A victory for real science over woo: TEDx removes Sheldrake and Hancock talks from YouTube channel

The organizers of TEDx have decided to remove the talks of Rupert Sheldrake (discussed here) and Graham Hancock (discussed here) from the TEDx YouTube channel and put them on a separate page. This is a victory for good science and a defeat for fulminating woo.  TEDx’s decision, published here, is this:

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.

So instead, we’re placing these talks here [JAC: on the page with the decision], where they can be framed to highlight both their provocative ideas and the factual problems with their arguments. See both talks after the jump.

All talks on the TEDxTalks channel represent the opinion of the speaker, not of TED or TEDx, but we feel a responsibility not to provide a platform for talks which appear to have crossed the line into pseudoscience.

The TEDx link also gives the reason why each talk was sequestered away from the regular ones. In both cases it involved the presentation of unsupported material, false material, or claims that “stray beyond the reasonable bounds of science.”

There are those who will cry “censorship” about this (they’re already mewling and puking on the TEDx comments page), but I don’t see it that way, especially because the talks are, after all, still up. They’re just not allowed to rub elbows with the talks about real science.

And remember that the TEDx rules say this:

Speakers must tell a story or argue for an idea. They may not use the TED stage to sell products, promote themselves or businesses. Every talk’s content must be original and give credit where appropriate. Speakers cannot plagiarize or impersonate other persons, living or dead.

Speakers must be able to confirm the claims presented in every talk — TED and TEDx are exceptional stages for showcasing advances in science, and we can only stay that way if the claims presented in our talks can stand up to scrutiny from the scientific community. TED is also not the right platform for talks with an inflammatory political or religious agenda, nor polarizing “us vs them” language. If Talks fail to meet the standards above, TED reserves the right to insist on their removal.

Thanks to those of you who weighed in along with me on these talks, including not only some readers but also Carl Zimmer and P. Z. Myers.

73 Comments

  1. truthspeaker
    Posted March 14, 2013 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

    Nice!

  2. Posted March 14, 2013 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

    So. What is TED doing to make sure this doesn’t happen again?

    Anything?

    • Posted March 14, 2013 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

      Well, it haz roolz. And it seems to be enforcing them. Which should encourage compliance.

      /@

      • Posted March 14, 2013 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

        It only enforces them well after the fact, when there is a tremendously loud fuss.

        This does not count as enforcing them.

        Have they lifted a finger towards making sure this won’t actually happen again?

        • Posted March 14, 2013 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

          Hmm… well, TED is some way away from Minority Report.

          /@

          • Posted March 14, 2013 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

            Claiming that it is impossible to screen perfectly is not an excuse for letting them just continue as they have been.

            On TED’s side, this entire exercise has been damage control.

            Could you please point me to any evidence that they are actually changing their behaviour? This is hardly the first incident of this sort.

        • Gregory Kusnick
          Posted March 14, 2013 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

          It only enforces them well after the fact

          How do you know this? If they’re enforcing the rules before the fact, and declining to provide a forum for some talks or speakers, how would this look any different from what we see?

        • Craig
          Posted March 15, 2013 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

          IMHO this is a good example of the process working as it should. Not letting the videos be aired in the first place is simply censorship. Whilst it may be desirable to censor some material (racist, sexist, etc) Sheldrake’s and Hancock’s videos merely contained a lot of factually incorrect and provocative, deliberately insulting language. This was pointed out to TED and the material moved to another section, away from serious science. In a way this is more effective at highlighting the faults of the arguments presented by Sheldrake and Hancock than not airing them in the first place.

          • Gregory Kusnick
            Posted March 15, 2013 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

            When a publisher declines to publish something, that’s not censorship; that’s editorial policy. TED is under no obligation to spend their own money publishing talks that don’t meet their standards. The author or speaker is still free to seek publication elsewhere.

            When the government says nobody is allowed to publish something, that’s censorship.

    • steve oberski
      Posted March 14, 2013 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

      You just saw it in action.

      Bad ideas were put forth in the public sphere, no holds barred criticism of those ideas ensued and good ideas pushed bad ideas to the side.

      That’s the way it’s supposed to work in a secular democracy.

      The real question is what are you and I doing to make sure this doesn’t happen again.

  3. Posted March 14, 2013 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for pursuing this, Jerry. You are outproducing most of us by a large margin. I hate to say “Multi-Tasking” as that is not possible (sez science!).

