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 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)

  • CChaos CChaos commented on Mar 19 2013

    i’ve read thoroughly and carefully TED’s more nuanced “fresh take” this is my reaction:

    1) props to TED for making this discussion transparent, posting Sheldrake and Hancock’s responses, and for listening to the deluge of passionate voices who rattled the TED Blog (present company included). as someone who have an experience working as a social media community moderator, i understand the challenges of balancing the platform content while maintaining a brand. you can’t make everyone 100% happy 100% of all the time. you have to walk the fine line of freedom of speech, censorship, as well as the legalities. 

    2) TED is now a global brand. and for it to be continually successful it has to be pro-establishment and stay within the bounds of the status quo. in the domain of science, which is currently dominated by the materialistic paradigm, TED cannot afford to be too radical. since their “Science Board” are comprised of anonymous scientists, i can only speculate that many, if not most, of them are deep into the materialistic paradigm (hence the knee-jerk reaction to Sheldrake’s presentation). for those in the know, it’s no secret that Rupert Sheldrake is a very decisive figure in the scientific community, precisely because his theories and research challenge the very fabric of establishment (materialistic) science.

    3) since TED is pro-establishment, this automatically bias the organization to be on the government side of the *War on Drugs* (Hancock eloquently framed this in his TEDx talk as a *War on Consciousness*.) here is the closing paragraph on the TED Blog.

    “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.””


    notice the example TED provided about “a parent whose kid went off to South America to drink ayahuasca because TED said it was OK.” really?! this is a straw man argument. this line of reasoning will get people like Rick Strassman (who published his research on DMT) and Dr. Roland Griffiths (who published his research on psilocybin). should TED ban Rick Strassman and Roland Griffiths for talking on TED and TEDx for fear that kids might do DMT and psylocibin willy nilly? never mind that some of the high profile TEDsters (e.g. The Google guys) are Burners (as in Burning Man enthusiasts). i’d love to see a poll of TED fellows asking them questions about their experience with psychedelics. 

    having said all of that, i’ll be looking forward to the discussions generated when the two TEDx talks are posted tomorrow (Tuesday 3/19/13) on the TED Blog.

    P.S. speaking of Roland Griffiths, here’s his TEDx talk on the effects of psylocibin. I rest my case.

    TEDxMidAtlantic – Roland Griffiths – 11/5/09 ~

  • chris cavanagh commented on Mar 19 2013

    So TED has angled to own the moral high-ground which is (given that this is their “house”), perhaps, their prerogative. Except insofar as a good deal of TED’s cultural caché is based on the notion (however naive) of a free and open sharing of ideas (“worth spreading”, of course). Thus is this affair a mere exercise in editorial control – something with a long tradition of provoking ire amongst varying sectors of a readership – or an instance of hypocritical contravention of (hegemonically, i.e. in the sense of there being an assumed common sense) agreed upon boundaries of public discourse and knowledge-making? That TED here appeals to the “common sense” of having an anonymous, “for obvious reasons”, board of scientific advisers presumes that TED is comparable to established scientific and social-scientific peer-reviewed journals. Like others, i treat this as entirely non-obvious. That wee throwaway phrase of “for obvious reasons” is a fascinating (even diabolical) rhetorical maneuver that encodes much about how TED recapitulates the practices of dominant (more accurately, hegemonic) power. The predictable provocation of dissent against this idea and defensive rallying (at times rather sanctimonious) for the common sense of such an approach to knowledge-making creates a smoke screen of anger, indignation, cant (including sanctimony) that obscures the very processes of knowledge-making that are being exercised here.

    I now suspect that in addition to the paradigm battle that in the foreground of this moment is another (albeit so closely related it is perhaps merely another facet of the principle battle) paradigm conflict: that of how public discourse (as represented by the media of journals and internet-based publishers such as TED) creates, authorizes and disseminates knowledge.

