Rupert Sheldrake and Graham Hancock: TED Ideas Not Worth Spreading

TED just got itself into hot water again. I’ve been following the latest TED fiasco on the “censorship” of Rupert Sheldrake and Graham Hancock’s TEDx talks. (Sorry Chris Anderson and TED Staff, what TED did was *censorship* no matter how you spin it.)

For those who want to know the details that led to this TED brouhaha, a very meticulous guy named Kent Bye put together an excellent timeline of the events on the comments section of the TED Blog. Here’s an excerpt and the closing questions he included in his comment:

*** March 14, 2013 ***
Hancock posts three specific refutations of alleged claims in the comment section stating that “I would like TED to identify where exactly in my talk these alleged ‘many inaccuracies’ occur.”

This request went unanswered for most of the day until Anderson posted later in the day that he was going to “reach out and see if any of our advisors is able to go into more depth in answering your specific questions.”

* Who are the members on TED’s Science Board?
* Why weren’t Sheldrake or Hancock informed and provided an opportunity to respond to these allegations before having an anonymous Science Board frame their presentation?
* If you weren’t intending on censoring the videos, then why didn’t you tell TEDxWhitechapel that the videos would live on in a special section of the site, and thereby clearly communicate that to Hancock & Sheldrake this plan? Why did you instead tell TEDxWhitechapel, “Graham Hancock’s talks from TEDxWhiteChapel should be removed from the TEDx YouTube channel and any other distribution platform currently hosting the videos” and to “delete the videos from YouTube and inform Sheldrake and Hancock that the videos have been removed”? Can you possibly see how this might be interpreted by Hancock and his fans as censorship?
* Why did you not provide specific quotes from Hancock’s talk, which has lead to what Hancock and others claim is a mischaracterization of what he was saying?
* Why wasn’t Hancock’s video provided the same public review process as Sheldrake’s video?

But the gist of it, from my perspective, is that a couple of atheist/scientist bloggers (Jerry Coyne and PZ Myers) were instrumental in getting the Sheldrake and Hancock TEDx talks pulled out from the official TEDx channel. In fact, Jerry Coyne was so pleased that he even gloated on his blog. (Yay, a victory for “real science,” whatever that means.)

However, this is not the first time TED and TEDx pulled off a video of controversial talks. This also happened to Lynne McTaggart’s 2010 TEDx talk in Brussels and Nick Hanauer’s talk on “income inequality” which was just too political for TED. So TED’s censorship applies to fringe science views as well as too politically-charged views. So much for the slogan “ideas worth spreading”. TED’s slogan should now be “Status Quo Ideas Worth Spreading.” But I digress.

Anyway, it turns out that TED messed with the wrong intellectuals this time around. Sheldrake and Hancock are not taking this lying down. They are fighting this in the arena of public discussion. Graham Hancock has challenged TED Curator Chris Anderson and the TED Staff to substantiate their “damaging and defamatory allegations” or “withdraw them and apologize… prominently and publicly.” See Graham Hancock’s Open letter to Chris Anderson, Curator TED Conferences. Here’s an excerpt:

(5) TED says of my “War on Consciousness” presentation: “… it’s no surprise his work has often been characterized as pseudo-archeology.”

Of what possible relevance is this remark? Many different people have characterised my work in many different ways but at issue here is not what people have said about my work over the years but the actual content of this specific TEDx presentation.

So there are the damaging and defamatory allegations TED has made against me in its website, and here again is my request that you either substantiate these allegations forthwith, or withdraw them and apologize to me prominently and publicly, allowing no further time to elapse to worsen the harm and damage you have already done.
Signed Graham Hancock, 15 March 2013 at 09:50 GMT

As of this writing, Rupert Sheldrake has yet to officially respond to TED. But it looks like Sheldrake is just warming up. Thanks to my Facebook friend Terry Allen (who started a “Boycott TED support Graham Hancock, Rupert Sheldrake” group on Facebook) for sharing this email from Sheldrake.

Dear Terry
Many thanks for your support and kind words.

I have written a response to Ted’s accusations by their “Scientific Board” and sent it to TED asking them to post it under the Board’s statement. They have neither done so nor even acknowledged my email, sent yesterday, and re-sent today. So I plan to publish my letter to them online if they do not respond soon. I will also publish my response in blog form. You would be welcome to post these on your page.