    These people (Sheldrake and Hancock) go far in demonstrating that a little knowledge in the wrong hands is detrimental to society. They obviously started with a “goal” and worked backwards…the opposite of real science.

  4. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted March 14, 2013 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    A positive result for campaigning, Jerry. Well done!

  5. Mary Canada
    Posted March 14, 2013 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    Yes!

  6. @eightyc
    Posted March 14, 2013 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    lol

    Is the other section of the website labelled, “Pseudoscience” cuz that would be friggin’ awesome!

    haha

    One section reserved for “real” Science and another for pseudoscience.

    • Posted March 14, 2013 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

      Remember, “TED” stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design.

      One could explore some arcane matters regarding Harry Potter in a TED talk, but it would be categorized as “E”… “entertainment”.

      Perhaps under “E” would reside “Alchemy, Astrology, and other Medieval Speculations”

      • @eightyc
        Posted March 14, 2013 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

        lol.

        Well that’d be awesome! It actually would be “E”ntertainment if quacks tried to “D”esign “T”echnology based on their pseudoscience.

        haha

  7. Dawn Oz
    Posted March 14, 2013 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    I needed this win today – such good news!

  8. Greg Esres
    Posted March 14, 2013 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

    Failing to provide a platform for zany ideas is not censorship.

  9. Posted March 14, 2013 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for sharing this information. Science wins and TED made the right move.

  10. illinoisjoe
    Posted March 14, 2013 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

    I’m quite happy about this: I think they struck the perfect balance and I’d been worried that they would simply remove the video which, while within their rights, would have exacerbated their original mistake.

  11. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted March 14, 2013 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

    This is so full of win for everyone.

    • rickflick
      Posted March 15, 2013 at 3:59 am | Permalink

      Sheldrake not so much.

  12. Eric
    Posted March 14, 2013 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

    The most cogent rule applied here is the no polarizing “us vs them” language. It is not surprising that most of your readers and the appointed guardians of Truth at TED would find any departure from the scientific method abhorrent. If Jimi Hendrix were to ask “are you experienced?” those same devotees of western rationalism would have to answer in the negative. Everyone maintains their own understanding of the limits of knowledge and it’s comforting to have a method to believe in but most will never experience the expansion of consciousness that lies at the evolutionary roots of our ability to reflect meaningfully. I won’t be surprised if this comment is sequestered as well.

    • Chuck O'Connor
      Posted March 14, 2013 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

      Those that fail to understand how science operates always seem to regress towards a preemptive persecution complex.

    • truthspeaker
      Posted March 15, 2013 at 6:53 am | Permalink

      ” If Jimi Hendrix were to ask ‘are you experienced?’ those same devotees of western rationalism would have to answer in the negative”

      What is your basis for claiming that?

    • Craig
      Posted March 15, 2013 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

      “I won’t be surprised if this comment is sequestered as well.”

      Why? You’re allowed to disagree, especially if you provide reasons for disagreeing. But you don’t appear to have done that in your post.

  13. Chuck O'Connor
    Posted March 14, 2013 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

    The comments over at the TED site are comical in their sense of persecution. Dr. Coyne is a medieval figure in their eyes.

  14. Logicophilosophicus
    Posted March 15, 2013 at 1:47 am | Permalink

    I never liked Sheldrake’s morphogenetic fields, and I see that a complete lack of peer reviewed justification for that idea is one of TEDx’s reasons for sidelining his talk. Good decision.

    However…

    The TEDx statement includes a different take on the speed of light “howler”.

    JAC: “TEDx talks completely discredited: Rupert Sheldrake speaks, argues that speed of light is dropping!”

    Sean Carroll: “…in some sense, the speed of light can‘t change. It’s a dimensionful quantity…”

    But (TEDx sidelining Sheldrake):

    “[Sheldrake] argues that scientists have ignored variations in the measurements of natural constants, using as his primary example the dogmatic assumption that a constant must be constant and uses the speed of light as example. But, in truth, there has been a great deal of inquiry into the nature of scientific constants, including published, peer-reviewed research investigating whether certain constants – including the speed of light – might actually vary over time or distance. Scientists are constantly questioning these assumptions.”

  15. Posted March 15, 2013 at 3:33 am | Permalink

    Science does not exist to compare with religious science but to supercede it.
    2000 year old history (religious) book, is an insult to current thinking, as though nothing else has been discovered since the desert goat herders, spoke to the jinns.

