Back in December, TED, the premier web site for “ideas worth spreading”, took some lumps because the ideas they were spreading were pseudoscientific nonsense. They did something about it. So they said… TED directors take a stand against pseudoscience.
But things have not improved so much. They are currently under fire again for having Rupert Sheldrake as a featured speaker at another TEDx event.
Let’s hear what’s wrong this time:
It’s all on view in this dreadful talk: antimaterialism, the narrow dogmatism of scientists, his view that inanimate things have consciousness, and his most bizarre idea: “morphic resonance,” a quasi-Jungian view that all members of a species share in a collective memory, so if you train a rat in Chicago it will make rats in Tokyo more trainable. The talk is obviously meant to flog his new book The Science Delusion, which I won’t link to.
TED editors again, to their credit, have responded.
While TED does not vet speakers at independent TEDx events, a TEDx talk can be removed from the TEDx archive if the ideas contained in it are wrong to the point of being unscientific, and that includes misrepresenting the scientific process itself.
Sheldrake is on that line, to some commenters around Twitter and the web. His talk describes a vision of science made up of hard, unexamined constants. It’s a philosophical talk that raises general questions about how we view science, and what role we expect it to play.
They have opened a forum with particular aspects to discuss, namely his philosophy (he is grim about science, possibly because the scientific community has not been accepting of his ideas) and factual errors (which some have claimed he makes). Sheldrake is a darling of the pseudo-skeptics, those that are skeptical of science and anything that sounds “establishment”. Should his ideas be showcased? Probably not because they aren’t accepted as any good. Have your say about the quality of TED. This is just another step in their quickly degrading reputation. That’s too bad.
UPDATE (13-Mar-2013): The talks have been removed from the main TED page – both Sheldrake’s and Graham Hancock – but they are still available for viewing.
After due diligence, including a survey of published scientific research and recommendations from our Science Board and our community, we have decided that Graham Hancock’s and Rupert Sheldrake’s talks from TEDxWhiteChapel should be removed from distribution on the TEDx YouTube channel.
Both talks have been flagged as containing serious factual errors that undermine TED’s commitment to good science. The critiques of these talks need much clearer highlighting.
This did not go over well with many including Richard Wiseman and Stuart Richie.
UPDATE (16-Mar-2013): Graham Hancock has an open letter to the TED organizers. I believe he makes a valid point regarding the allegations that his reputation is hurt by this. I’m not a fan of having bad ideas given a platform such as this but I don’t agree that TED handled this correctly at all. They need to decide what exactly they are promoting with their forums and stick to some protocols they set to decide on speakers. Perhaps they should just have let these talks go and if they feel this is a problem, then fix it at the root, not cut it off at the tips.
Addition: Kylie wrote up a rundown of Sheldrake’s claims here.