TEDx presentation.

    Graham Hancock at 10.46pm GMT, Monday 18 March 2013

  • Bernardo Kastrup commented on Mar 18 2013

    The bottom-line is this: I’m scared of ever giving a TEDx presentation again, if I ever were to be invited once more. Frankly, I wouldn’t do it. The idea that a speaker — who donated his time gracefully, complying with lots of guidelines, and making a significant personal effort to give a good presentation — can be rewarded with this kind of loose, irresponsible defamation gives one pause for thought about putting oneself in the hands of the TED organizing committee simply by showing up to present.

    • Joe Anderson commented on Mar 18 2013

      Well said Bernardo. I have lost all faith in TED and this supposed effort to achieve a more conciliatory tone has done nothing to change that. TED has lost me. This reeks of a lame attempt at damage control, nothing more. They need to do the right thing and apologize and restore the videos to Youtube now. Sheldrake demolished the arguments spelled out by their anonymous “Science Board”, which had insultingly branded him a “pseudoscientist”- he truly made his accusers look ignorant. So what does TED do? They immediately post this, perhaps in the hope of mitigating the damage from Sheldrake’s rebuttal (which I believe they had been in possession of for days- I’m guessing it took them awhile to craft this response, hence the delay in posting Sheldrake’s response, they knew it was gonna look bad after Sheldrake’s response exposed their esteemed “science board”). This is not the apology Sheldrake and Hancock are owed, nothing of the sort. Quit relying on anonymous accusers TED- it smacks of a Puritanical witch hunt, only this time the fundamentalist fanatics are led by a group of atheists.

  • Josh Ua Mullenite commented on Mar 18 2013

    The last paragraph is ridiculous. Ted wants to put forth open scientific discussion but only within a limited venue. It is implied from that paragraph that educational institutions are not the place to talk about possibilities outside the realm of currently existing science and educators should not be trusted to place radical arguments in context. Instead it seems to say that the TED blog is the appropriate place.

    If this is your idea of careful wording — as opposed to the previous blog — then perhaps it is time to reconsider the role of TED as forum for scientific discussion.

  • John Ratcliff commented on Mar 18 2013

    Well, I have been one of the voices raised in these past few days of debate. I just made my final post, and this is my final comment, on the topic. I think the rest of the Internet has this well in hand now.

    While I do appreciate the conciliatory tone of this message, and I think this puts the discussion back on a path towards getting past it, it also shows a deep misunderstanding of what the core issue is at hand for most people.

    Once again you frame this as if it’s a response from ‘supporters’ of these speakers.

    That is simply not the case. Sure, plenty of people here are supporters of the speakers, however, to most of us that’s not even the issue.

    This is about people being upset about TED letting a group of radical atheists, members of a professional skeptics organization, try to control free speech and censor content.

    That’s what got me riled up when this began and leaves me riled up today.

    Simply put, people do not like being told what they can or cannot see, hear, read, or think.

    The TED conference has progressively become a platform for radical activist atheists (read material reductionists) in recent years to the point that it came to a head with this most recent incident.

    Here is my final post on the topic, I will leave this in the capable hands of everyone else now.

    http://jratcliffscarab.blogspot.com/2013/03/my-last-post-on-this-ted-conference.html

    • Chris Anderson commented on Mar 18 2013

      To put your mind at rest, this is nothing to do with “radical atheists”. Some of them have spoken at TED, true. But we’ve also incurred their wrath by giving the TED Prize one year to Karen Armstrong. We’re interested in a broad swathe of opinion.

      However, we draw the line at pseudo-science. And the purpose of this post is to invite the community to help us figure out what counts as pseudo-science and what does not. Thanks for listening.

