Woomeister to give prestigious public-school lecture in UK

Bedales School, located in the town of Steep in southeast England, is one of the most prestigious “public schools” in the UK. As you know, those are the equivalent of what we in the US would call “private boarding schools,” catering to children (males and females in this case) between about 13 and 18 years old.

The school has an annual “Eckersley Memorial Lectures,” designed to stimulate an interest in science. You can read about some past speakers here (pp. 9-11). Since the lectures began in the Sixties they’ve included a number of scientific luminaries like Herman Bondi, Lewis Wolpert, Colin Blakemore, Ken Pounds and Nobel Laureates Lawrence Bragg and Max Perutz.

Well, look at the luminary they’ve chosen for this year’s lecture:

Picture 1We have Chopra; England has Sheldrake.

It’s outrageous that someone with such wacko ideas is not only being honored this way, but will be given the chance to corrupt young minds with ideas about morphic resonance, psychic phenomena, and How Dogs Know When Their Owners are Coming Home.  And the lecture blurb actually boasts of this stuff, characterizing Sheldrake as “one of the world’s most innovative biologists and writers.”  “Notorious” would be a better word than “innovative.”  Sadly, a bunch of kids in this sold-out lecture will get to hear that materialism is a dying paradigm in science. What were they thinking?

I feel sorry for the lost opportunity to turn kids onto real, genuine, materialistic, hard science rather than fluffy woo. I don’t know about you, but I’m at least going to register a small protest.

Email: admin@bedales.org.uk (the headmaster is Keith Budge)

The Governors of the School can be contacted via Helen McBrown at hmcbrown@bedales.org.uk

Media Enquiries: Please contact Director of External Relations, Rob Reynolds (rreynolds@bedales.org.uk)

One of the school’s mottos is “We grow enquiring minds.”  In this case, they’re going to stunt them.

79 Comments

  1. gbjames
    Posted January 20, 2014 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    sub

  2. Barry Lyons
    Posted January 20, 2014 at 11:31 am | Permalink

    I first saw Sheldrake in that otherwise fine PBS series, “A Glorious Accident”. You could almost hear some of other people at the table thinking, “What is HE doing here?” It was infuriating that Wim Kayzer invited him to the discussion and not Richard Dawkins or E.O. Wilson.

    • romeviharo
      Posted January 21, 2014 at 8:11 am | Permalink

      you could almost hear them thinking that at the table eh? like telepathy?

  3. John Rhino
    Posted January 20, 2014 at 11:38 am | Permalink

    I think you are protesting a little too much .

    Kids will be exposed to woo throughout their lives and at 13 and above should be able to handle it. I would certainly expect the 18 year olds to pose some sceptical questions and it will be discussed in the classroom afterwards. I would expect the science teacher will also be allowed to ask questions.

    England is far less woo infested than the US and kids I know of this age don’t accept much on trust and a good few are downright cynical. I would be happy for my child to attend (if only I could afford the fees!)

    • Posted January 20, 2014 at 11:47 am | Permalink

      So…because you think most kids will walk away unscathed, we should be in the business of providing platforms for woo-pushers?

    • Sastra
      Posted January 20, 2014 at 11:54 am | Permalink

      Sheldrake is being provided an explicitly scientific platform. Even the expressed skepticism will therefore be framed in terms of a viable internal dispute within science. Scientists on one side vs. scientists on the other.

      And yes, it’s exactly as bad a allowing an ID advocate the honor. It will be framed the same way: here is the middle position between the extremes. It’s not “woo” — it’s not atheism. It’s the reasonable space where science meets spirituality.

      Skeptics will be treated as extremists who can’t and won’t compromise in the face of all this science-y evidence I just gave you.

    • Helen
      Posted January 20, 2014 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

      The UK is catching up with the US in terms of woo-infestation. Sheldrake is reportedly a member of the Theosophical Society and has lectured for the Anthroposophical Society (Steiner)of Great Britain.
      We are currently seeing the expansion of state-funded Steiner Schools, where they are very good at indoctrinating children with pseudoscience.

