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A note to the TED community on the withdrawal of the TEDxWestHollywood license

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Last week, TED withdrew the TEDx license for the TEDxWestHollywood event. We wanted to write a short note to the community to explain why we did so.

First some background: The TEDx program has included more than 5,000 local events to date. TEDx is designed to help local organizers produce independent, TED-style events in their own communities, by licensing the TEDx logo under specific guidelines. No money is exchanged: The organizers don’t pay for the license, and TED does not finance the events.

Withdrawing an existing license is not a decision we would ever make lightly; it has only happened once before. But the reasoning is clear in this case: The program planned for TEDxWestHollywood fell outside the boundaries of what’s permitted under a TEDx license. We raised our concerns with the organizer several times, beginning in December. But we could not reach a mutually agreeable path in which she could produce an event that fit her vision while remaining under the TEDx license. We have had discussions with the organizer, and as a goodwill gesture have offered to cover the costs associated with the TEDx branding. She plans to produce the event under a different name, and we wish her and the event well.

Every TEDx organizer agrees to a license that’s conditional on following a clearly published series of rules intended to promote our shared mission. Anyone who attends a TEDx event anywhere in the world should be able to expect a TED-like experience, and one that excludes:

– political talks that use us-vs.-them language to polarize a discussion
– commercial talks that blatantly pitch a product or company
– talks that present one spiritual view as the “truth”
– talks that use the language of science to present speculative claims as fact

This final category had become a public challenge for TEDx, and in response we released in December a clarifying letter about science on the TEDx stage. All TEDx hosts were notified; the guidelines were reviewed with the host of TEDxWestHollywood.

Over the past several months, many in the TED and TEDx community have reached out to us, expressing concern over the direction this particular event had taken. When we looked at the program as a whole, our assessment was that it didn’t meet the TEDx guidelines for solid science. The program theme (which has since been edited online) was described this way:

Brother, Can You Spare a Paradigm? will deal with the need to change our fundamental value system or worldview to one in which humanity pulls together, superseding the current worldview where whoever has the most toys wins. The new ideation will be based on what science tells us is a quantum universe, with everything being interconnected and interdependent — one organism that needs to function for the good of the whole.

This language alone raised a red flag. (Characterizing the universe as a single organism is not a tenet of quantum physics.) As more details became available, we made the curatorial judgment that the program was not appropriate for TEDx. Our decision was not based on any individual speaker, but our assessment of the overall curatorial direction of the program.

To be clear: This event is not being “censored.” The event organizer is still planning to hold an event with the same speaker lineup. It just won’t be under a TEDx license. According to the organizer, the event will be held April 14, and we wish the team well with it.

This was a difficult decision, but we believe we have to be vigilant in our enforcement of the key TEDx rules, in order to keep the TED and TEDx platforms credible for scientists — and all speakers — who present, and to respect the contributions of the TEDx organizers who curate imaginative programs within the guidelines.

We listen carefully to our community, and welcome your thoughts on this. Please join the conversation here.