  16. Marvol
    Posted March 15, 2013 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    I feel vindicated – I even feel I have meaningfully contributed!

    I wrote on the TEDx blog exactly some of the points TED mentions for pulling it – his fallacious claim that science denies consciousnessexist, the speed of light changing.

    Then on YouTube I made the same and some more points, about his lack of peer-reviewed publications into e.g morphic resonance and his infamous ‘sence of being stared at’.

    Of course I was roundly attacked by the woo-lovers. I feel I have the last laugh now though, although it seems my comments are destroyed in the process :(. A small price to pay.

    • Robbie
      Posted March 21, 2013 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

      Why do you all feel the need to use the word ‘woo’? I don’t understand it, does it make you feel intellectual superiority or what? Please explain!

      • illinoisjoe
        Posted March 21, 2013 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

        I feel compelled to answer this because, though I am certainly 100% in the anti-woo camp, I had to look this up myself and still think it’s kind of a stupid term (and if you read below, you’ll see I’m not alone). So, ignoring your hostile tone, here’s some solid info on woo
        (from http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Woo):

        “Woo is a term used among skeptical writers for pseudoscientific explanations that have certain common characteristics.

        “The term comes from woo-woo, an epithet used in the 1990s by science and skeptical writers to ridicule people who believe or promote such things. This is in turn believed to have come from the onomatopoeia “woooooo!” as a reaction to dimmed lights or magic tricks. The term implies a lack of either intelligence or sincerity on the part of the person or concepts so described.

        “Despite the terrible name, it has become quite a popular term.”

        • Robbie
          Posted March 22, 2013 at 5:33 am | Permalink

          I’m sorry if my tone come across as hostile, that was not my intention!
          I can see then that it’s used by Jerry and people here who think that anyone who thinks that might be anything to Sheldrake or Hancock’s ideas or anything not fitting in with mainstream science is not intelligent? Seems like a pretty unfair characterization to me, Sheldrake and Hancock for example are very intelligent people, whether or not you agree with what they have to say.
          Also can I ask, if you feel the term is stupid why did you say ‘anti woo’?

          • illinoisjoe
            Posted March 22, 2013 at 8:35 am | Permalink

            I use the term woo and anti woo because it is the most succinct and generally accepted term we have for the several paragraphs I pasted above. I dislike the sound of it and the etymology, not what it signifies. There isn’t “mainstream” and “fringe” science. It’s not a matter of fashion, it’s a matter of science versus make-believe (woo). The fact that Sheldrake and Hancock are intelligent, if true, would not prevent them from slinging woo, it would only make their crimes more nefarious. Lots of intelligent people are seduced by ridiculous ideas. Often, the intelligent proponents do the most damage in convincing others.

            • Posted March 22, 2013 at 8:50 am | Permalink

              Who was it said that the most intelligent people are best at convincing themselves that their wild ideas were well founded? Shermer?

              /@

            • Robbie
              Posted March 22, 2013 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

              First of all, when you say generally accepted, by who? The people you refer to as believing in ‘woo’ certainly don’t accept it, wouldn’t a more agreeable term be more preferable, simply for courtesy rather then anything else?
              I don’t know enough about Sheldrake or Hancock’s ideas to say whether they are true or not, but I would imagine that make belief is a bit far and again a bit insulting. Sheldrake has conducted experiments for example, with some (relatively) positive results behind it, so what about his ideas to you are make belief?
              Also what ‘crimes’ are they commiting? I don’t see any laws being broken here, I’m sure you didn’t mean it literally but again I think you’re going a bit far with your criticism!

              • Chuck O'Connor
                Posted March 22, 2013 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

                Can you describe the experiments and explain to us why they are valid?

              • Robbie
                Posted March 22, 2013 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

                Well depends on what you decide makes an experiment ‘valid’. Sheldrake did some experiments with Jaytee the dog, the staring experiments, his experiments with N’kiti the Parrot (awesome name, his telephone experiments etc. You can look them up if you like, I’m sure you’ll find something wrong with them, as you can with any experiment. The point is he has actually done some research, and not just ‘made stuff up’.

              • Chuck O'Connor
                Posted March 22, 2013 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

                So you don’t understand the research you are defending?

              • Gregory Kusnick
                Posted March 22, 2013 at 7:32 pm | Permalink

                Robbie, if you’re sure there are flaws to be found in Sheldrake’s experiments, then why would you trust the results?