    • Posted January 20, 2014 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

      I understand what you are saying, and I think it is a useful angle because some good can come from this along the lines that you bring up. The teachers could later discuss the talk with the students, and ask them what they thought was right about it and they can also ask if they thought any of it was possibly not right. It is good to open the doors to skepticism in children, and to show them that not everything that is believed by some adults is based on knowledge and experience.
      I still do not like that they gave this person another prominent line on his resume, and right now it does look bad for the school.

    • H.H.
      Posted January 20, 2014 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

      Kids will be exposed to woo throughout their lives and at 13 and above should be able to handle it.

      Most adults can’t tell the difference between science and pseudoscience. The idea that 13 year-olds schoolchildren are fully-equipped to reject unscientific ideas presented as science by their academic authorities is wishful thinking.

      • Sastra
        Posted January 20, 2014 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

        Exactly. And young teenagers are going to be especially susceptible to the ‘Brave Maverick Scientist’ trope which Sheldrake and the woo-friendly are quick to utilize. The children are very likely to be told that THEY are the generation which is creative and open enough to make the real discoveries in Morphic Resonance as the hidebound skeptics die off and a new paradigm emerges blah blah blah.

      • Gareth Price
        Posted January 20, 2014 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

        I agree completely. And it isn’t necessarily a question of spotting logical fallacies: if facts are being misrepresented, it takes a certain level of scientific knowledge to spot this.

    • Sean
      Posted January 21, 2014 at 5:54 am | Permalink

      “Kids will be exposed to woo throughout their lives and at 13 and above should be able to handle it.”

      Even very smart adults can’t deal with woo.

      Most people consider Steve Jobs an extremely smart adult. He was so wrapped up in woo that he spent 2 years, after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, ingesting herbs and taking acupuncture treatments.

      He had a low chance of survival when diagnosed, but his chance fell to zero by waiting 2 years before taking chemo/radiation.

      We should not be presenting this garbage as science to anyone because it is immoral & in some extreme cases, it can be deadly.

      • Posted January 21, 2014 at 8:45 am | Permalink

        Actually, Steve Jobs use of alternative medicine is not that clear cut:

        http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/the-death-of-steve-jobs/

        • Sean
          Posted January 21, 2014 at 9:28 am | Permalink

          Ok I apologise. He waited 9 months, not 2 years.

          Any why did he wait? Woo. He wanted to study “Alternatives and herbal diets”.

          Even this article states:

          By the standards of medical science, it was an open-and-shut case: There was no serious alternative to surgery. “Surgery is the only treatment modality that can result in cure,” Dr. Jeffrey Norton, chief of surgical oncology at Stanford, wrote in a 2006 medical journal ”

          I also read that IDEO founder David Kelly got a call from Jobs when diagnosed with cancer and basically told them to “go straight for western medicine, forget alternatives” and go straight for the best science based medicine they could find. http://www.cbsnews.com/videos/how-to-design-breakthrough-inventions/ (Skip to 8 minutes)

          I know this is all anecdotal. But I am using it as an example to show that the crap Sheldrake and these thieves affect even smart people’s decisions.

          To peddle this stuff to 13 year old kids is WRONG.

      • Posted January 21, 2014 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

        How do we know it didn’t add two years to his life?

        • Sean
          Posted January 21, 2014 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

          You are missing the point.

          • Posted January 21, 2014 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

            Not really. It may or it may not have added months to his life, even if it through a placebo effect. It cannot be proved either way.

            • Sean
              Posted January 21, 2014 at 8:32 pm | Permalink

              I am using this anecdotal example to illustrate that smart adults can fall victims to woo.

              To present thee ideas to children is dangerous and immoral, regardless of weather Jobs experienced a placebo effect.

      • Bob
        Posted January 24, 2014 at 11:08 am | Permalink

        So if he lived his life minus the woo… nobody knows a thing about him, but he lives a bit longer.
        Which is the better scenario?

    • Posted January 21, 2014 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

      Put it this way. Suppose you were a science teacher at this school. Do you want to have to “mop up” this (likely) mess?

      • malf
        Posted January 21, 2014 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

        A good science teacher will use this as a great springboard for some real critical thinking…. I hope they have the teachers up to the task.

  4. Posted January 20, 2014 at 11:38 am | Permalink

    This brain abuse of children rivals / equals / is as heinous as sexual and physical abuse.

    And is — worldwide — rampant.