      • Troy Tice commented on Mar 18 2013

        Hi Chris,
        I am happy that TED is interested in a “broad swathe of opinion,” but the bloggers whose posts led to this controversy definitely have a metaphysical axe to grind, and it seems disingenuous to not highlight this when their charges of ‘pseudo-science’ are based in part on these talks’ critiques of physicalism. For example, here is one of Jerry Coyne’s blog posts where he attacks Sheldrake, explicitly along religious lines: http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2012/02/06/the-guardian-touts-sheldrake-again-pigeons-find-their-way-home-ergo-jesus/

      • Jonathan Hart commented on Mar 18 2013

        Chris, I understand that TED would not like to be the stage of future generations of Timothy Leary, but to specifically address Graham Hancock’s take on psychoactive substances, there is enough clearly documented work ongoing in this field in neuropharmacology and therapeutic psychiatry that I would no longer dismiss as pseudoscience. Please look into the work of Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris and other research at Johns Hopkins where their results are very much scientific and very much intriguing.

        And as for matters of consciousness, don’t you think that anyone arguing theories surrounding consciousness as being pseudo-science have already lost the debate? If there was an established theory surrounding consciousness (especially a “peer reviewed and scientifically validated” theory) I can see the bar being set very high for alternative points of view. However, for scientists to openly admit they have no idea what consciousness is and then refute theories that do not appear to have been achieved through rigorous academic study seems naive, and their opinions have more to do with protecting their public image than actually contributing to the debate.

        I don’t think people watch TED talks thinking that the speakers reflect the views of TED. There’s an understandable desire to distance TED from radical points of view, but could you imagine us all thinking the world is flat, someone giving a TED talk that it might be round, and TED removing the video because of all the institutional backlash they received?

        Keep TED thought-provoking, if nothing else..

      • Agent Smith commented on Mar 18 2013

        As much as I appreciate you involving the community –

        How come you switch from calling for input of the community to calling them hoardes of Hancock’s fans when they overwhelmingly start disagreeing with the way you handly this ?
        How come you switch from asking their opinion on your actions, to highlighting that it’s TED’s decision what to publish and what not when they don’t agree with what you did here ?
        How come you rely on your science board when justifying your actions, yet when it’s time to make grand gestures it’s all about the community ?

      • Michael Larkin commented on Mar 19 2013

        The first thing about pseudoscience, I’d opine, is that it bears no necessary relationship to whomever it is happens to be in a position of authority. A person isn’t a genuine scientist simply because s/he’s well-regarded by an orthodoxy. Science, like any other human endeavour, is subject to corrupting influences, even to fads and fashions.

        I suppose many of us have our favourite examples of such fads. One of my personal examples concerns current cosmological theory, which I believe to be claptrap. Now, you may feel differently, and that’s your prerogative, but if you do, then substitute something *you* might feel to be claptrap that is nonetheless considered orthodox and may even attract very significant funding.

        We can all agree that in the past, many ideas have been ascendant and considered “hot topics” have eventually been proved to be said claptrap. Are we to believe that this kind of occurrence is now a thing of the past, that whatever the orthodox in various fields promulgate will never turn out to be claptrap in the future?

        On the other hand, many ideas that in the past were considered claptrap eventually came to be mainstream and supplant prior orthodoxy. I suppose most of us will have read our Thomas Kuhn, no? Scientists aren’t beyond egotism and even persecution of those perceived as heretics.

        In one sense, it doesn’t matter if an idea is claptrap, so long as it is tested in the proper scientific manner. What alarms me is that frequently heterodox ideas are starved of funding, and dismissed out of hand by journals run by the orthodox. To add insult to injury, such work as the heterodox manage to do and get published frequently isn’t read or even known about.

        Sheldrake has impeccable scientific credentials, and has actually published papers, but to listen to his detractors, you’d think he never had. You’d think that Richard Wiseman, the sceptic, who actually successfully replicated some of his work about pets who know when their owners are coming home, hadn’t done that replication. You’d think that Wiseman hadn’t agreed that psi had been proved to a standard that would be acceptable in any other area of science, resorting to the tired old dictum that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”. Well no, actually, there’s no a priori reason why one thing should be held to more stringent standards than another, unless prejudice is held to be a legitimate reason.