                All experiments are not created equal. You can’t get away with saying, well, they all have flaws, so the flaws in mine don’t matter. You have to fix the flaws, and make your work bulletproof to criticism. That’s how science advances — not by refusing to criticize for fear of offending someone.

              • Robbie
                Posted March 23, 2013 at 6:40 am | Permalink

                I’ll have to respond to you two here it wouldn’t let me reply underneath :).
                Chuck – I wasn’t saying that, I wasn’t saying it depends on what makes an experiment valid to you. I named three so you could look into them, but I was basically asking, what would make an experiment valid to you?
                Gregory – I wasn’t really saying that I was sure Sheldrake’s experiments themselves were flawed, more that despite what you say no experiment is free of flaws or bulletproof, and I’m under no illustion that Sheldrake’s would be any different! Also that due to the fact that you disagree with Sheldrake, you are more likely to look for reasons to dismiss his results.
                I agree that you have to try to fix flaws and improve experiments, but I don’t think any experiment is truly ‘bulletproof’, especially one’s involving human performance and animals, as opposed to say, a standard double slit experiment.

              • Chuck O'Connor
                Posted March 23, 2013 at 8:42 am | Permalink

                I asked for links to the raw data and study design or at least a detailed explanation by you why I should take as valid the wild conclusions these men make. You haven’t done that. I don’t have the time to waste chasing woo. If you wish to provide a detailed rationale with well-tested evidence then I might consider the claims you defend. Lacking that I offer Hitchens razor, that which can be asserted without evidence can be rejected without evidence.

              • Gregory Kusnick
                Posted March 23, 2013 at 10:42 am | Permalink

                Robbie, the point you’re missing is that Sheldrake’s experiments are different. They’re much less bulletproof than the standards of good science require.

                Those standards are not arbitrary; they’ve been painstakingly worked out over centuries to admit ideas that are productive in learning verifiable facts about the world, and to filter out unproductive ideas.

                It’s not just a matter of personal taste, as you seem to think. Do Sheldrake’s ideas lead to any new insights about the world? He’s had 30 years to make his case, and has failed to do so, not because minds are closed against him (as he would like you to think), but because he has nothing useful to offer. There’s no substance there, just fanciful ideas that can’t be verified and don’t lead anywhere.

              • illinoisjoe
                Posted March 23, 2013 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

                No experiment is perfect. Flaws are acceptable, fatal flaws are not. Unwarranted conclusions that fly in the face of parsimony are not either. I don’t want to sound too inflammatory, but you seem to have a caricatured notion of what science is and is not.

                Yes, woo is bad, so of course nobody likes being accused of believing in it. Nobody thinks they believe in woo, they think what there doing is not woo. This is different than not accepting the term woo. What they don’t accept is the application of said term to what they’re promoting. There is no place for courtesy among those who promote ideas that are objectively based on nonsense. They are hurting humanity, I don’t mind hurting their feelings.

              • Robbie
                Posted March 23, 2013 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

                Chuck- Here is a link that covers Rupert’s work with the ‘sense of being stared at’ and independent replications and what not:

                http://www.sheldrake.org/Articles&Papers/papers/staring/pdf/JCSpaper1.pdf

                Also we’re just covering Sheldrake, not Hancock.
                Gregory – What about Sheldrake’s experiments do you feel make them of a lesser standard then ‘good science’? In terms of personal taste and that, it’s more about ideology and worldviews then personal taste. I think closed minds certainly play a part, if you don’t agree fair enough, we don’t have to agree on everything. I think everybody has a closed mind to an extent, and scientists are no exception to this! I don’t think why you feel his ideas aren’t verifiable, I think the idea that you know when you’re being stared at or not, is easily verifiable. Whether Sheldrake has anything useful to offer depends on what you see as useful I guess!
                IllinoisJoe- Hello! I’m gonna ask a few questions now just be clear about what we’re discussing. Which experiments are you describing and what do you see as ‘fatal flaws’? Also, why do you feel my idea of what science is, is ‘caricatured’?
                I don’t feel like we’re going to get anywhere if you feel there is no place for courtesy for ideas you feel are based on ‘nonsense’. Which ideas do you feel are nonsense? What do you feel you gain from not being courteous towards those you agree with? Also, how do you feel they are ‘hurting humanity’?
                I apologize for all the questions and the time it make take to answer them, they are genuine questions!