    Among “ intellectual ” as well as among the ‘ others ’ of the masses: When some of us are finally neuronally altogether freed up from woo — many, many times ( IF at all ) not until often very late in our lives — we then know that as little kiddos we had been, as had as well gargantuan numbers of our ancestors, … … we had been such the recipients in our brains of this manner of bloviating muck … … for millennia.

    Witness, as an example, the Burning Times: generations of females awakened every morning of their, their immediate ancestors’ and their daughters’ and granddaughters’ — and so forth for nearly 300+ years’ time — … … lives and survived all of the hours of every day of theirs IN the FEAR — TO such learned / TO such in – charge men — of being named. Of being named a witch.

    Blue

    • David Duncan
      Posted January 20, 2014 at 11:42 am | Permalink

      “This brain abuse of children rivals / equals / is as heinous as sexual and physical abuse.”

      I could say a lot about the above, but I’ll content myself by saying “no way in the world.”

      • Michael Fisher
        Posted January 20, 2014 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

        The physical abuse I received at my RC school in the early 60s [caning on the palms of the hands & buttocks] had less effect in the long term than the indoctrination re hellfire, purgatory & etc. Also the school used the Catholic [as with most religions] “in group” & “out group” strategy to bind us to our faith ~ another example of mental abuse that’s hard to shake completely.

        • pacopicopiedra
          Posted January 20, 2014 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

          I get your point, but I think David Duncan’s point is, answer this question: would you prefer you child attend this lecture, or be anally raped by his/her teacher?

      • Notagod
        Posted January 20, 2014 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

        The physical wounds often heal naturally. It is the mental health problems, including the mental problems that arise from the physical abuse, that can linger for a lifetime. It is a failing of our moral and legal systems that the mental problems don’t receive as much attention. Christianity would need to be shutdown if their use of mind manipulation was recognized and prosecuted.

  5. David Duncan
    Posted January 20, 2014 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    Perhaps he didn’t realise that Foundation’s Edge was science fiction. Sheesh.

  6. Posted January 20, 2014 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    Great! I almost went to Bedales, a progressive co-educational public school. I was, at age 11, among two hundred or so candidates. We spent a week there and underwent classes and assessments. I came ninth but there were only seven vacancies. Hence the almost. I was subsequently admitted into another prestigious progressive co-educational public school: Frensham Heights.

    • Posted January 21, 2014 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

      Not yet having fully integrated the jargon here, I misunderstood “Woomeister” and initially thought that Jerry was also invited to give a talk in Bedales, hence my “Great!” in my post above. Just wanted to clear any possible misunderstandings.

  7. natalielaberlinoise
    Posted January 20, 2014 at 11:45 am | Permalink

    From the guy’s website. If this doesn’t make you want to puke, what does?

    ” Internet Telepathy Test

    Can you feel when someone wants to get in touch with you online? This test takes only about 10 minutes, and involves two friends or family members.
    Many people have had the experience of thinking of someone who then calls on the phone, or sends them an email or a text message. Research by Rupert Sheldrake and others has shown in controlled experiments that this is more than chance coincidence. There seems to be an ELEMENT OF TELEPATHY in the process. Does something similar happen with messages sent on Facebook? This app is designed to find out and we hope you will help with this research by trying it. …”

  8. Sastra
    Posted January 20, 2014 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    What were they thinking?

    They were probably thinking that science is like art, literature, or religion. There are many different views and you don’t want to expose children to just one of them, do you? After all, who’s to say that what’s considered “wrong” or “poor taste” today won’t become groundbreaking or avant garde tomorrow? It’s all a matter of taste and faith. The reason mainstream scientists look askance at Rupert Sheldrake is probably another case of territory dispute — just like in art or religion. Sheldrake is “innovative” and you know how the Establishment always reacts to that.

    People (even people who ought to know better) often don’t get what ‘science’ involves — and the absolute necessity to test “theories” against both skepticism and reality. They think Sheldrake’s critics are just that — critics like you’d find on a page for movie or food critics. Let’s give the kiddies a broad-based education.

    It’s a very tempting framework to fall in to, particularly if you like what Sheldrake is telling you about a friendly, human-focused universe where yes, your dog really DOES have a psychic connection with you. One of Sheldrake’s “studies” involved a request that schoolchildren send him stories about how their pets knew what they were thinking or doing. These anecdotes were to be collected and turned into “data” which supports morphic ressonance. Science!