    Since TED is putting so much weight on (and mobilizing defenders for) anonymous peer review it is worth unpacking this notion and examining just what kind of knowledge is produced through such a process and whether this is the best way to produce knowledge for the common good. To be fair, I’m a skeptic who, given the precarity of our world today, wonders to what extent this machinery of knowledge-making is responsible for the crises that loom before us. Again, i do not take as “obvious” why such anonymity makes sense. While believers (and i choose this word deliberately) in such a system would claim that it is a process that guarantees a rational, non-coercive (even democratic) dialogue of ideas i would say that it is also worth asking to what extent such an approach protects privilege, doctrine, dogma. Pierre Bourdieu’s famous study of french higher education (published in Homo Academicus) shows that the common sense that people advance academically in proportion to their scholarly/scientific merits is, just that perhaps: common sense – i.e. not necessarily true. His examination reveals that it is more powerfully true that people advance in relation to the degree to which their work conforms to the orthodoxies (of their field) this ensuring disciplinary prestige and faculty renewal(or “reproduction of the corps” in Bourdieu-speak). Might not the process of blind/anonymous peer review be part of this process to the detriment of creating knowledges the lack of which is part of how we have brought our world to the brink?

    Borrowing from another field of dominant knowledge-making – economics – i was deeply amused (which is, no doubt a facet of my geekiness when it comes to theory) to learn of a telling irony in the process of peer review. In “What Do Economists Know? New Economics of Knowledge” (Robert F. Garnett, Jr. – Ed.; Routledge, 1999, pp. 2-3), Garnett somewhat mischievously compares the dominant belief in the so-called “invisible hand” of the market that despite wide criticism is recapitulated in the very process of creating economic knowledge. Garnett quotes another scholar Mirowski:

    “The image is one of numerous individuals concocting bits of intellectual property, sending them out into the intellectual marketplace, and having them all find their true value, culminating in all and sundry at a Pareto optimum of knowledge. … It is this root metaphor … that leads the average economist to believe that the econometric journal literature is full of consensus estimates of important economic constants, even though the “facts” in their own narrow area of specialty may be subject to a myriad of technical objections. What is known is not perfect, but free discourse among equals guarantees that what is known is the best available information.”

    I don’t think it a stretch to apply this thinking here. And thus i see an important irony in TED allying itself with the current paradigm of knowledge-making when, given it’s innovations (warts and all), it could be seen as part of a new paradigm of knowledge-making. For sure, defenders of the status quo will argue, “but peer review is the best method we’ve got”, and that may be true. But that doesn’t preclude there being better methods that we’ve yet to create (if not rediscover). Lord knows (or Descartes knows for thee of atheistic faith) we need ‘em.

  • Pingback: TED to ‘Reframe’ Arguments Against Talks by Hancock and Sheldrake | Conscious Life News

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  • Jim Schneider commented on Mar 19 2013

    You know what’s weird. Look on the front page of this blog. There’s an entry saying not all TED talks are suitable for kids. Yet they cite children as a reason for issuing a “health warning” on these talk- you yourselves say not all TED talks are suitable for children! Though really, I don’t see how Sheldrake deserves a “health warning”- that still sounds kind of nutty to me. Come on TED. Just apologize and restore the videos and put this nonsense behind you. Enough damage has been done, enough trust destroyed.

  • Stuart Moulder commented on Mar 19 2013

    For me, the central issue is that TED (through its board) decided to remove these talks from its regular YouTube channel for reasons that, as originally stated, are themselves demonstrably false. These false (and yes, defamatory) statements led many of us who have NO allegiance or even much agreement with Hancock and Sheldrake to question TED’s motives and integrity in how this was done.

    The talks are provocative and contain material I personally find difficult to accept.That makes them WHOLLY APPROPRIATE for TED.

    Now credit where it is due. Keeping the original, false statements with strikethroughs is a GOOD thing. TED could have simply deleted them. By keeping them, TED is showing some good faith – they are not denying or running away from the original comments. Would have been easy to do and understandable.

