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An update to last week’s post about TED’s removal (from YouTube) of talks by Graham Hancock and Rupert Sheldrake: after a weekend of being slammed for both the removal of the videos, and the manner in which they handled it (ie. making up complaints about the talks), TED have edited the page to include a blistering response from Rupert Sheldrake, and retracted the comments originally made (by striking through the text, rather than simply deleting the text). They have also issued a follow-up response to the controversy, which will be clarified further in the next day.

Update: TED have posted separate pages for viewing the videos and discussing them further:

I’ve posted excerpts below, with a few points that I think TED need to address further:

When Sheldrake and Hancock’s talks were flagged, the majority of the board recommended we remove them from circulation, pointing out questionable suggestions and arguments in both talks. But there was a counter view that removing talks that had already been posted would lead to accusations of censorship. It’s also the case that both speakers explicitly take on mainstream scientific opinion. This gives them a stronger reason to be listened to than those who simply use scientific sounding language to make nonsensical claims. So we decided we would not remove the talks from the web altogether, but simply transfer them to our own site where they could be framed in a way which included the critique of our board, but still allow for an open conversation about them.

What happened next was unfortunate. We wrote to the TEDx organizer indicating our intention and asking her to take the talks off Youtube so that we could repost. She informed the speakers of what was coming, but somehow the part about the talks staying online got lost in translation. Graham Hancock put out an immediate alert that he was about to be “censored”, his army of passionate supporters deluged us with outraged messages, and we then felt compelled to accelerate our blog post and used language that in retrospect was clumsy. We suggested that we were flagging the talks because of “factual errors” but some of the specific examples we gave were less than convincing.

We would like to try again.

RE “specific examples we gave were less than convincing”. Actually they were fictions. Don’t couch them in terms as if they weren’t the most convincing reasons you could have used. They. Were. Fiction. This is a serious matter. It also gets to the heart of the action – were these fictions the reasons given by the ‘scientific board’, or were they the unfortunate actions of whomever put up the blog (which I find hard to believe, that they would be given the freedom to make up reasons and attribute them to the science advisory board). Whomever is to blame, are they being disciplined for defaming Hancock and Sheldrake? Why is there no apology in this post for such an unprofessional course of action – I hope the subsequent post includes one.

RE “somehow the part about the talks staying online got lost in translation.” I think most people considered the removal from YouTube (and therefore ability to be embedded…y’know, the whole “ideas worth spreading bit”?) to be the main part of the action. People commenting on the post were well aware that the videos had been reposted, but still felt offended. Additionally, I think most of the “outraged messages” from supporters of Hancock were in reaction to the fictional complaints that TED inserted into the post. Going through those comments, there are even a number of people who specifically said they were *not* supporters of the pair, but were still outraged.

We plan to repost both talks in individual posts on our blog tomorrow, Tuesday; note a couple of areas where scientists or the community have raised questions or concerns about the talks; and invite a reasoned discussion from the community. And there will be a simple rule regarding responses. Reason only. No insults, no intemperate language. From either side.

RE: “note a couple of areas where scientists or the community have raised questions or concerns about the talks”. I’m hoping the “scientists” mentioned include the ‘scientific advisory board’ for TED, seeing as they were apparently the ones who decided the talks had to come down for some specific reason. And again, if you want “reasoned responses”, it would be best to start with truth rather than fictional slurs against the authors.

We will use the reasoned comments in this conversation to help frame both our guidelines going forward, and our process for managing talks that are called into question.

If this is true then I welcome the discussion. I hope it will be more than just paying lip service to disgruntled TED viewers (seeing as the initial ‘community consultation’ on the talks appears to have completely ignored the majority view that they should be kept in circulation.

We don’t want to hear from a parent whose kid went off to South America to drink ayahuasca because TED said it was OK.

ZOMG won’t somebody think of the children?! Seriously, if a kid can travel to South America and get their hands on some ayahuasca, I’m pretty certain they’re at a stage of life where they should be taking (and hopefully want to be taking) responsibility for their own actions, rather than blaming a TED talk. And you better send a memo to Wade Davis for his talks as well…

But we do think a calmer, reasoned conversation around these talks would be interesting, if only to help us define how far you can push an idea before it is no longer “worth spreading.”

As I mentioned in my previous post, TED has previously set certain marks via talks by Wade Davis, Elizabeth Gilbert and others. I think they will find it difficult to rationalise their decision if these two talks are compared to some of those on any criteria, from ‘unscientific ideas’ through to drug use.

Hopefully TED’s post tomorrow clarifies things better, and perhaps starting with a proper apology might help as well…