    Egads.

    • Posted January 20, 2014 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

      Sheldrake makes a living doing things like that described at the end of your comment?

      Things like that are why this is my current FB profile pic.

  9. Ken Kukec
    Posted January 20, 2014 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

    So who’s going to play the “Rupert Sheldrake” character at this gig — John Cleese? Eric Idle?

    It is impossible to say “morphic resonance” with a straight face. I’ve asked a broad cross section of friends & relations to give it a shot. Nobody’s been able to do it yet.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted January 20, 2014 at 11:26 pm | Permalink

      Morphic Resonance is a perfectly consistent, well-defined and intellectually respectable term. On the Discworld

  10. Posted January 20, 2014 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

    Oh, bother….

    b&

  11. Bert
    Posted January 20, 2014 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

    I hope their science teachers have some input into this and prime the kids with some suitable questions. In fact did they not have any input into the invitation? You would hope the head or whoever organised this had asked them for recommendations.

  12. LBarton
    Posted January 20, 2014 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    Holy crap, after Sheldrake’s paranoid conspiracy theories about Wikipedia were debunked by Coyne, did Sheldrake learn to be a little more skeptical? Au contraire! Sheldrake enshrined his paranoia in the centerpiece of his website! What a freak. For being stupid, he deserves a Google pagerank vote for Wikipedia: Rupert Sheldrake.

    • Achrachno
      Posted January 20, 2014 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

      Sheldrake is a very sad case. As our host noted: “He was once a real scientist, trained in biochemistry and cell biology at Cambridge, but somewhere went off the rails.”

      He’s not really stupid, but something went very wrong in his thinking a couple of decades ago. He seems like a well-meaning and nice enough fellow, but he suffers from some incomprehensible need to believe in grand connections for which there is zero evidence.

      • colnago80
        Posted January 20, 2014 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

        Better scientists then Sheldrake have gone off the rails. Fellow Britain Brian Josephson, a Nobel Prize winning physicist for the Josephson effect who believes in ESP, PK, and cold fusion. I might also mention Linus Pauling who believed that large doses of vitamin C could cure cancer and J. Allen Hynek, late professor of Astronomy at Northwestern Un. who came to believe in extraterrestrial visitations and abductions.

        • Posted January 21, 2014 at 9:15 am | Permalink

          There seems to be a distinct lack of _science_ in these comments, just people who _know_ that they are right, and because they know they are right they don’t even need to look into the evidence that might contradict their dogmas.

          • gbjames
            Posted January 21, 2014 at 9:31 am | Permalink

            Yes! Why don’t they look at the evidence?

            • infiniteimprobabilit
              Posted January 22, 2014 at 12:41 am | Permalink

              Nessie? OK, so now we *know* Nessie exists, (s)he has a website and a Contact link to prove it!
              ;)

        • Posted January 21, 2014 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

          Not to mention Bohr’s subjectivist misreading of his own theories, ditto (more or less) for Eddington and Eccles and Penfield (pioneering neuroscientists) who adopted psychoneural dualism. Bunge pointed out that Penfield at least was a Catholic, which would explain much, and that Bohr was in fact a student of a Kierkegaard scholar.

  13. Matt Bowman
    Posted January 20, 2014 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

    Warning kids: If you think you understand morphic resonance, you don’t understand morphic resonance. ;)

    • Old Rasputin
      Posted January 20, 2014 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

      I don’t know… somehow I suspect that I understand morphic resonance perfectly well.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted January 21, 2014 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

      Errr, “these are not the morphic resonators that you are looking for”?
      Or maybe, “the first rule of morphic resonance is that you don’t talk about morphic resonance”?

      • Posted January 21, 2014 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

        Pay no attention to that morph behind the resonator?

        b&

  14. Posted January 20, 2014 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    Here is a 18+ minute talk by Sheldrake on You Tube which may be what the school is in for: The Science Delusion. This is an old Tedx talk, which the Ted people apparently had taken down because of the outcry against it.