    So while I would wish for a clearer admission on TED’s part that the original reasons posted represent biased perspectives formed outside the specific presentations, at least the evidence of the first missteps are still there for all to see.

    My recommendation – transparency. Not of board member names, but at least of the motives and thinking behind those first comments. Admission that they were formed based on previously held opinions and not the specific content of the presentations would do much to clear the air.

    I would also seriously consider dismissing the person who wrote those comments or at least restricting their role in future decisions and communications.

  • Jim Schneider commented on Mar 19 2013

    You suggest Sheldrake’s talk should come with a “health warning” and then ask for a more “reasoned” discussion surrounding these talks? I have to ask- are YOU out of your mind?! I’m not kidding, to suggest Sheldrake’s talk should come with some kind of metaphorical health warning is crazy. What do you find so dangerous about it?! Did you have Jerry Coyne ghostwrite that last paragraph- because that’s the sort of strident nonsense he might write. Which is a pity, because the bit before sounded extremely reasonable and conciliatory. But that last paragraph, wow, you could really sense the anger and intolerance.

  • Jim Schneider commented on Mar 19 2013

    TED, please include the critique of your board in the introductory section as well as the reply by Sheldrake. Let the community decide if your board’s critique was remotely valid. If you’re going to continue to refer to the board’s critique as if it was valid I think you should do this. I think most will agree that Sheldrake destroyed your board’s ham-fisted critique. But let the community decide.
    For you to say you decided to “simply transfer them” is extremely disingenuous. For one thing, you fail to acknowledge you had opened up a discussion with the community on Sheldrake where the overwhelming sentiment was to leave the video alone. You clearly ignored the wishes of your community. You moved the videos from the most popular video sharing site on the internet, where they were more likely to be seen and shared, and moved them to a new part of your website where they were far less likely to be seen. On top of that, a statement by Chris Anderson seemed to suggest they would probably only be kept on your site for a limited amount of time. There was no guarantee as to how long it might be before you deleted them. Finally, you felt the need to preface the talks in the most insulting and dismissive terms imaginable. When you throw out the term “pseudoscientist” you are essentially calling someone a crackpot. And you threw out that term casually. That is extremely regrettable.

  • kristen Jones commented on Mar 19 2013


    “Anonymous peer review is an established norm across many disciplines. It protects both authors and reviewers from claims of bias and interference.” Hmm…I’m not sure that just because something has been a known/accepted practice by some disciplines that that should mean it is automatically applied here or prevent us contemplating or desiring a more transparent process. There are plenty of other disciplines where transparency is encouraged and is the norm. I can’t quite see how the anonymous review process conducted in this instance “protected” either Sheldrake or Handcock.

    • Margaret Gouin commented on Mar 19 2013

      Again, on the issue of anonymous peer-review: the anonymity has to work both ways. In the ‘anonymous peer-review’ system I’m familiar with, both the reviewer AND THE REVIEWED are anonynmous. This is specifically to protect the reviewed from the possible prejudice of the reviewer. Articles sent to peer-reviewed journals have the author information sequestered in a separate document; the author should never be identified to the reviewer(s). To claim ‘anonymous peer-review’ where one of the parties is known to the other, is simply incorrect.

  • Jim Schneider commented on Mar 19 2013

    So step 1 would be to make the board broader- have some people on it who are actually knowledgeable when it comes to things like parapsychology and are at least open to the possibility. Now as far as the guidelines- I don’t see how they can be compatible with your stated goals to take a broad view of “ideas worth spreading” and an acknowledgement that “scientific assumptions can get turned upside down”. That sounds reasonable- and then you read your guidelines. Actually, I just clicked on your guidelines and it would seem you’ve removed them- the link no longer works. But I read them the other night and I can assure anyone reading this- they are just not compatible with the stated goals of TED. Now maybe they have been removed so they can be reworked- if so, that is a good thing.