    • Chuck O'Connor
      Posted March 24, 2013 at 7:26 am | Permalink

      There are four fatal flaws to Sheldrake’s conclusions based on his design. One a lack of double-blind control. All of the gazers and respondents were aware they were in an experiment and this should prime the respondent’s behavior. The second is a lack of a well-controlled experiment where the sample population is randomized to offer a statistical correspondence to the general population. We don’t know if he chose a sample friendly to his premise and therefore more likely to report positive results. Third, the setting creates a priming towards the conclusion. In social science research we call this “The focus group facility effect” – people respond to stimulus in an expected manner based on the setting they are in. Fourth, and the most damning, he admits to priming his subjects in his own report by talking about the power of a learning when he writes, “In experiments in which the same subjects were tested repeatedly and given trial-by-trial feedback, there was a striking learning effect, with a significant (p=0.003) improvement in scores with practice (Colwell et al., 2000). In a Ger- man school, with repeated testing, some 8 to 9 year-old children achieved accu- racies as high as 90% (Sheldrake, 1998).” He admits to priming his subjects and reports it as confirmation of his premise, when in reality it pollutes his data. In short, his research is not randomized, well controlled or immune to researcher priming to bias. It is BAD science by his own admission (although he seems too stupid to see that).

      • Robbie
        Posted March 24, 2013 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

        You should say ‘flaws’ instead of ‘fatal flaws’, it just shows your hostility towards Sheldrake and lack of objectivity towards his work.
        Anyway some good criticisms here, I agree that future work should use double-blind to build on the work that’s already done. Although how would you suggest doing research in that area without making them aware they were in an experiment?
        I have to admit I don’t understand how being open to this kind of thing would affect whether you know you would be stared at or not? As there were also trials without staring if it was down to you being open to the idea then surely they would be at a similar level to the staring trials due to guessing and whatnot?
        The third point you’ll have to explain to me more I don’t understand it.
        The forth one is also debatable, how could you prime someone toward a certain result when there were staring trials and non staring trials? It could suggest that you can be trained to know when the sense is true rather then not true? (If that makes any sense)
        I agree that these all could be used improve the quality of his research, but I wouldn’t say they were flaws that seriously undermine this particular research, and I definitely wouldn’t say they were fatal flaws.

        • Posted March 24, 2013 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

          They are fatal flaws because he doesn’t (and you don’t) even understand that they are flaws or why they are flaws, and keep claiming all these science people are just conspiring to be mean – rather than having a great deal of experience in the power of human foibles to completely foul up any scientific value from an experiment, and the importance of not doing that.

          As Feynman said: “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself — and you are the easiest person to fool.” Sheldrake never learnt that. However, that he has fooled himself (and you) doesn’t mean anyone else should therefore take him seriously.

  17. Marvol
    Posted March 15, 2013 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    Oh god the outrage on the TED blog is truly a spectacle to behold :O. The pitchfork crowd is out in force for sure!

    • Chuck O'Connor
      Posted March 15, 2013 at 10:56 am | Permalink

      How are you defining censorship? And you do realize that we aren’t the gatekeepers right? The scientific method is. If people want to offer a theory on reality they want me to accept then they have to show the prediction through independent analysis their theory affords. If not then you are dealing with personality-driven rhetoric, not knowledge. Train a bit in the basics of the scientific method before you start crying censorship. These guys wouldn’t get their ideas past a peer review so they go to social media where untrained fans “feel” that the knowledge is real, without asking the pertinent questions to test the reality of that knowledge.

    • Chuck O'Connor
      Posted March 15, 2013 at 11:10 am | Permalink

      My comment made earlier was not directed to you. I don’t know why it showed up where it did.

      I agree with you on the silliness of the outrage at the TED site. It seems emotional reasoning of the TED followers leads to knee-jerk martyrdom.

      • Posted March 15, 2013 at 11:37 am | Permalink

        Am I right that your comment above was a response to Rosegirl Deb’s “Who made you the gatekeepers of knowledge? Ideas worth spreading? No, ideas worth censoring apparently…what exactly are you scared of?” which Ceiling Cat seems to have moderated away… 

        Well, some kinds of manure are worth spreading, but Sheldrake’s woo was neither an idea worth spreading nor manure worth spreading. We’re not scared of Sheldrake, but that doesn’t mean we’re happy for his balderdash to be endorsed by association with the TED/TEDx brand.

        /@

        • Chuck O'Connor
          Posted March 15, 2013 at 11:49 am | Permalink

          Yes it was. Where did that post go?