        Many things are considered pseudoscience because people are simply too prejudiced and lazy to seek out the evidence for something they consider disagreeable. They nonetheless parrot the received wisdom of memes as if they know them to be true. This isn’t science: it’s ideology.

        The underlying problem isn’t really that people on the side of an orthodoxy or heterodoxy don’t know how to do science in a methodological sense. It’s more a question of where the money and prestige lies, and the desirability of cornering the funding. Sheldrake has actually suggested a way round this. A small proportion of funding could be apothecated for the study of heterodox ideas, so that it could become respectable (and cease to be dangerous to one’s career) to do so.

        Another way to detect pseudoscience is to actually listen to those who may be investigating heterodox ideas. Do they sound balanced and are they intelligent? Sheldrake has an outstanding intellect and I’ve never heard him bested in any fair discussion, no matter how prestigious and intelligent his opponent. The man is simply very impressive, and never loses his temper. To say he has thin skin only betrays the ignorance of the utterer. He never engages in the personal diatribe that many of his detractors stoop to (have to stoop to, because when logic fails, invective is pretty much all that is left).

        If you want to certainly identify a pseudoscientist, watch out for the invective, the pettiness and meanness. People secure in their knowledge never have to employ such a weapon. Pseudoscientists are insecure, and so they have to bully and bluster just like children in the schoolyard. Once one is attuned to this, they can be spotted at a thousand yards.

      • Rome Viharo commented on Mar 19 2013

        Hey Chris. I think you must have to define what pseudo science is first, that’s fair, yes?

        Sheldrake’s talk is about Philosophy of Science. I am sure that any academic would agree that Philosophy is not pseudo science.

      • Juergen Nagler commented on Mar 19 2013

        Chris, are you aware of the amount of positive comments about Hancock’s and Sheldrake’s videos? Are you aware of the petitions on change.org and Facebook supporting the following requests?

        1. Restate both videos on the YouTube TEDx channel.
        2. Respond to Hancocks questions in his rebuttal
        3. Respond to Sheldrake’s questions in his rebuttal

        The community would like to hear from you/TED, see change in action and transparency.

      • John Campbell commented on Mar 19 2013

        Pseudo-science. Ah yes, that old chestnut. Is a scientist challenging the very assumptions on which science is based called pseudo-science? Shall we leave all challenges to religious dogma to theologians alone?

        Give me a break.

      • commented on Mar 19 2013

        You flagged the reputation and not the content of mr Hancock’s talk.

        Now you are proud to admit a mistake.

      • Conor O'Higgins commented on Mar 20 2013

        Thank you for responding. Could you help us understand this?

        You say “this is nothing to do with “radical atheists”.” But the discussion on Sheldrake’s talk (http://www.ted.com/conversations/16894/rupert_sheldrake_s_tedx_talk.html) said, “There’s been a lot of heat today about Rupert Sheldrake’s TEDx Talk….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.”

        Was the review of the talk flagged by these people or not?

    • Steve Stark commented on Mar 18 2013

      I think you make a very valid point. Thee issue here is being presented as if some mainstream scientists (Coyne, Myers et al) just happened to watch a talk and were appalled by the content. The truth is very different – Sheldrake or Hancock could have stood up and announced the date and denunciations would have followed. I therefore feel that in order to get a good grasp of the politics behind what’s going on, one needs to understand the nature of the organised skeptic movement.

      CSICOP founding member Dennis Rawlins’ ‘Starbaby’ (http://cura.free.fr/xv/14starbb.html) and former CSICOP member Richard Kammann’s follow up ‘True Disbelievers’ (http://www.discord.org/~lippard/kammann.html) are as good a place to start as any. To whet your appetite, I offer you the following from Rawlins:

      “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.”

  • Rome Viharo commented on Mar 18 2013

    A few notes on TED policy. I speak this as a TEDx speaker which turned out to be quite a popular talk and still ranks in the Top 10 most popular TEDx talks 2 years after it’s delivery.