  • Ed Malkowski commented on Mar 19 2013

    Science has no authority to judge whether or not an idea is worth spreading. That is the duty of society, the people. Science cannot explain the most important aspect of life: the experience we all share and the mental perception of those experiences. What we are talking about with these posts concerning Hancock and Sheldrake is the nature of life itself that so-called mainstream (academically policed) science has a very difficult time dealing with.

    The fact that we are self-aware and are conscious beings evades the grasp of science. People dream; have visions, inspirations, and insights. Every scientist experiences these things too. So, why should anyone honor the authority of a science board on matters such as these when we know they don’t have much of a clue either?

    I can read Hancock’s and Sheldrake’s works if I want, and I have. I don’t depend on TED. But, in the interest of validating what TED wants to do as an organization and website I believe it is in their best interests to embrace the problem at hand. Discourse is good, and healthy, particularly when the subject matter in question is not so clear cut. Removing a talk or an article or a post because it conflicts with someone else’s idea of what that topic should be is censorship, and dogmatic.

    If you don’t let inspired and passionate men push the edge of research into a deeper understanding of life what worth is it to have science in the first place?

    As for Tedstaff’s two points of concern: In this topic of discourse, the terms ‘pseudo’ and ‘orthodoxy’ carry little value since what is at question – human perception, experience and the nature by which those phenomenon exist – is subjective. In fact, the use of those terms suggests religiosity on the part of the TED science board and the TEDstaff.

  • Jim Schneider commented on Mar 19 2013

    First, I would like to urge anyone who has not seen it to go read Rupert Sheldrake’s reply to the charges TED made against him- simply put, he destroys them. TED claims they take a broad approach to “ideas worth spreading” and that they think of science “as a process, not a locked in body of truth.” They then mention they’ve come up with a means to separate the kooks from scientists who are doing research that “might turn scientific assumptions upside down”. One of the ways is that they depend on a group of anonymous scientists. These are the folks who recommended the removal of the videos- and who Sheldrake made look like complete idiots in his response. Obviously their “diligent” review of his work constitutes a giant fail on their part. TED has been left with egg on their face. I would strongly suggest if you want to continue to rely on this board you get people who are actually informed when it comes to these issues and are more capable of separating the science from the pseudoscience- I think getting in touch with a scientist like Dean Radin would be a good first step.

  • Caleb Grayson commented on Mar 18 2013

    “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”

    while i appreciate the opportunity to help TED out with their policy and prevent further situations like this from occurring, right now i’m more interested in the issues at hand which is are:
    — the total inability for TED to realize that Sheldrake is not making scientific claims, but philosophical claims

    — Sheldrake and and Hancock are two separate situations and need to be dealt with in separate posts/conversations. it’s been maddening to have to follow two threads in one blog

    — there is a defamation of character issue that can’t just be crossed-out. there’s been no apology as to what what said but to how it was said.

  • Mike Weisdorf commented on Mar 18 2013

    Trying to hide behind “ayahuasca kids” and the war on drugs is disingenuous rhetorical bullshit–why don’t you admit to your mistake in practical terms, by restoring the original videos in their most accessible and standard format, and spare us the self-righteous twitter twatter?

  • Alexandre Letellier commented on Mar 18 2013

  • Alexandre Letellier commented on Mar 18 2013

    We are still waiting for a detailed response from TED regarding the “pseudo-science” accusations . TED, you can’t just drop the “P” word and leave it as that. You need to explain what they said actually that classifies these talks as “pseudo science”. Answering Grahams questions would be a good start. If you can’t answer them then an apology is in order. Simple as that…

    Until now you are not offering a real discussion, you are just doing a text book blur-the-issue damage control campaign.

    • sandy stone commented on Mar 18 2013

      They also need to define the term pseudo-science. Right now it just looks like it applies to anything they don’t like but have no rational reason to dismiss.

      • Stephen Collins commented on Mar 18 2013

        TED, in both this post and the previous, have adequately defined pseudoscience as (I paraphrase):

        “Pseudoscience is any belief system or methodology which tries to gain legitimacy by wearing the trappings of science, but fails to abide by the rigorous methodology and standards of evidence that demarcate true science. Although pseudoscience is designed to have the appearance of being scientific, it lacks any of the substance of science.”