Best wishes

In addition, most people who have posted on the TED Blog: Open Discussion expressed overwhelming support for Hancock and Sheldrake and called out TED’s censorship. I have also posted a few comments on the blog to express my disappointment with TED’s censorship. But what particularly irked me was the smug and backhanded response by Chris Anderson to Hancock’s tempered and professional line of questioning. So here’s what I posted on the comment section:

Chris Anderson,

your backhanded and condescending response to Graham Hancock is unacceptable. please respond directly to his questions.

as of this writing I still haven’t seen a response from Chris Anderson or the TED staff or the TED Science advisory board to Graham Hancock’s very straightforward questions. please stop insulting our intelligence. this space was provided to have an open discussion and we’re all watching. you started it TED.

Graham Hancock,

please invite Mr. Anderson to your next ayahuasca journey and have Mr. Anderson describe his experience in an 18-minute TED talk.

Are you up to the challenge Mr. Anderson?

I’ll continue to follow the developments on this latest TED fiasco on my EPIC THREAD hang out on Facebook.

When all is said and done, I’d like to thank TED, PZ Myers, and Jerry Coyne for making Sheldrake and Hancock’s TEDx talks more popular than ever. Congratulations on a job well-done, science boys! Well played!

But I’m still looking forward to see TED’s response to Graham Hancock’s straightforward questions and Rupert Sheldrake’s inquiry. Surely TED doesn’t want to be viewed by the public as an organization who can easily be bullied by a few opinionated atheists.

The ball is in your court TED. We are watching.

In the meantime, below are the TEDx Talks videos that got pulled from the official TEDx channel. Watch them and judge for yourself whether they deserve to be censored.

Rupert Sheldrake @ TEDx Whitechapel – Science Delusion


Graham Hancock @ TEDx Whitechapel – War on Consciousness


P.S. Thanks to the latest TED “censorship” of Rupert Sheldrake and Graham Hancock this video of Eddie Huang’s epic exposé of TED is circulating again. Hey TED, blame yourself!


P.P.S. John Ratcliff is spot on. I very much agree with his analysis.

“The TED Conference is more like a motivational seminar than a scientific conference. Scientific conferences are peer reviewed and people are not accepted to speak at a conference unless their material has met a very strict criteria. In contrast, the key requirement to be a speaker at TED is that you are a dynamic speaker and can present new ideas in an intriguing way. Both speakers in this case did an excellent job in that regard; and their talks were extremely popular online before they were suppressed.

As both I and many others have pointed out there have been, over the years, many speakers at TED conferences who expressed very speculative ideas that would be deemed ‘non-scientific’ by the thought police over at CSI (committee for skeptical inquiry; formally CSICOP).

So, why were these other talks not all suppressed as well? Probably because those previous presenters didn’t directly attack the establishment paradigm of material science. This whole thing has been reduced to the kind of behavior you would expect of spoiled children who got their feelings hurt. Or, maybe the better analogy, the behavior of religious fanatics who got angry when someone attacked their dogma.”


UPDATE (03/18/2013):  I’m glad to see TED doing a “fresh take”  after being called out by Sheldrake, Hancock, and the people who passionately disagreed with TED’s knee-jerk decision and disrespectful framing of the issues. TED has now published Sheldrake and Hancock’s response on the TED Blog and crossed the original text. It is worth reading, especially Sheldrake’s powerful yet tempered academic rebuttal. In the end, TED effectively recanted their original unfounded allegations and basically admitted they committed a mistake. Props to TED for doing the right and decent thing.

However, I agree with Hancock. This is still unacceptable. At the very least the videos should be restored to their original TEDx channel. Here’s Hancock’s followup response on his FB page:

“TED continue to refuse to restore the talks to the original platform on which they appeared — the TEDx Youtube channel — where my talk had been viewed by more than 132,000 people and where Rupert’s talk had been viewed by more than 35,000 people before TED took them down. I regard it as unfortunate in the extreme that all the conversations and comments that appeared there have been hidden along with the talks, and that those original links have been broken, and I will continue to press for the restitution of our talks to the TEDx Youtube channel separate from and in addition to the presence they now have on the TED blog pages.”

Btw, the passionate voices on the TED blog are not necessarily Graham Hancock’s “army of passionate supporters” as TED continue to portray us. A lot of us (yes, present company included) who were vocal on the TED Blog simply saw through the sloppy censorship due to complaints by a couple of militant atheists (Jerry Coyne and PZ Myers). I now look forward to Jerry Coyne and PZ Myers’s response. I bet they’ll be sourgraping, big time.

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