Science TED Conversations

Comments we loved this year: The polite critique

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TED Talks often get 100 or more comments — a mixed bag of kudos, critiques and questions. Looking back on the year, here are a few comments that wowed us.

Every video on is carefully selected, but not every TEDster will like every talk. Disagree with a speaker’s logic, methods or sources? We want to hear why. This comment begs to differ without getting hostile, leaving the door wide open for anyone — maybe even the speaker himself — to feel comfortable responding.

Below, commenter Anthony Townsend gently critiques Jon Ronson’s “Strange answers to the psychopath test”:

 “A visually striking and rhetorically powerful talk. However, I’m afraid that I must forward my opinion that this talk is peppered with gross oversimplifications and distortions of psychiatric and psychological diagnostic procedures and practice. Blind adherence to criteria and checklists has never been the practice of mental health professionals nor are grey areas overlooked.

The DSM-IV-TR is here presented as a ‘bible’ of mental health when, in fact, it is simply a descriptive taxonomy intended to supplement professional assessment and treatment planning rather than exclusively inform it. I did enjoy this talk but I feel that Ronson fell into the very trap that he mentioned at the outset: He took a misinformed and superficial glance at the mental health profession and explored those fringe elements unaided by trained professionals who could speak to the contrary.

As a practicing clinician I can attest to the value of diagnostic manuals, but it should be noted that professional judgement, recognition of the subjective meaning of the patient’s experiences and sources of collateral information all work together to create a picture of an individual’s mental state. While Ronson pursued an interesting topic, I feel that his sources were misinformed, his data biased and his motives perhaps misguided as he came to pursue that which is interesting rather than that which is true.”