        They’ve gone into greater length, but that’s the thrust of it.

        • Alexandre Letellier commented on Mar 18 2013

          Ok Stephen, what I am asking is where is the detailed analysis that shows that these two talks falls into this category.

          Grahams questions should be easy to answer because he asks questions starting like this : “Where exactly did I say…”, to each of the accusations of having said so and so.

          Not being able to answer these means that a defamatory act as been committed. Now it’s that simple so don’t give me another partial and beside the point answer, thank you very much.

          There is such a thing as pseudo-discussion you know…

        • Stephen Collins commented on Mar 18 2013

          I’d argue there doesn’t need to be a published detailed analysis. If you submit an expert paper to any number of other conferences or journals, you’re reviewed by an anonymous panel and told either “you’re getting published” or “not this time”. As I’ve said elsewhere in the discussion here, I’ve been at both ends of that process. Anyone used to peer review understands that’s just how the process works. You don’t get the opportunity to argue it out in a high-traffic forum like this, you just suck it up (and sometimes you look elsewhere for opportunities to publish).

          The presenters in this case seem to feel they have a special right to be published and want to arm-wave as their claims have been subjected to review and found wanting under the criteria TED chooses to use. They don’t have to agree with the decision, but I’d argue they have no special rights that have been infringed.

        • Alexandre Letellier commented on Mar 19 2013

          I get you point Stephen, it is a valid one. Except that TED is about discussing and sharing openly… Or so it claims.

          And it seems to me that in the first rebuttal that is now posted on this page as barred text, they do put words in Graham’s mouth, and that Graham has specifically asked where he has said what they said he said … Doesn’t this deserves an answer ?

        • Stephen Collins commented on Mar 19 2013

          The presenters do deserve an answer. But it needs to be one free from arm-waving, hyperbole and accusations from them and their supporters.

          This matter can and could be settled this way is so many weren’t so fast to jump up and down.

          All that said, TED and the related parts are TED’s property. They don’t need to explain anything to anybody. They’re trying, imperfectly, to do so. It would bode well if those quick to judge were quiet for 10 minutes to digest the arguments of only TED and the presenters.

          My personal view is that as an event organiser, I wouldn’t have published either talk myself. But it’s not the only view out there.

        • Brady Peneton commented on Mar 19 2013

          I also doubt you’d have hosted an event with the theme: “Visions for Transition: Challenging Existing Paradigms and Redefining Values (for a more beautiful world).” It seems to me that both Sheldrake and Hancock’s talks suitably fit this theme.

        • Stephen Collins commented on Mar 19 2013

          I’m not sure. At my events, we try to have talks that meet what we call “head and heart” criteria. We’ve had everything from Nobel Prize Laureates to disability advocates to former Catholic priests.

          The two things we won’t have at my events are active politicians of any sort, and people presenting views on science and medicine that don’t stand up under scrutiny. Matters of philosophy on many matters are naturally something of a free for all.

          Perhaps Burning Man would have been a more apt forum for these talks?

        • Dave Reed commented on Mar 19 2013

          Wow! That is very condescending.

        • Alexandre Letellier commented on Mar 19 2013

          Free of arm-waving alright, a slander free rebuttal would have helped avoid that in the first place…

          Ok, I don’t have all morning, good luck with the damage control campaign.

        • Stephen Collins commented on Mar 19 2013

          Just supporting something I feel needs an outside advocate :)

          Thanks for the adult discussion!

          And now, work for me too (though it’s mid-afternoon here).

        • Dave Reed commented on Mar 19 2013

          “… you’re reviewed by an anonymous panel and told either “you’re getting published” or “not this time”.”

          What you do NOT get from that scenario is dragged out onto a public blog and accused of point by point statements that you did not make. That is what happened here. Further, these are rather informal talks, not papers for a journal. That they both happen to be widely respected authors and researchers makes it highly visible.

