Dear TED, Is It ‘Bad Science’ or a ‘Game of Thrones’?

Deepak Chopra MSPACThe botched handling of the TEDx Whitechapel talks by Rupert Sheldrake and Graham Hancock continues to cause waves, now via an open letter to TED by Deepak Chopra, MD. FACP, Stuart Hameroff, MD, Menas C. Kafatos, Ph.D., Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D., and Neil Theise, MD, published at Huffington Post:

One of modern science’s great strengths is that any questionable finding dies a quick death if it’s invalid. The safeguards are mainly two: Your new finding must be repeatable when other researchers run the same experiments, and peer review by qualified scientists subjects every new finding to microscopic scrutiny. So it surprised the millions of admirers of TED, whose conferences attract wide attention to new, cutting-edge ideas, when that organization decided to practice semi-censorship.

The flap is over two videos of TEDx talks delivered in the UK in January that were summarily removed from TEDx’s YouTube channel (TEDx is the brand name for conferences outside the main TED events that are allowed to use the TED trademark, such as TEDxBoston or TEDxBaghdad — so far, about 5,000 such events have used the name). This amounts only to semi-censorship because the videos were reposted on TED’s blog site. Yet the reputations of the two presenters, Rupert Sheldrake and Graham Hancock, were besmirched. In a letter to all the TEDx organizers, Chris Anderson, the head of TED, proposed certain “red flag” topics, among them health hoaxes and the medicinal value of food but also the general area of pseudoscience. The response has been decidedly negative — scientists don’t like the suppression of free thinking — and among the thousands of comments aired on the Internet, one pointed out that Sheldrake and Hancock spoke at a TEDx conference explicitly dedicated to ideas that challenge mainstream thinking.

There’s no need to stir the coals. TED has been badly singed already. At a cursory glance, much of Anderson’s letter sounds reasonable: TED has every right to give guidelines to conferences using their name. Who’s in favor of health hoaxes and pseudoscience? As it happens, Sheldrake’s talk was on “The Science Delusion” and covered ten dogmas in mainstream science that need to be examined; there wasn’t a hint of bad science in it. Hancock’s talk was on consciousness and psychedelics, a topic without fangs for anyone who has heard of the Sixties, much less lived through them. Even as the videos were begrudgingly reposted, TED felt justified in tagging them as “radical” and attaching a “health warning”.

Yet something quite pivotal is occurring that inflames strong feelings…

[continues at Huffington Post]

, , , ,

  • Reasor
  • emperorreagan

    I’m still surprised that TED let those dudes speak in the first place. I guess they’re not making that mistake again. I also doubt the TED organizers will take this particular letter seriously – they’ve got to build their brand, and their brand seems to favor delivering sermons for scientism.

    • jiggawutt

      Personally, I think Chopra got off easy on just getting his medical credentials revoked; he’s a fraud that makes money off of people’s suffering while debasing science in the process. He should be ashamed of himself, but then again, sociopaths never are.

      • emperorreagan

        Ad hominem – Chopra’s personal integrity, whatever you may think of it, doesn’t address the criticisms leveled at TED in the letter posted here or the other criticisms leveled at them by people like Nassim Taleb.

        • Reasor

          Except when he chimes in on an occasion like this, reinforcing the accusation that Hancock is a snake oil salesman by association. There are some people that you don’t want on your side.

          • emperorreagan

            A criticism of TED is met with an Ad Hominem attack against Chopra. That’s a stand alone fallacious argument.

            Follow that up with some convoluted argument wherein Hancock is tied to Chopra through their separate criticisms of TED and Hancock’s character is somehow impugned because he and Chopra fall on the same side of the debate…

            That’s a fairly amusing line of argument. Completely fallacious, but the sort of true believer bullshit that lends credence to the accusations of TED having a cult-like following.

          • Reasor

            I agree, in that it really is a distraction from what has now been weeks of the convoluted, fallacious, true believer bullshit argument that the mind has a supernatural, incorporeal component and the drugs consumed by an ever increasingly far-off tribe of Native Americans (remember when it was peyote, or is that me showing my age?) can help us find it.

            Any new angle that the cult-like following on the pro-Hancock end of the argument can find is like a breath of fresh air at this point.

          • emperorreagan

            The Reality Sandwich end of things certainly has their own cult-like following. I do find Hancock annoying and have never actually listened to any of his talks, so I don’t really have any interest in the merits of what he has to say on any topic other than having read the criticisms of TED.

            I find that end somewhat less annoying than the TED side, though, as they don’t seem to be positioning themselves as an intellectual gatekeeper. Nor do they seem to have quite the drive to ingratiate themselves with corporate/elite interests.

  • Guest

    Peer review has NOTHING to do with “microscopic scrutiny” – a more accurate description would be “cursory overview checking for obvious errors – quality control rather than a test of correctness”.

  • BuzzCoastin

    TED is a shill for The System
    who cares?
    all this TED rebuttal stuff only makes TED seem like a credible source of info

    and not the corporate shills they are

  • James Lupino

    While on this subject, interesting experiment on mass telekinesis: http://www.sesamebagel.com

  • bobbiethejean

    Botched handling? Yeah, I’ll say it was botched. Here’s how they should have handled it; instead of allowing either of those clowns a venue to blather their inanities, they should have just played this on a very large screen: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V0W7Jbc_Vhw

    • http://hormeticminds.blogspot.com/ Chaorder Gradient

      It is truly unfortunate when people live up to their own strawmen(assuming it wasn’t an embellished story). Still amusing though.

  • http://twitter.com/TedHeistman Ted Heistman

    I think Chopra is an enlightened con artist. There is a Hindu parable about a guy like that. So I’m cool with him. I think he “faked it until he made it” in other words.