    Chris, I do not think your current approach to dealing with this slippery issue is the wise one, specifically to put a decision on a board of science advisors while at the same time not being able to be transparent about it. You mention it for ‘obvious’ reasons but I am not so sure it is so obvious. TED apparently has a non transparent process for the removal of content they deem inappropriate. That’s always going to present a sticky situation. In the spirit of openness, which TED clearly represents, it would make sense if this process was able to go through something transparent, with a clear path forward being carved out by the most reasoned minds.

    And it might make sense to get clear on it’s own brand in the matter. If TED chooses to brand itself philosophically by stating that they only accept ideas that support the modern and orthodox academic philosophy of science in relationship to content, then that is something you can communicate effectively to your TEDx organizers. It’s just runs counter-intuitive to your brand perception. You’ve got your work cut out for you.

    Best of Luck

  • Bernardo Kastrup commented on Mar 18 2013

    From my facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/BernardoKastrup:

    The TED organization has now posted a so-called ‘fresh take’ on the Sheldrake/Hancock issue. This only makes me yet more disappointed on TED’s handling of the situation. As you can see in the link, TED is now pretending that the problem here is that they merely moved the videos to another site. THIS IS NOT THE ISSUE. THE ISSUE ARE THE DEFAMATORY REMARKS THEY MADE ABOUT BOTH SPEAKERS, THEIR INTEGRITY, AND THEIR WORK IN THE COMMENTS THEY ADDED PRECEDING BOTH VIDEOS, AND WHICH THEY ARE NOW CONSTANTLY EDITING. These defamatory remarks are very serious for people who make their living out of their books and speaking engagements, and who contributed to TED gracefully, without expecting a penny in return. Instead, they got defamation as reward. This is entirely unacceptable, and TED is only making it worse and worse with each passing day.
    Chris Anderson, please stop digging a deeper hole for TED. Bite the bullet: Apologize for your catastrophic and, frankly, irresponsible handling of this situation, publicly and very prominently. And then hope people will forget about this. Or, instead, go ahead and delete this comment.

  • Bernardo Kastrup commented on Mar 18 2013

    From my facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/BernardoKastrup:

    The TED organization has now posted a so-called ‘fresh take’ on the Sheldrake/Hancock issue:
    http://blog.ted.com/2013/03/18/graham-hancock-and-rupert-sheldrake-a-fresh-take/
    This only makes me yet more disappointed on TED’s handling of the situation. As you can see in the link, TED is now pretending that the problem here is that they merely moved the videos to another site. THIS IS NOT THE ISSUE. THE ISSUE ARE THE DEFAMATORY REMARKS THEY MADE ABOUT BOTH SPEAKERS, THEIR INTEGRITY, AND THEIR WORK IN THE COMMENTS THEY ADDED PRECEDING BOTH VIDEOS, AND WHICH THEY ARE NOW CONSTANTLY EDITING. These defamatory remarks are very serious for people who make their living out of their books and speaking engagements, and who contributed to TED gracefully, without expecting a penny in return. Instead, they got defamation as reward. This is entirely unacceptable, and TED is only making it worse and worse with each passing day.
    Chris Anderson, please stop digging a deeper hole for TED. Bite the bullet: Apologize for your catastrophic and, frankly, irresponsible handling of this situation, publicly and very prominently. And then hope people will forget about this. Or, instead, go ahead and delete this comment.

  • Jim Schneider commented on Mar 18 2013

    You say it’s “obvious” why the people on your science board are anonymous- it’s not obvious to me. I find it disturbing that you’re able to attack the reputation of a scientist like Rupert Sheldrake while hiding behind an anonymous science board- Sheldrake has exposed your board for being fools. There was no diligent review of his research as you claimed. You hid behind anonymous, non-credible attacks. Sheldrake’s response makes that clear.