          As for the “criteria TED chooses to use.”, well that seems to vary a lot.

        • Stephen Collins commented on Mar 19 2013

          Dave, these things are either argued in public – ideally between TED and the presenters in this case – or they’re done quietly.

          TED chose the former and are doing a pretty good job of taking the hits being dealt to them; the staff must be feeling a bit bruised. I’m not sure I’d have made the same decision.

          They’ve also chosen, over at least the past 12 months, to take a stand on pseudoscience, which they’ve defined pretty reasonably. So, I don’t think the criteria have shifted at all. If talks don’t meet the threshold, TED have said so. That’s something like four talks in 16,000-ish, which isn’t a bad result.

          The presenters, and others, with a stake in this matter all have platforms they can argue their case from (and are, and should). Assuming everyone behaves like adults (not that everyone is, unfortunately), consensus is reached, or an agreement to disagree results. Either position is acceptable, I think.

          The presenters, quite rightly, aren’t happy about the decision. However, they will both have signed a release (the text is publicly available) that states neither TED nor the specific TEDx event has any compulsion to publish or use their talk. That the talks are here, in the open, and available for discussion (also on TED Conversations, where the conversation is also heated) strikes me as an opportunity for the presenters to state their case. Whether TED agrees (and they’re reasonably entitled not to) is their call.

          I’m more than a touch bemused by the level of hyperbole in some of the responses we can read here and elsewhere. As my Dad used to say, “did the world stop spinning?” Some folk here and elsewhere need to take a breath, though I thank you for cogent, reasonable argument.

        • Frank Matera commented on Mar 19 2013

          @Stephen Collins So perhaps TED should make it publically known to everyone that they are not here to promote “Ideas worth spreading” but only to promote peer reviewed scientific opinions that have solid science evidence. Break out the baking soda and vinegar boys.

          There goes 90% of the TED videos right there.

          At the end of the day TED and their “anonymous science committee” mislead the general public about the content of Sheldrake and Hancock’s talk. They were found out to have misled and were called out on it by Sheldrake and Hancock.

          It isn’t about whether or not their videos are “TED Worthy” it’s the fact TED are going out of their way to make things up and find reasons for us NOT to see the videos.

          If you cannot see why they would be “waving their arms” over having talks removed on the basis of mistruths… then we may as well just all go find the nearest brick wall to smash out heads against.

        • Alexandre Letellier commented on Mar 19 2013

          Btw I took the liberty to check your profile Stephen, kudos for being an “open government advocate”. Well I guess I’m an “open scientific board” advocate as well as pro open government…


        • sandy stone commented on Mar 19 2013

          If scientific methodology is being used, it’s science. Terms like “pseudoscience” and “woo” have no place in civil discussions.

          Sheldrake is a well-credentialed scientist. His work has been published in peer-reviewed journals. He deserves to be treated respectfully and not slandered in such a despicable manner.

          Show some respect for the public too. One doesn’t require a graduate level degree in science (although I happen to have one) in order to evaluate what’s going on here. My opinion of TED just keeps sinking lower and lower.

        • Stephen Collins commented on Mar 19 2013

          The definition of pseudoscience is pretty well accepted – non-science dressed up as science (though it’s both more complicated and nuanced than that). It’s a real thing. “Woo” is certainly rather more pejorative and ought be avoided.

          As I noted elsewhere, the presenters can and should be proffering their views here in a non-hyperbolic way and TED should be responding likewise. The rest of us are both audience and participant; we should treat that privilege with the respect it deserves.

