Print Edition: March 27, 2013
TEDTalks has recently ignited a public outcry online over two “censored” talks. The two talks involved in the controversy were removed from TEDTalks not long after being posted. Rupert Sheldrake, speaker in the talk, “The Science Delusion,” claimed in his response posted on TED’s blog, that the talks were removed after complaints about their scientific validity by “militant atheist bloggers Jerry Coyne and P.Z. Myers.”
The word “censored” in such a case, seems to me to be a bit of an unusual and fairly dramatic use for the situation. TEDTalks have censored the talks as much as a publisher would reject a manuscript of poor quality or irrelevant material. That’s not to say that I’ve found them to necessarily be correct in their actions however.
Both videos discuss fairly controversial ideas. Sheldrake’s talk discusses problems found in mainstream scientific thought; Graham Hancock’s talk, “The War on Consciousness,” delves into the ability of drugs to open up human consciousness.
It’s also true that TEDTalks, after receiving a huge backlash from the online community, has reposted the talks not once, but twice. Both posts are, however, not in blatant public view, but hidden away on TED’s blog – not the usual place for the talks.
It’s these two repostings however, that illuminate TEDTalks rather poor decision making. The older post now has crossed-out explanations of the factual inaccuracies found in each talk, as per TED’s mysterious “science board” (which leads us to wonder, how reliable this board is). The reason they’re crossed out? Both Sheldrake and Hancock have carefully refuted most of the accusations, with Sheldrake even offering sources, including peer-reviewed journals. At least TED has posted these responses under their crossed-out accusations.
Now I don’t believe TED is entirely to blame. Mainstream scientific thought is highly muddled with the human disposition that pervades its methodology. Humans, not always the best appreciators of change, often keep science from moving by getting caught up in the facts. They like revelling in these facts they’ve proven or accomplished through science. People often look to science for certainties, afraid of uncertainty or questions.
In actuality, this is against the true basis behind scientific progress. You can’t deem something unscientific because it cannot be proven. Science wasn’t meant to start with the proof, but with the unproven. It is meant to be the exploration of uncertainties, to determine certainties which are liable to change if more evidence is brought in. You can’t prove certainties without evidence or have evidence without questions. And if evidence may prove your facts wrong, you have a question again, even if the question may be wrong.
Now, if TEDTalks wishes to post talks of scientific accuracy and yet wants also to post talks that spark human curiosity and new ideas, they’re in a bit of a bind. If you already have the accurate facts, what questions can you ask? And if you’ve got questions, like Sheldrake’s or Hancock’s, which have some evidence but may need more, how can you prove factual accuracies?
TEDTalks slogan is “ideas worth spreading.” Obviously this gives them every right not to publish or broadcast talks they don’t think are worth bringing to the public. However, if they also want to perpetuate intellectual discussions, they are going to need to be more than one-sided. Especially if they want continued and diverse publicity.