    I am playing it now as I type. He sets up some of the central tenets of science, including the nature of consciousness, then tries to present them as silly straw men arguments that he has demolished because he is so clever. He makes flippant claims with no evidence, and makes fact claims that are simply wrong. The speed of light has changed. Crystals growing on one side of the earth help crystals grow faster on the other side. Excuse me…. Must…not…punch..computer.

  15. Nilou Ataie
    Posted January 20, 2014 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    Great! Maybe next year they can get the author of The Secret, or guy on the street corner with the “Repent or Burn” sign.

    It is so important to teach children that batshit ideas with little to no value/evidence should not be glorified because it can confuse their ability to critically analyze data and have success in their future lives. That school is doing their students a grave disservice and the idiot that thought Sheldrake was a good idea should be fired – or at least morphically resonated to the metaphysics department.

    • Matt G
      Posted January 20, 2014 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

      Or maybe they can get the local priest!

  16. Nick
    Posted January 20, 2014 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    Coursera has a course from U of Edinburgh starting today on Critical thinking. Five weeks long (i.e. rather short), and will use ‘global challenges’ such as climate change and world population as bases for developing critical thinking skills.

    I believe that Coursera accepts children as young as 13 for their courses, so if you know people who might be taken in by Sheldrake and other woo-meisters, urge them to sign up.

    Of course, I have little hope that the masses of people who need to learn how to critically assess evidence (the anti-evolution and climate change denial crowd) will be big fans of such a class.

    • Suri
      Posted January 21, 2014 at 12:52 am | Permalink

      That one and ‘Think again: how to reason and argue’ are really good.

  17. Erp
    Posted January 20, 2014 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

    Bedales has tended to be more arts oriented but it should still have at least a few graduates who are prominent scientists (and a few children of scientists attending). It is noted for putting its library at the center instead of a chapel (it doesn’t have a chapel and is notably areligious and always has been). It is also known for being one of the first English public schools to be co-ed (since 1898 five years after it opened though some Quaker public schools had been co-ed far earlier).

    I took a look over the current Board of Governors, http://www.bedales.org.uk/media/72/21272-governors-career-summary-statements.pdf. Brian Johnson (FRS, former professor of Chemistry, Cambridge) seems to be the only scientist on it.

  18. Posted January 20, 2014 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

    FTR, here’s my letter.

    I am writing to you regarding your school’s decision to engage Dr Rupert Sheldrake to give your Eckersley lecture. As a teacher and educator familiar with Dr Sheldrake’s work, I am surprised and disappointed by your school’s decision to engage him as a speaker.

    I have studied Sheldrake’s work in some depth and have been aware of his work for two decades. I would have no objection, in principle at least, to students being exposed to controversial ideas or iconoclastic speakers. In some ways I applaud your school for being prepared to make an adventurous and controversial choice. But my disappointment stems from the extremely poor quality of Dr Sheldrake’s work. 

    As you may be aware, Dr Sheldrake accuses scientists of dogmatically adhering to a set of assumptions, (he lists ten), and claims that this has led to enormous and fundamental errors in the fields of physics and biology.

    Unfortunately, Dr Sheldrake misrepresents both physics and biology by making a series of shockingly naive errors. He compounds his serious deficiencies in knowledge of the basics of these fields by accusing scientists en masse of nothing short of deliberate fraud. He accuses physicists, for example of concealing discrepancies in measurements for the speed of light, in order to maintain their professional status. Dark matter, he claims, was merely a lazy invention to make the equations work.

    The evidence he offers for this is a reported private conversation with an unnamed physicist, and the embarrassingly foolish notion that differing measurements for the speed of light are not a sign of differences in the instruments, rather a sign that light itself travels at varying speeds. Each of his ten “dogmas” is accompanied by misunderstandings equally as startling.

    Your students will hear from him that all the mathematics they have learned in physics during their time at your school was wrong. They will be told that should they waste their time studying physics or biology at university, they will be forced to learn material that is not only wrong, but has in large part been deliberately faked by a cabal of scientists.

    He will misrepresent biological sciences in a similar manner, accusing biologists of having systematically suppressed vitalistic theories from the late 19th Century onwards, simply because it didn’t fit with the “mechanistic” paradigm he falsely ascribes to them. What he will not present, however, is any evidence for his alternative theories. Having presented science as if it is merely a branch of speculative philosophy, he will then present his own beliefs as if they are on equal footing with the splitting of the atom or the discovery of the structure of DNA. In the lectures I have seen, he failed to mention a single scientific advancement.