        • Steve Stark commented on Mar 19 2013

          You appear to have a very flimsy grasp of the issues here. Yes TED is entitled to take the talks down. But no, TED is not entitled to publish false and defamatory comments about the speakers, nor are they entitled to simply invent comments the speakers are supposed to have and leave them there for several days all the while knowing they are false. And even if, in your world, TED is entitled to do these things, how on earth can you think that Hancock and Sheldrake are not entitled to ask for the statements to be promptly defended or promptly retracted. And how on earth can you call Sheldrake and Hancock’s reasonable responses “arm-waving”? Sheldrake, eg, was accused of claiming there was data when he (possibly knew) there was none – Sheldrake’s response was to produce peer-reviewed articles with precisely the data in question. That’s hardly arm-waving. While in Hancock’s case, TED set out numerous specific criticisms of things Hancock supposedly said, and Hancock simply responded by pointing out (correctly) that each and every one of them was false. So again, to call such a measured response “arm-waving” is extraordinary.

          In conclusion, then, TED does need to deal with the issues, and it needs to do it free from obfuscation, feigned ignorance, and belligerent defense of the indefensible by TED defenders – Australian or otherwise.

        • Stephen Collins commented on Mar 19 2013

          My “arm-waving reference” was largely in reference to the large number of comments from participants here and on the other post that chose to posit their arguments and views in a way that didn’t bring anything new to the conversation and largely consisted of “he said-she said” actions.

          The presenters can and should be proffering their views here in a non-hyperbolic way and TED should be responding likewise. The rest of us are both audience and participant; we should treat that privilege with the respect it deserves. If I stepped over, I’m to be called out too.

        • Margaret Gouin commented on Mar 19 2013

          Stephen, I have to reply here to your comment ‘The definition of pseudoscience is pretty well accepted – non-science dressed up as science (though it’s both more complicated and nuanced than that).’ (I can’t reply where you made it because the thread is only three layers deep.) That’s a circular definition. Pseudoscience is non-science dressed up as science–but how can you tell it isn’t science? Because you’ve already decided it’s pseudoscience. That just doesn’t work.

        • Stephen Collins commented on Mar 19 2013

          Margaret, thus my parentheses. I’m fond of the definition from The Skeptic’s Dictionary – – which provides the necessary nuance and detail. The RationalWiki provides a pretty good definition, too –

        • Conor O'Higgins commented on Mar 19 2013

          Mr Collins – you say you want a “cogent, reasonable argument” and an “adult discourse” “free from hyperbole”. In that case, I strongly suggest you stop saying things like:

          “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”

          “The level of belligerence and sense of entitlement on the part of the presenters is mind boggling”

          “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.”

        • Stephen Collins commented on Mar 19 2013

          Conor, I addressed similar remarks from another commenter elsewhere, and agree, at least in part.

          Ideally, this entire conversation would be between TED and the presenters, in public, with us as mere observers.

        • Katie McClymont commented on Mar 20 2013

          Then the materialists political ‘skeptic movement’ is a pseudoscience for it also perfectly fits the definition given as …

          ‘“Pseudoscience is any belief system or methodology which tries to gain legitimacy by wearing the trappings of science, but fails to abide by the rigorous methodology and standards of evidence that demarcate true science. Although pseudoscience is designed to have the appearance of being scientific, it lacks any of the substance of science.”

  • Cat Wright commented on Mar 18 2013

    I understand, and appreciate, the new approach by TED to this issue. However, it smacks of a blatant attempt at damage limitation for their short-sighted, knee-jerk reaction to the blog posts of Jerry Coyne et. al. The two talks in question were of the best I’ve viewed on TED’s excellent youtube channel and it saddens me that TED is not robust enough to withstand the criticism of those that wish to set themselves up as the thought-police for the content of that channel. Accusations of ‘pseudo-science’ in the context of Sheldrake’s and Hancock’s presentations is wholly inappropriate. Isn’t it that the current methodologies and abilities of science simply have nothing to contribute on these topics at present? If TED must, for reasons I cannot fathom, maintain the current position of besmirching the reputations of speakers whose talks do not adhere to currently accepted ideas and scientific dogmas, then I have to ask myself what the point of TED is? I for one want to hear from speakers that push at the boundaries of human understanding. I certainly object to the videos being imprisoned on rather than being free and available on youtube. Previous comparisons to the church’s treatment of Galileo are completely valid. TED = TRADITIONAL EMPIRICAL DOGMA?