  18. Alex
    Posted March 16, 2013 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    “Pseudoscience is a claim, belief, or practice which is presented as scientific, but does not adhere to a valid scientific method, lacks supporting evidence or plausibility, cannot be reliably tested, or otherwise lacks scientific status.[1] Pseudoscience is often characterized by the use of vague, contradictory, exaggerated or unprovable claims, an over-reliance on confirmation rather than rigorous attempts at refutation, a lack of openness to evaluation by other experts, and a general absence of systematic processes to rationally develop theories.”
    From wikipedia

    Which part of Hancock’s speech defines itself as “science”? Why is this even being debated as a science or psedoscience topic?
    His talk was more about cultural belief systems and the way our society is blind to any other system than mechanistic science….

    And Sheldrake? Did he not actually spend more time asking of science to agree to discuss its axioms? A large part of his talk was about trying to observe the fact that maybe the speed of light is a variable. He didn’t say “if it isn’t a variable, there must be something wrong somewhere”. He didn’t say “Science is a bunch of crap”. He said : “Scientists have dogmas”. What is pseudoscientific about that? He asked more questions than answers.

    I think what is scary about this set of comments vs the ones on the TED blog is that everybody there is asking for an explanation. Everybody here seems to be satisfied that the status quo has been maintained.

  19. Posted March 21, 2013 at 12:45 am | Permalink

    FYI. IMHO, the only thing that will settle this once and for all is for TED to restore Sheldrake and Hancock’s videos in their rightful TEDx distribution channel and to apologize for its mistake of soft censoring them in the first place.

    “This week saw a remarkable victory in the court of human justice with the public climb-down by internet media giant TED in light of their error in censoring last week, the challenging talks by leading thinkers Graham Hancock and Rupert Sheldrake. The much loved TED brand has been called on its trustworthiness for the first time and forced to retract its position.”

    ~ http://www.disinfo.com/2013/03/ted-backs-down-people-power-wins-against-censorship/

  20. Posted March 21, 2013 at 12:58 am | Permalink

    you’ve been quiet lately Mr. Coyne. how about going for another “victory for real science” by debating Sheldrake in public? surely it would be easy for you to expose his pseudoscientist arguments.

    in case you missed it, here is Sheldrake’s challenge on TED conversations. oh, snap! :)

    —-

    via ~ http://www.ted.com/conversations/17189/the_debate_about_rupert_sheldr.html?c=630004

    Rupert Sheldrake: I appreciate the fact that TED published my response to the accusations levelled against me by their Scientific Board, and also crossed out the Board’s statement on the “Open for discussion” blog. http://blog.ted.com/2013/03/14/open-for-discussion-graham-hancock-and-rupert-sheldrake/

    There are no longer any specific points to answer. I am all in favour of debate, but it is not possible to make much progress through short responses to nebulous questions like “Is this an idea worth spreading, or misinformation?”

    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.

    • Chuck O'Connor
      Posted March 21, 2013 at 3:49 am | Permalink

      Didn’t you read Sean Carroll’s refutation of Sheldrake’s claims? Why must there be further debate? And it probably be a physicist who would debate Sheldrake.

      • marcustanthony
        Posted March 21, 2013 at 4:02 am | Permalink

        Sean Carrol isn’t omnipotent, and debates involve at least two sides, not just one person congratulating themselves that they know all the answers. Debate: that’s how science works, how knowledge progresses. Your position implies that you think that all ideas and research which challenge your own should be silenced; all uncomfortable questions deleted in the vain faith that more research, data and understanding will never result in any shift in knowledge. You confuse the boundaries of your understanding with the boundaries of the universe.

        • whyevolutionistrue
          Posted March 21, 2013 at 4:14 am | Permalink

          Nobody is congratulating themselves that they know all the answers. But Sheldrake has no answers, just a lot of half-baked claims. It is not the obligation of scientists to “debate” any crank ideas that come down the pike. Should we debate homeopaths, astrologers, and flat-earthers. If we didn’t, would that constitute “suppression” or “censorship”? If Sheldrake wants his “science” to be taken seriously, let him submit evidence to good, peer-reviewed journals instead of writing questionable claims for the popular press. The dogs-know-when-their-owners-come-home stuff is a prime example of a shoddy experiment that Sheldrake touted widely.

