Rupert Sheldrake and Graham Hancock: TED Ideas Not Worth Spreading – A Fresh Take

This is a continuation of my previous post on the latest TED fiasco.

I’ve read thoroughly and carefully TED’s more nuanced “fresh take”. Below is my reaction. I posted it as a comment on the TED Blog.

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 has 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 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. 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 TED’s “Science Board” is 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 divisive 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) censored from TED. Should TED ban Rick Strassman and Roland Griffiths for talking on TED and TEDx for fear that kids might do DMT and psilocybin 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 re-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.


P.P.S. So why am I so passionate about this latest TED shenanigan? I feel exactly the same way as John W. Ratcliff.

“I have a friend of mine who has been involved with TED nearly since it’s inception. He cannot understand why I have become so emotional about this topic and vocal as well. To him, it seems like a not very big deal, especially considering the thousands and thousands of talks sponsored by the organization.

It is out of respect for him, and this response from the TED conference, that I’m going to let this topic drop.

I pretty much stand by everything I wrote in the past few days. My opinion hasn’t really changed.

As far as why I’m so emotional?

Well, let me tell you why. Because it really, really, pisses me off when professional skeptics organizations try to control what the rest of us are allowed to see, say, or think about. They believe they ‘own’ the domain of science and get to pass judgement on what is, or is not, considered ‘pseudo-science’.

This simply offends me deeply.”


UPDATE (3/20/2013): Here’s what I posted on the TED conversation: “The debate about Rupert Sheldrake’s talk”.

thanks to TED for holding this space for discussion as well as for publishing Rupert Sheldrake and Graham Hancock’s responses on the original blog post that started it all.

i’d like to mention that i’m a big fan of TED. i’ve learned a lot over the years and have watched hundreds of inspirational and intellectual presentations. i have promoted and shared TED talks that i find stimulating and inspiring. so thank you to all the people behind TED’s continuing success and service. more power to the TED and TEDx brand.

now that i got that out of the way… it’s precisely because my admiration for TED that got me passionately involved with this discussion. it’s not because that i’m a Sheldrake fan or one of Hancock’s “army of passionate supporters.” i have watched Sheldrake’s and Hancock’s TEDx talks multiple times before it was pulled out of the official distribution channel. i was glad to see their voices represented on TEDx. for me, their ideas are worth spreading. that’s why i was so disappointed when I’ve learned that their talks got pulled from the official distribution channel.

i’m well aware that Sheldrake is a divisive personality in the scientific establishment, but he is no pseudoscientist. Sheldrake is a hard core scientist who just happen to have theories that challenge the fabric of scientific materialism. he is willing to work with scientists who will be eager conduct experiments on his theory.

that said, what I’d like to see is a discussion and/or debate between Sheldrake and the people (i.e. anonymous science board, Jerry Coyne, PZ Myers, etc.) who accused Sheldrake of pseudoscience. this is a scientific and philosophy of science discussion. i’d rather watch the pros do it in the arena of public discussion than a bunch of us amateurs hacking away at something we don’t fully understand. my two cents.

P.S. hats off to the Buddhist Priest (Kathy Havens) in this forum. i agree with her eloquent and passionate opinion.


UPDATE (3/20/2013 – 5:00PM): oh, snap! Rupert Sheldrake just challenged TED Science Board to a debate! Exactly what I asked for! Now where is my tub of popcorn? Btw, is it just me or do PZ Myers and Jerry Coyne have been awfully quiet lately? Where is the victory for “real science” now Mr. Coyne?

“I would be happy to take part in a public debate with a scientist who disagrees with the issues I raise in my talk. This could take place online, or on Skype. My only condition is that it be conducted fairly, with equal time for both sides to present their arguments, and with an impartial moderator, agreed by both parties.

Therefore I ask Chris Anderson to invite a scientist from TED’s Scientific Board or TED’s Brain Trust to have a real debate with me about my talk, or if none will agree to take part, to do so himself.”


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