    He will not present any of the objections to his work He will not, for example, explain why the neutrino affair was publicised by scientists rather than ignored for not fitting the dogma, or suppressed in the manner he accuses scientists of having routinely carried out for centuries.

    In the interests of maintaining a high standard of criticism and understanding of science, I ask your school to reconsider Dr Sheldrake’s suitability for this occasion.

    (I have, incidentally, written two short pieces criticising Dr Sheldrake’s “Science Delusion” lectures, some months ago: Linked: one and two.)

    • Posted January 20, 2014 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

      Really nice letter; I hope others join in. BTW, to whom did you send it?

      • Posted January 20, 2014 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

        Gee, thanks. I sent one to the head master & one addressed to the board of Governors. I thought about sending a copy to the media rep, but wasn’t sure if I should.

        • Posted January 20, 2014 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

          Please send it to whomever you can think of as it is a really excellent letter: beautifully thought/fleshed out, polite, gracious, and makes an important point relevant to the school.

  19. madscientist
    Posted January 20, 2014 at 9:21 pm | Permalink

    Wow. Poor kids. I can’t even *look* at ol’ Rupe without laughing my ass off. “Innovative” vs. “Notorious” biologist? Nah, just plain kooky. Here’s a challenge: get the kids to all chime a “cuckoo! .. cuckoo!” at random points during his babbling. I’d pay to see that.

  20. Posted January 21, 2014 at 2:17 am | Permalink

    Poor Lewis Wolpert has got into a plagiarism row over his last book-

    http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/jan/19/lewis-wolpert-sorry-using-others-work

  21. Posted January 21, 2014 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    Might it be possible, (in relation to the last few questions posed in this article) that not all of Noah’s children continued to live by one exact history? And whilst the Jews were still developing a written history, other not so closely related peoples, (still descendants of Noah) having obviously the same history managed to figure out a written language and write it down first? It doesn’t seem likely that only god could be an authority on humanity’s shared history, but it doesn’t exclude the possibility of revelation either.

    • gbjames
      Posted January 21, 2014 at 9:53 am | Permalink

      Might it be possible that inside every acorn there is an entire world inhabited by small invisible elves? Could it be true that this is what’s inside walnuts, too?

      • Matt G
        Posted January 21, 2014 at 9:59 am | Permalink

        Walnuts, no. Acorns, possibly. There are walnuts inside walnuts.

      • Posted January 21, 2014 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

        There are brains in walnuts, didn’t you know? ;)

  22. Alan
    Posted January 21, 2014 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    I think a great idea would be to have the students repeat his experiments, as they are easy to set up. Of course if the results are not replicated…but then what surprises me is that they have been replicated by him.

    So there’s nothing wrong, in the spirit of openness, of doing this. Let’s see what happens. That’s science.

  23. Donald
    Posted January 21, 2014 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    Take ten deep breaths people. If his ideas are as nonsensical as you insist, then what are you so worried about? As a non-scientist looking in on this conversation you guys are coming across as extremely insecure about your paradigm. Why is that? If it’s as solid as you seem to believe then why get so upset about alternative ideas? Grow up!

    • gbjames
      Posted January 21, 2014 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

      (Ignoring the condescending “Grow up!”)

      The point, Donald, is that this is an educational forum where young people should be developing critical thinking skills. This is the kind of situation where an institution is telling students that people who operate like Sheldrake are to be respected and honored.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted January 22, 2014 at 8:27 am | Permalink

      You should grow out of the condescension.

      However, to the facts of the case:

      1. Science is empirical. Therefore it has nothing to do with philosophy such as “paradigm”, whatever that is.

      Science has working, testable and useful, methods.

      2. Pseudoscience (PS) does not attack the robustness of science and its methods. It doesn’t use either.

      That is the problem. PS BS is a cultural attack on science and education (children!) akin to creationism, sometimes but not here unwittingly so. It is also a waste of time and other resources besides the other harm it does.

      Why wouldn’t scientists and science supporters be, not worried, but adverse to the phenomena? What would it gain us to let the pest fester? Nothing, it would only grow worse.