  • Daniel Gill commented on Mar 18 2013

    This is my youtube channel which I have created and uploaded recordings of myself that are Collective Commons license. I have not invented fire or the wheel. What I experienced was a 100+ year long development of occult sciences which I entered into with an open mind. Enter the new millennium, online forums, and rapid information sharing.

    I had a psychotic episode from mediumistic communion. Then years later in university I now collect anthropology about the practices that influenced the spiritualists who influenced me.

  • Erik Ljungberg commented on Mar 18 2013

    I think it is a great thing that TED is shying away from these controversial issues. Controversy in science and philosophy is incredibly interesting and revealing. When you have controversy you know something is going on. There is friction, conflict, opposition. These are signs. They are the precursors of change. When an idea is being accused of being blatantly untrue it sheds light on what is defined as true. We hold the truth of materiality to be self-evident so naturally everything that challenges it must be blatantly untrue. An idea which doesn’t fit into your tiny conceptual scheme of reality must either be rejected or ignored. To take it seriously requires an expansion of the conceptual scheme and such a thing is tedious and bothersome. Much better just to declare incompetence, heresy, or even better; lunacy!

    Saying goodbye to the material universe won’t be pleasant. If fundamental things can change, what can’t? Transitioning between conceptions of reality always has this dizzifying quality. Suddenly the thinness of thread on which it all hangs is revealed. This is why people don’t often change their model of reality, because then you notice that it was just a model and not reality. All your life you believed that there was such a thing as matter and then someone proves it wrong and you realize that you believed in a ghost all along. In the depths of things reality is just one big ghost. There is no reason to assume that our model corresponds to the actual at all. In fact, I find it the least likely of all that our model should correctly reflect the actual. The claim that the human mind can comprehend the underlying complexity of the universe is preposterous.

    • Daniel Gill commented on Mar 18 2013

      Ghosts actually elicit predictable responses. One of which is psychosis. That doesn’t mean that people are crazy though.

      Kind of complicated and unconventional, I know.

  • Trevor Oswalt commented on Mar 18 2013

    Using as a justification to remove their content from your main site because the, “speakers use the language of science to promote views that are simply incompatible with all reasonable understanding of the world,” seems utterly ludicrous to me. To move (effectively remove) the videos because their language is radical, original, challenging, and speaks of first hand experience that TED thinks is “incompatible” with “reasonable understanding” is deplorable and cowardly. I think your community, or what is left of it, is quite capable of deciding for themselves what context and meaning to apply to whatever language they might hear from a presenter however “incompatible” your anonymous “science board” might find it. In fact, I would bet that said audience would value and appreciate a wide breath of ideas and language that stretches well beyond the easy and confines of the predictable standard scientific community. If TED wants to be on the vanguard of new ideas they might want to consider welcoming opinions, information, and “language” that they personally as a collective culture might find challenging to their community paradigm. Or does TED prefer to rehash the acceptable? New challenging ideas have value just as much as radical atheist statements and viewpoints. And no kid in the suburbs is going to run off to the Amazon to experience Ayahuasca based on this one video and such a statement is completely ignorant of what and how Ayahuasca is and has been used by indigenous cultures for thousands of years now. And even if someone was inspired partially by these videos, why do you deem that as a negative thing? Hancock is speaking of his own personal healing and betterment; nothing he speaks of is dangerous or pejorative in nature.

    This sort of editorial higher than thou decision making is repugnant and does the humanity a complete disservice. These sorts of controlling attitudes are dying out, especially under online scrutiny where information, opinions, and ideas thrive on freedom, openness and transparency – something TED has chosen to stand apart from.

    This discussion, albeit possibly valuable, seems more like an attempt at saving face for an obviously totally bungled set of decisions primarily motivated by fear. Take a stand, apologize, and put the videos back up online exactly where they were. That would show more strength and integrity, and potentially win back countless currently lost subscribers and former admirers.