TED revokes license for TEDx West Hollywood event!

March 30, 2013 • 12:26 pm

Oh boy, get ready for an explosion of wrath from Sheldrake-ians, woomeisters, and other pseudoscience boosters who are ready at a moment’s notice to cry “censorship.” My inbox is yearning for the hate mail!

Alert reader Jay just informed me that TED has revoked the license for the entire upcoming TEDx West Hollywood event, that is, the execrable parade of self-help and numinosity called “Brother can you spare a paradigm?” (See my posts on it here, here, and here.)

The official notice is on this site, and is announced as follows (note the new name and plea for dosh):ExTEDAn angry pro-PSI blog has published excerpts of an email from a representative of TED to organizer Suzanne Taylor, explaining their decision (Taylor’s credentials included making a video about how aliens produce crop circles):

…) And when we look at your speaker line-up, we see several people who promote — as fact — theories that are well outside what most scientists would accept as credible. We’re not saying all the speakers are off-base. Perhaps you could make a case for each of them individually. But when we look at the program as a whole, it’s clear that it doesn’t meet our guidelines.The problem is not the challenging of orthodox views. We believe in that. We’ve had numerous talks which do that. But we have rules about the presentation of science on the TEDx stage. We disallow speakers who use the language of science to claim they have proven the truth of ideas that are speculative and which have failed to gain significant scientific acceptance.

More than 2000 TEDx events will take place in the year ahead.  If your program is allowed to proceed, it will truly damage other TEDx organizers’ ability to recruit scientists and other speakers. (Indeed many in the TED and TEDx communities have already reached out to us to express their concern.)

We have reluctantly concluded that your program is not appropriate for TEDx, and we have to therefore terminate your license. You are of course welcome to still hold an event with these speakers. You just can’t associate it with TEDx. We are happy to work with you to figure out how to smoothly transition it into an event under a different name.  I’ll be happy to speak with you directly to facilitate this.

This is a nice victory for rationalism, and big plaudits go to TED and TEDx for making this decision. They’re gonna catch a lot of flak for this, and many accusations of “censorship”, but what they did was to stand up for science.

And don’t forget to keep an eye open for TEDx events in your area (there are hundreds worldwide), and report it to the TEDx organizers (and me) if you see anything really wonky, including pseudoscience or antiscience.

52 thoughts on “TED revokes license for TEDx West Hollywood event!

      1. “the city backed down..”
        Reminds me of New York City, twenty years ago (plus or minus five). The municipality decided to train people (50?) for jobs, who had been chronically unemployed.

        Trained to be “psychic hotline” operators!

  1. I have a question, I hope that’s it’s published as a few of my comments in a couple of your other threads didn’t appear, although I did see a post saying you had a problem with comments so it could be that! Anyway In another thread Jerry you said that ‘TED is a brand and can have who they like on’ or something to that effect. If you think that, then why do you feel like its your place to be notified if there is a speaker you and your readers don’t personally approve of, and then that it’s okay to rally for them not to speak or for the removal of their videos etc? It seems like what you’re doing now is rallying for the removal of anything that challenges a certain philosophy of science that you follow, that you call ‘rationalism’ but which seems like (mainstream) scientific realism.

    1. Do you not understand that a. everyone has a right to contact Ted and lobby them for and against an event (I have absolutely no problem with woo-sters lobbying them to keep TEDx West Hollywood) and b. TEDx ASKED people to let them know if we see any dubious events in store?

      Do you not get that? I don’t know how to make it any clearer. Just because TED has a right to decide what they want on, and they do, so we can let them know our opinion.

      I don’t feel it’s my “place” to be notified; I ASKED people to notify me. And Ted asked everyone to let them know if anything dubious is up.

      If you want PSI phenomena and crop-circle junk kept on TED talks, by all means email them and tell them that.

      By the way, scientific realism is the only game in town when it comes to establishing truth.

        1. seconded, reminds of the time a local radio personality who regularly opines on air and in print

          he complained I was lambasting him
          for his views

          I reminded he had two public soap boxes and invited listener/reader comments

          I’ll give him he had the grace to admit he was whinging

    2. There is also the important factor that science is a brand. So scientists are wont to look out for it.

    3. Your comment about scientific realism is foolish. To be a scientific realist is to believe that science gives a true picture of the world. This could potentially be a tenable position whether things currently seen as pseudo-science, such as telepathy, become legitimate scientific theories.

  2. “My inbox is yearning for the hate mail!”


    Not sure ‘yearning’ is quite the right word…

    1. I’ve heard an upcoming TedX conference will be focused on the collective intelligence and emotional well-being of e-mail servers. Stay tuned!