      3. Pseudoscience is not “alternative ideas” of science, because of #2.

      That people claim it is is yet another problem, the antagonism of #2 fuzzifies the boundary of culturally qualitatively different activities.

      This is where we refer to Baez’s Crackpot Index. Sheldrake ranks high on that, by using “prosecuted” arguments like yours, showing how it is not an “alternative” idea but an antagonistic (anti-science) idea.

      _Science_ on the other hand _is_ prosecuted, attacked, criticized and worried about, publicly. That is one of its highest merits, and it is what makes it work!

  24. arrowmint
    Posted January 21, 2014 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

    Malevolent atheism is the fascist fundamentalism of the spiritually blind.

    • gbjames
      Posted January 21, 2014 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

      My troll alarm just rang.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted January 21, 2014 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

        My troll alarm just rang.

        Before or after the Goodwinism?

  25. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted January 22, 2014 at 8:10 am | Permalink

    Protest registered @ admin/Headmaster.

  26. Augustus Grubble
    Posted January 23, 2014 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

    As a current student at Bedales, I feel obliged to comment on this blog.
    I have attended three Eckersley Lectures at Bedales, and have found them all fascinating. Their purpose is not to indoctrinate, but to provide students with a broader perspective and awareness of current scientific ideas. A school shouldn’t wrap its students up in cotton wool, but offer them varied and different views of the world we live in.
    In response to an earlier comment, we do have teachers that can handle the dialogue and debate after these lectures, and as a student studying three science A-levels, I can attest to this.
    I feel disappointed that the general viewpoint on this blog is that children between the ages of 13-18 are considered incapable of thinking, reasoning and processing for themselves. Schools should actively encourage exploration of controversial and alternative viewpoints, as well as rock solid principles of science. After all, ideas that were considered ridiculous many years ago are now considered scientifically valid today e.g. quantum mechanics.
    I’d also like to pick up the statement: ‘I feel sorry for the lost opportunity to turn kids onto real, genuine, materialistic, hard science’. Not all science is materialistic, and no opportunity is lost. On the contrary, unpicking what is nonsense and sound is a very important scientific skill, and absolutely essential to the scientific method.
    I’m really looking forward to this lecture, and the debate and discussion that will inevitably follow it!

    • Matt G
      Posted January 23, 2014 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

      All science is materialistic. If it isn’t part of the material world, we can’t study it.

    • ScienceTeacher
      Posted January 23, 2014 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

      The issue I have with the lecture is that, having read some of Sheldrake’s work, it can actually be tricky to spot where has misunderstood, or misrepresented, the science. This isn’t a dig at school students, I find it hard, and I’m a science teacher, 32 years old, and my background is biology. I find it difficult.

      For example, he claims that the idea of a multiverse doesn’t make sense, because it leads to far more assumptions, and science is based on as few as possible. superficially, this sounds correct.

      However, it isn’t: the idea of a multiverse comes from an extension of the maths of the Standard Model – it’s not there to fudge the figures, but a natural progression from figures that we know work – with out those figures, Sat Navs wouldn’t work, for example. I have been reading a lot more quantum physics lately. If I had read Sheldrake’s book the day it was published, I wouldn’t have been able to spot this inaccuracy.

      For me, inviting Sheldrake is no different to inviting creationists; those who think vaccines cause autism; or any other demonstrably wrong belief. Given the speakers of the past, it is a pity that you have been given a charlatan to talk to you. However, I am pleased to see that you are aware of the controversies surrounding this figure, and I hope it proves a valuable exercise in critical thinking for all those that attend.

    • lettersquash
      Posted January 24, 2014 at 8:54 am | Permalink

      I am grateful for your contribution, Augustus Grubble, reminding me of the capabilities of young minds and the necessity of allowing opportunity to consider different views. It’s probably good to give young minds some chaff now and then so you can learn to separate it from the wheat!

      I share ScienceTeacher’s concerns. I also had a difficult time deciding how to winnow Dr Sheldrake’s harvest, but the more I read his papers, studied the criticism and his responses to it, and the more I watched him speak, the more confident I became that he is a pseudoscientist who does all he can to avoid or abuse the scientific method to bolster his ancient fantasies, philosophies he likes mainly because they’re “fun” and have popular appeal. He’s a clever self-promoter who has persuaded the lay world that he is not only a scientist but a better one than all the rest, one of the few who have transcended our materialist fixation.

