The TED Controversy

April 21, 2013 at 6:45 pm | Posted in Events, Internet, Media, Online services, Science | 6 Comments

An interesting debate has arisen around the way TED determines what talks they consider acceptable. While they will happily host a talk on life purpose or on a writer’s muse, they have characterized some neuroscience research as “a bunch of goofballs.” Given that this was in response to pulling 2 talks, it suggests their attitude about same. Also on their no-no list, the medicinal value of food.

Notably, Rupert Sheldrake’s pulled talk was on the Delusions of Science. As one contributor (3rd letter below) observed, “The materialist worldview is a belief system based on ten core beliefs. Many people call this worldview science. The method of science and the worldview of materialism are actually two different things.” This is where it becomes troublesome – when a scientist fails to differentiate between their beliefs and science, they introduce non-objective bias.

It was also noted by several that paradigm-busting is how science progresses. New research must meet with skepticism and be tested but some have made skepticism a trademark, another fundamentalism. Richard Dawkins has famously called himself a “militant atheist”.

The sequence to date:
After a few complaints, Sheldrake and Hancock’s TEDx talks are pulled from the main channel. Vocal objections caused them to repost the clips on the TED blog as a discussion point. However, the talks were misrepresented and TED was obliged to retract some statements.

Further TED articles on the subject:
A Fresh Take, Debate on Sheldrake, Debate on Hancock.

They then pulled the TEDx branding from a West Hollywood event, who decided to go ahead anyway.
I’m also aware of another event in IA that similarly lost it’s TEDx designation for being subtitled “Consciousness and Transformation.” They also went ahead. Some of the talks sounded excellent and only one mentioned consciousness, by a Kilby award-winning physicist.

1 – On April 18, Deepak Chopra and 5 other scientists responded in an open letter. Not real well written but it made some valid points.

2 – The next day, TED responded. They fairly indicate they have to draw a line somewhere. And it’s not always clear. But their attitude and name-calling is not serving anyone.

3 – Later that day a letter from Chopra and some 15 other scientists, each contributing a segment. Some of these comments are excellent. “Censorship almost always arises from some political agenda.” “A robust science of consciousness threatens no one but dogmatists.” And so forth.

Personally, I don’t have a high regard for using drugs to induce altered states of reality. This may bring brief but typically distorted expanded perception. But it doesn’t help real development and won’t give reliable insight. And it can cause serious after-effects. From people I’ve talked to that have done it, it pollutes the finer nervous system. As such I’m not a fan of Hancock. But does the talk deserve “semi-censorship?” Debate certainly.

On the other hand, I’ve read some of Sheldrake’s work and heard a talk he gave on how laws of nature evolve. As the contributors comment, some of his work is excellent research.  Some of his books are used as university textbooks. But his talk did directly but gently confront science vs worldview.

Another question I’ve not noticed raised. TED suggested they can’t vet all the videos from TEDx events but I have to wonder how they determine what they do post. Their YouTube channel currently has 1,375 videos. Given there has been thousands of TEDx events, that is but a fraction. Chopra notes that Dawkins talk is posted but his rebuttal is not.

When I was getting my grad degree, we spent a little time exploring the difference between science, pseudo-science, and proto-science. The last uses the scientific method to explore new paradigms but is not yet established as a science. Pseudo, on the other hand, talks science but does not use proper methodology. Thus calling another scientists work pseudo-science is high insult. I would suggest proto-science is where Sheldrake and other contributors are working, especially around subjects like consciousness. Some people seem to be forgetting that.


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