I'm one of the many who in recent years discovered new and noteworthy ideas thanks to TED. You've grown TED into an important platform for the introduction of innovative thought to a popular audience; it's a wonderful vision and your achievement of it is widely appreciated. TED's prominence has made it, perhaps inadvertently, into an forum that validates worthy intellectual progress. If a good idea gets momentum, it will most likely end up, one way or another, presented by TED or one of the TEDx offshoots.
That's why the censure of the TEDx talks by Graham Hancock and Rupert Sheldrake is so dismaying. As you must know, to many of us the reasons behind their removal from the TED YouTube site are just not clear. On behalf of the Evolver community, I'd like to extend an invitation to you to help us understand the reasoning that led to TED's actions, because we suspect that behind your decision is an uninformed prejudice against groundbreaking research in a critical area of study, the possibility that consciousness extends beyond the brain.
The cause of our concern: while the original criticism against Hancock and Sheldrake was later retracted -- literally crossed out on the blog page -- after the speakers rebutted it, the initial decision to remove the videos still held. Statements from TED staff implied that the presentations were "pseudoscience," but no specific allegations were made. Both Rupert Sheldrake and Graham Hancock offered to debate a member of the anonymous science board, or any other representative, about actual criticisms, but got no response. To an outsider, TED's actions are baffling.
In your personal statements you say that TED is not censoring the videos, since they are available on a back page of your site, and technically that may be true. But by relegating them to obscure blogs that are not indexed as part of the regular pool of TEDx talks, the unequivocal message is that these talks are not fit to be seen among the thousands of other presentations that TED offers through YouTube. Somehow they were mistakes that slipped through and need to be quarantined from the "good" TED talks, to keep them from contamination. Given TED's influence, this treatment is unfairly damaging to the reputations of the speakers singled out.
The subsequent cancellation of TEDxWestHollywood's license, apparently due to the involvement of three of its speakers, who were named in a letter from TED staff, seems to be a continuation of the same baffling behavior. Again, the only reason given was a vague reference to "pseudoscience." But why these speakers? What had they done to justify reprimand -- especially since TEDxWestHollywood had been in development for a year and was only two weeks from taking place?
The five people identified as problematic by TED work in different fields. Rupert Sheldrake is a biologist. Graham Hancock is a journalist who has written about archeological ruins. Larry Dossey is a doctor. Russell Targ is a physicist. Marylin Schlitz is a social anthropologist and consciousness researcher. The one subject they all have in common is a shared interest in the non-locality of consciousness, the possibility that consciousness extends beyond the brain. Each speaker has devoted many years to the rigorous study of consciousness through the lens of their respective disciplines, and they have come up with provocative results.
Through its actions, TED appears to be drawing a line around this area of investigation and marking it as forbidden territory. Is this true? In the absence of any detailed reasoning in TED's public statements, it's hard to avoid this conclusion. It would seem that, despite your statement that "TED is 100% committed to open enquiry, including challenges to orthodox thinking," that enquiry appears to not include any exploration of consciousness as a non-local phenomenon, no matter how it may be approached.
This in turn leads to more questions, such as: Can we expect that other TED talks referring to the possibility of nonlocal consciousness will also be removed from YouTube? Should future TEDx organizers steer clear of any speaker who is associated with these investigations?
That would be a shame, since rigorous research in this field is producing intriguing results, and evidence for the non-locality of consciousness keeps growing.
What is the official position of TED? We invite you or a TED representative to an online forum where you can speak candidly about what TED means by "pseudoscience," and in what context a discussion about consciousness as a potentially nonlocal phenomenon might take place. This would be an opportunity for TED to clarify the criteria it uses to decide what does or does not belong at a TED sponsored event, and to address criticism that the decision to distance TED from particular speakers was based not on lack of knowledge, but on informed opinion.
Publisher & Editorial Director, Evolver/Reality Sandwich
Image by Molinary, courtesy of Creative Commons licensing.