      For example, dark matter and energy he characterizes (in a similar lecture, I suppose, to the one you’ll receive) as mere mathematical tricks cosmologists have invented to make their deluded equations work. This is a funny, intuitively appealing idea (did he nick it off a stand-up comedian?), but ignores the fact that these extremely rigorous disciplines have “invented” a raft of such things before, and then found them, because they weren’t just convenient sticking-plasters slapped on earlier delusions. The modern world wouldn’t work without them. Currently experiments are underway to detect dark matter and dark energy, and few proper scientists will insist they are done deals unless they show up. Does anyone know if Sheldrake ridiculed the Higgs-Boson as well, or did he like it because someone called it the God Particle?

      In contrast, Sheldrake poofed his particular inventions of morphic resonance, psychic pets and trinitarianism (= dualism +1) out of thin air, or borrowed them from earlier philosophers, and searched for them for 30-odd years. Now, having failed to convince academia that his experimental methods, analysis or evidence stand up to scrutiny, he rails against both the scientific establishment and established science, inventing a deliberate conspiracy to silence him, quash parapsychology generally and all sorts of esoteric knowledge and fringe science. He also advocates making science “freer”, which conveniently means “less rigorous”. His invitation to the general public to send in their “psychic” experiences shows that he is quite happy to trade scientific rigour for a large quantity of anecdotes – only a fool who failed Psych 101 would genuinely make this mistake.

      Another example: he claims there are “above unity” machines that make energy out of nowhere (cuz like the second law of thermodynamics is a “dogma”, see?). Yes, he actually categorically says he knows they exist, but they can’t get funding or proper testing because physicists laugh at them. It seems not to occur to him to arrange testing of – or just publicise – the machine he knows of himself, become very very rich, very very famous and bring about the saving of the planet that he also says the orthodox world is denying us through this stubborn fixation on laws of nature. Instead he advocates a prize fund be set up and pretends that (proper, fixated) scientists wouldn’t dare bet that no such machine will ever come to light. Stop daring people to bet and bring it! Bring me the machine!

      He characterizes natural laws as anthropomorphisms, in contrast with his idea that nature develops “habits”, demonstrating yet another – one can only assume, deliberate – misunderstanding, in this case of the term “law”. The term is used as a token to indicate our general confidence based on a deep, realistic and ever-contingent assessment of the evidence, not a decree we demand the universe respect. He wouldn’t have the first idea how to identify an anomaly in any of the laws of nature, but this is where a proper critique of them should be addressed, at CERN or NASA or Joderell Bank, not through bland accusations of professional dogmatism. They are just noise so he can continue to slide his woo under the radar.

      As this blog post says, he is a woomeister, and this is what they do – attack strawman, cartoon versions of science for the exploitation (or just the admiration) of the unwary.

      So I do hope you’re right about the value of bringing different views to broaden the mind. As ScienceTeacher says, this will be an opportunity for a very good lesson in critical thinking. I fear that some of the audience will not make good use of it, and some may be taken in by it. I think the school has a duty to consider the danger seriously, not just imagine that Sheldrake brings a healthy dose of controversy that’s bound to be character-building. I read a book on yoga at that age and spent the next 25 years a deluded mystic.

    • Nilou Ataie
      Posted January 24, 2014 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

      Exactly, if the purpose of these lectures is to introduce students to broader scientific ideas, and somebody invited a dude who wrote a book about how we have interspecies telepathy with dogs, then someone did you wrong child! You should be able to see that.

  27. Nilou Ataie
    Posted January 24, 2014 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

    Exactly, if the purpose of these lectures is to introduce students to broader scientific ideas, and somebody invited a dude who wrote a book about how we have interspecies telepathy with dogs, then someone did you wrong child! You should be able to see that.

  28. lettersquash
    Posted April 11, 2014 at 3:05 am | Permalink

    Hello again, I just wondered if this went ahead, if anyone who wrote to the school got a reply, or if there are any further comments about the talk from those who were there if it did go ahead.


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