  3. The beauty of TED talks is how these lectures based in real science so often capture feelings of wonder, hope, inspiration, and awe. There is a “magic” to TED talks that has nothing to do with the supernatural, and which is backed up by the credibility of science.

    No wonder the woo-meisters want to cash in on the TED brand!

    Hopefully this is a sign that TED will be much more careful about whom they give licenses to in the first place.

      1. Oddly enough, they think they’re doing science, and we’re doing religion.

        The problem with paying funding a program with tax-dedcutable “donations” is that, essentially, tax money is paying for a day-long woo seminar.

        1. IANAL but as I understand it 501c Tax deductions do not hinge on actual performance of a public good, as much as the appearance or claim of performing a public good. Numerous political organization inflict a public harm under the guise of 501c, but since it is not the duty or prerogative of the IRS to determine such status, they need only adhere to specific practices.
          And “tax dollars” are not necessarily contributing to this activity. Most who would be giving to these groups probably do not itemize or make the claim to deduct these contributions. The few who do make these claims are not a substantial portion of the conference organizers. I look at it more like “a fool and his money are soon parted,” than as some tax avoidance scam.

          1. My limited understanding is that the foundation has to be formed with a charitable, educational, or scientific purpose, and it’s distributions of funds have to support that purpose. I doubt that the IRS would view distributions to fund the “Paradigm” program as supporting science, education, or charity.

  4. This is what happens when people have a poor understanding of science and the scientific process. When there’s no difference between what makes for good science and scientists promoting an idea, any attempt to have good science is taken as science winning through censorship. Speak to true believers of the Sheldrake-type phenomena and they think that Sheldrake’s research is being excluded because he’s not a materialist and he’s showing the truth that those materialists are excluding from the universe.

    1. Exactly. People who think science is finding more and more evidence for the supernatural/paranormal tend to hang out in supportive enclaves where the same Brave Maverick Scientists are dragged out and quoted again and again. They therefore get the strong impression that there is a real scientific controversy being fought out on these issues and that the woo-side is not quite at the tipping point of 50% — but they’re on the brink. In another 5 or 10 years materialism will be completely dead and you won’t be able to find a physicist who doesn’t believe in vitalism and ESP. Many if not most of them already do.

      Um. No. They’re not so much delusional as uninformed, I think. And, as you say, they really don’t understand the scientific process. They think it’s a diverse smorgasbord of ideas where everyone discovers what works for them and then there’s a vote.

      1. It’s like that whole kerfuffle IDiots make over “methodological naturalism”. Science is apparently biasing itself against any possibility of the supernatural, and since the supernatural is an explanation for how to explain life, science is necessarily obscuring itself from truth. Remove the anti-supernatural bias from science as it is practised, and there God will be. It’s those materialists that are biasing the picture of reality, and not that appealing to supernatural causation is scientifically incoherent and philosophically meaningless! Not at all.

  5. Happy to see this, and the response is good, including
    “We disallow speakers who use the language of science to claim they have proven the truth of ideas that are speculative and which have failed to gain significant scientific acceptance.”

    But I wish the following had been added at the end there: ‘…, and others which have been resoundingly falsified by scientific experiments.’

    (More than just failing to “gain … acceptance”, as though perhaps that acceptance might have some real chance of coming later.)

  6. I’m really surprised that TED/TEDx are doing this, pleasantly surprised, in fact I’m impressed. I had thought that TED talks were really just a bunch of hyped up junk, but it looks like they have actual concerns over the talk’s quality and content.

  7. Superb decision from TED – along with the award to Sugata (Granny Cloud) – wonder what’s next…

  8. Well, frankly, I think that the damage to the TEDx brand has already been done – at least, for me. I love TED talks and I can’t think of one that was not worth the time listen to it. Sadly, I can not say the same for TEDx talks.
    So many times I’ve been watching and my poor BS meter has pegged out. I love learning new stuff or having the conventional wisdom challenged but I really hate being presented with swill and told that it is fine wine.

  9. I think it’s farcical that people have been willing to do the leg-work TED should have done themselves and then still praise TED for decisions like this. They should have vetted the event far sooner, but they didn’t because of money. It’s likely that they only make decisions like this because they recognise the monetary link to reputation. The whole of TED went to shit a while ago, and it mystifies me that people are trying to defend the brand.

  10. Deepak Chopra has an oped in the Huffington Post today on the pseudo-scientific Tedx talks. His version of events bears almost no relation to reality:

    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.Not even a hint of bad science? Then why on Earth would anybody object?

    The decision to remove the two videos was apparently instigated by angry, noisy bloggers who promote militant atheism.

    Why, I do believe that might be a veiled reference to Dr. Coyne.

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