          I’m sorry, but the first step in getting something recognized as worthy science is to have it published in a peer-reviewed journal. Let Sheldrake do that (and I don’t mean fifth-rate journals specializing in woo), and then maybe he’ll be worth considering.

          • marcustanthony
            Posted March 21, 2013 at 4:57 am | Permalink

            Catch-22. We won’t accept you into the club till you demonstrate good work with the club. The basis of Sheldrake’s talk on TED is pointing out problematic issues in the way science is conducted, including the way it systematically excludes knowledge and research which does not fall within its current understanding. The fact is the journals in the areas that Sheldrake researches and the people involved know far more about the issues involved than those outside it, including you. By excluding and silencing the experts you simply set up a self-limiting, self-stultifying problematique.

            TED’s work on this issue has been so sloppy it is staggering. Almost every point it made about Sheldrake and Hancock’s talks was wrong. Sheldrake then presented a statement, pointing to evidence and research which backed his case. Four days later TED is yet to address that evidence and research, as far as I am aware. The reason is obvious. They don’t understand the debates, and have not read the literature. Everything that they have written there indicates this to be true. Most likely they are struggling to find someone who does within their group of “science advisers”. Yet there is nothing on this blog which has pointed all this out, when it is the most obvious aspect of this public relations disaster.

            Arguing that certain domains of inquiry are taboo – unless the researchers present a case affirming a null hypothesis – and secreting away research into them is an indefensible position in any genuinely democratic society, or democratic institution.

            P.S. I’m guessing Richard Wiseman is still feeling a little embarrassed about his experimental results with the dog.

            • whyevolutionistrue
              Posted March 21, 2013 at 5:08 am | Permalink

              Scientific research has standards; that’s the way it has made progress. Imagine if we allowed people to publish tests of new drugs without using double-blind experiments (that’s the woo-drug-people’s equivalent of Sheldrake). It’s not a “club,” it’s science.

              Crank science, which doesn’t adhere to rigorous standards, shouldn’t be published.

              I suggest that from now on you frequent the like-minded websites that tout this too, and that reject hard scientific standards as simply arbitrary rules of the club. You’re not going to convince me, much less the rational people on this site.

              • Robbie
                Posted March 22, 2013 at 5:36 am | Permalink

                Jerry, why do you keep using the term ‘woo’? I get that you don’t think there is anything to ideas like Sheldrake’s or anything Psi related and whatnot, but don’t you think the term is a bit insulting? I can see you’re pretty sure Sheldrake and others are wrong and that you are right, so shouldn’t you concentrate on debating and convincing the people that agree with ideas like Sheldrake’s, rather then insulting them?

              • Posted March 22, 2013 at 6:40 am | Permalink

                Well, Jerry can speak for himself, but some ideas are just not worth the time and effort “debating and convincing people”.

                See Jerry’s comment about “homeopaths, astrologers, and flat-earthers” and mine (below) about epistemically humility.

                /@

              • Posted March 22, 2013 at 6:41 am | Permalink

                *epistemic humility (curse you, auto-correct)

        • Posted March 21, 2013 at 4:40 am | Permalink

          Epistemic humility is all very well – and science knows it doesn’t know everything, otherwise it’d stop! (Dara Ó Briain) – but we do know, very firmly, what constitutes a good scientific hypothesis: that it should have explanatory power, that it should be parsimonious cp. competing hypotheses, that it should make testable predictions, &c.

          Sheldrake’s “Moronic Resonance” fails on this basis.

          It‘s simply woo and Sheldrake is merely cherry picking facts consistent with his unwarranted conclusions. His approach has more in common with theology than science!

          /@

          • Robbie
            Posted March 22, 2013 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

            I’ll reply to your comment here Ant, it wouldn’t let me do it further up!
            I’d like to hear Jerry answer himself if possible, but I’ll respond as you were good enough to respond to me :).
            I understand that everyone has their own ideas on what is worth debating and not, I for example don’t understand how somebody could believe the world is flat.
            I wouldn’t however, insult the person, or use a derogatory term to describe that person. If the intention is not to debate them then why mention the idea at all? Or is it just about insulting and ridiculing ideas you don’t agree with?

            • Gregory Kusnick
              Posted March 22, 2013 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

              It’s not a question of whether we agree with it, it’s a question of whether reality agrees with it. Is the idea right or wrong in its claims about the world? Is it even coherent enough to be testable? If not, then it’s not science.