  • Jim Schneider commented on Mar 18 2013

    TED says they want no insults or intemperate language- yet their editor publicly thanked two of the most insulting, intemperate atheist bloggers on the net for getting these vids removed. Just go look at Jerry Coyne’s blog and see what he had to say about Sheldrake and Hancock. I’m sorry TED, but your sudden plea for civility rings hollow. I suspect it’s a backdoor attempt at yet more TED sanctioned censorship.

  • Jay Derenthal commented on Mar 18 2013

    Bravo TED. This is a much much better way of handling this issue, especially considering that the previous action(s) only fed the perception that there was validity to the problems that Sheldrake and Hancock were highlighting in their talks (which there is, but why feed it ? !). I only wish there were some way to retrieve and post here the hundreds of threads of thoughtful and time-consuming conversation that were deleted along with the Youtube posts in question.

  • Andrew Zega commented on Mar 18 2013

    Blah blah blah. What an eye-glazing set of vacuous paragraphs you’ve served us, TED.

    You have fundamentally disrespected two of the most intelligent and throught-provoking of contemporary intellects, because they challenge the hegemony of the System and its control mechanisms, each speaker in his own way.

    To justify your cowardice, you provide nothing but a sanitaized and content-free explanation.

    TED, as an organization, you are clearly not as enlightened as your speakers. You might even be classified as a parasite.

  • Matthew Clapp commented on Mar 18 2013

    I read through many of the comments (not all 1,000+) and most people did not seem to be specifically supporters of either Sheldrake or Hancock and most of the debate was good. So, blaming Graham Hancock’s “army of passionate supporters” for a “clumsy” response isn’t a great way to begin fence mending. That said, I’m looking forward to the discussion.

  • Rome Viharo commented on Mar 18 2013

    Thank you for addressing this with the community. I am not sure however that TED has a grasp of the misunderstanding here. Sheldrake’s talk is not about a scientific hypothesis (morphic resonance) it is about a philosophy of science. It does not make sense to have a board of scientists the right to approve or disapprove a philosophical talk that happens to critique a paradigm that those scientists share. It’s as if one would trust the Tea Party to allow a speech by Barack Obama on Freedom to be posted.

    It’s assumed that the scientists in question would disagree philosophically with Sheldrake, it’s another to assume that it’s because of a scientific fact. There can only be a philosophical rebuttal from the science board and instead they are making TED hide behind the science.

    I am happy however you are going to allow these talks to be reposted, as the debate about this is probably more worthwhile than all the subject matter combined and TED would do a great service by sponsoring this sort of debate amongst reasoned parties.

    • Frank Matera commented on Mar 18 2013

      Unfortunately what you have highlighted is a common practice when people’s thinking are motivated by beliefs.

      You are absolutely right, Sheldrake’s talk had nothing to do with Morphic Resonance but what happens when you want to discredit someone’s opinion? You start to look at things to discredit them so they can be seen as “woo” merchants. That is the only reason Sheldrake’s Morphic Resonance was ever brought up… as a method of discrediting someone’s opinion.

      It’s also no small coincidence then that exactly the same thing happened with Graham Hancock where the curator of Ted even went as far as asking him to explain why his work is considered “Pseudoarcheology”. It had NOTHING to do with the talk he was giving, but a blatant attempt to discredit someone.

      Absolutely amazing really that the people of TED would think their reader community would not realise this.

  • Dave Reed commented on Mar 18 2013

    It seems apparent that TED isn’t listening. The overwhelming response on that other thread is that the talks don’t need any disclaimer, that we are mature enough to make our own decisions. Neither Mr. Hancock nor Mr. Sheldrake are so far from the mainstream that they need some kind of ‘warning’ before their talks are viewed.

    The above posting by ‘Tedstaff’ is just more of the same junk posted at the start of the other thread. More words, same junk.

    • Ed Malkowski commented on Mar 18 2013

      Agreed. Such a warning might be:

      “Warning: The talks you are about to view contains ideas that seek to discover the esoteric nature of the human experience, and the nature of the universe we live in. View discretion is advised.”

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