              It’s no good saying you wouldn’t insult a flat-Earther, because the term “flat-Earther” is itself an insult, and with good reason. Whatever bad rep flat-Earthers have is earned by their failure to accept obvious facts.

              By the same token, whatever word we use to describe bad science, there’s no getting around the fact that it’s bad, and no point trying to sugar-coat it by pretending it’s just “different”. As Ant said, there are objective standards for what constitutes good science, and the word we use for ideas that clearly don’t meet those standards is “woo”.

              • Posted March 22, 2013 at 7:28 pm | Permalink

                Thanks, Gregory. What you said.

                Robbie: “I wouldn’t however, insult the person, or use a derogatory term to describe that person.”

                Nor would I. Ideas are fair game, though.

                /@

              • Robbie
                Posted March 23, 2013 at 6:50 am | Permalink

                I understand you guys feel that work of the people like Sheldrake and Hancock doesn’t meet certain standards of science, although I feel some of Sheldrake’s work does or at least attempts to, for example his idea that animals can be telepathic, as outlandish as you may feel that idea is, it can be tested, and he has attempted to test it. His morphic resonance idea I don’t know enough about to see whether it is coherent or can be tested.
                Okay well I wasn’t aware that term was insulting, so I will no longer use it. I agree that I don’t understand how they can believe that, but I wouldn’t insult them, insulting people doesn’t really get you anywhere, especially in terms of winning them over. If you’re not trying to win them over, what are you trying to do?
                I think you are also pretending that science or rather, the people that operate within it, are objective. Everyone has their own biases, in areas that you guys call ‘woo’ some pretty good work has been done, for example some of Julie Beischels experiments with mediums. Again, you may think ‘woo’ is a good word to use for what you feel is bad science but the people within that area find the term insulting, and I’m sure you guys want to win them over to your point of view, so why not use a different term? Unless your intention is just to insult, which I’m sure it isn’t!

              • whyevolutionistrue
                Posted March 23, 2013 at 8:35 am | Permalink

                There’s not a chance in hell of winning over someone like Sheldrake, and that’s not the point. The point is to let people who are on the fence, or haven’t yet been acquainted with the so-called “evidence” for this woo, that it’s laughable, that it’s not accepted by mainstream science, and that there’s no real scientific evidence for it beyond wish-thinking and anecdotes.

        • Chuck O'Connor
          Posted March 21, 2013 at 5:32 am | Permalink

          Not at all. Debate can be conducted in print. Sheldrake has ignored Carroll. He needs to respond. The ball is in his court. And science is done by falsification of one’s hypothesis, not verification of one’s bias (the latter is what both Hancock and Sheldrake have done and why there have been cries of pseudo-science).

  21. Posted March 24, 2013 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

    good to know that one of Sheldrake’s arch-nemesis was not behind it. if this second-hand information is true then Dennett, me, and most of the people who cried foul at TED are on the same boat.

    “Some commenters theorized that people like Daniel Dennett, himself a staunch materialist… and a member of the TED Brain Trust… must be behind this decision. Interestingly, Guy Hayward wrote:

    ‘I went to a talk by Daniel Dennett last night in London, and heard him saying to Rupert Sheldrake that he thought TED had made a mistake with regard to this whole controversy. Dennett also said he had had nothing to do with the controversy.’

    ~ http://sebastian.penraeth.com/post/46115422948/teds-spectacular-fail-ideas-worth-suppressing


4 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] A victory for real science over woo: TEDx removes Sheldrake and Hancock talks from YouTube channel (whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com) [...]

  2. [...] of TED organizers, and the videos are full of factual problems. This was called a big win by many. However, David Osorio over at Advant Garde is more skeptical of the response, considering it more [...]

  3. […] Sheldrake (and Graham Hancock, he who believes the Ark of the Covenant is real, and that aliens built the pyramids) spoke at TEDx events, but  both of their talks were removed from the TEDx archives following widespread protest regarding TEDx being used as a vehicle to promote pseudoscience. These episodes led to a joint TED (the mother-ship) and TEDx policy reminder that pseudoscience was not welcome at these events. […]

  4. […] Sheldrake (and Graham Hancock, he who believes the Ark of the Covenant is real, and that aliens built the pyramids) spoke at TEDx events, but  both of their talks were removed from the TEDx archives following widespread protest regarding TEDx being used as a vehicle to promote pseudoscience. These episodes led to a joint TED (the mother-ship) and TEDx policy reminder that pseudoscience was not welcome at these events. […]

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