The Weiler Psi

Parapsychology Journalism: The People, The Theory, The Science, The Skeptics

TED Swings the Banhammer: It Rebounds Into Their Face


There is a newer post on this subject:  TED Chased by “Army of Passionate Supporters” Escapes Into TARDIS   This is a follow up from this post:  The Psi Wars Come to TED

In an act of breathtaking stupidity, TED chose to quarantine both Rupert Sheldrake’s video and another one by Graham Hancock using some trumped up charges of scientific inaccuracies for both of them.  (Link here.) No one was fooled and the resulting outrage has now topped 700 comments as I’m writing this.  They are destroying their brand with this nonsense.  The Daily Grail has done a fine job of examining the skeptical hatchet job, so I won’t be addressing that.   (link here.) Instead, I am going to look at what led them to this nuclear sized public relations disaster and how this is a litmus test of the psi wars in general.   I believe that this issue gets to the heart of differences in how skeptics and the pro psi crowd think.  We’ll start by looking at how the pro psi crowd thinks:

When TED put this up for discussion first, the reaction from the pro Sheldrake crowd was almost universally, “Please leave this alone.  We can think for ourselves and make up our own minds.”

The subtext of this kind of statement is pretty straightforward:  “We don’t trust you to make this decision for us.”  This is a typical way of thinking from the pro psi crowd and it’s easy to understand why they think that way.  The people who are on this side of the debate got there by disregarding skeptical assurances that there was no evidence and there was nothing of scientific interest to be found;  They had to wade through a lot of skeptical crapola to learn the truth about psi and are therefore highly resistant to the “Science_ Has_Spoken” approach to dealing with this controversy.  The pro psi crowd has a collective set of values, attitudes, ideas and beliefs that is independent minded, inquisitive and strongly dislikes having their choices made for them.  They do not grant authority the power to make up their minds for them and they will predictably be extremely unhappy when confronted with heavy handed dictates from that authority. Especially when said authority is shown to have a strong bias. (Jerry Coyne, who led the charge to remove these videos, wrote this insulting piece on his blog.) And that’s exactly what happened.

By contrast, skeptics value authority a great deal, which is one reason that so many of them are found in that position.  They’re good soldiers, willing to be the rank and file and fill positions in larger organizations.    They like to be moderators on forums, sit on decision making committees and be editors, professors and such where they have the ability to impose their views without having to deal with their own intellectual shortcomings.  Because they value authority, they defend it vigilantly, which I discovered when I tried to write an article for Cracked and when these two talks were removed from ordinary viewing and flagged.  In both cases, the skeptics were trying to protect the integrity and reputation of the organization by “keeping out the woo.” In their eyes, trading off freedom of ideas (which pro-psi people value greatly) for integrity and reputation (which skeptics value greatly) is a reasonable exchange.   It’s not all about skeptics being evil; there are cultural differences between the two camps.

The result of this is that they did not anticipate and likely do not understand the outrage.  They, like most people, assume that their value system is the right one and that the other camp is just plain wrong.  For that reason, unless someone else at TED intervenes, they will do it again and again, prompting less and less outrage as more and more people who value openness abandon TED altogether.

In the grand scheme of things, this was tactical win for the skeptics that resulted in a strategic loss.  It was victory, but a Pyrrhic one.  Radicals, such as Jerry Coyne, are almost always divisive and create more harm than good for the organizations they’re working with.  This happened to Komen, a non profit that also helps fund other charities.  On January 31, 2012, Komen stopped funding Planned Parenthood, citing a congressional investigation by Rep. Cliff Stearns and a newly created internal rule about not funding organizations under any federal, state or local investigation.  Suffice it to say that the proverbial manure hit the fan when it was discovered that that behind the scenes, Karen Handel, a radical conservative and a board member who opposed legal abortion, had engineered it all.  She resigned in the wake of the firestorm that ensued and Komen has never fully recovered from the debacle.  Are Jerry Coyne and PZ Myers really so different from this?  They have, after all, inserted themselves into the vetting process of TED for the purpose of pushing a somewhat extreme view of science that is intolerant of ideas that they don’t agree with.  TED, as an organization, relies in part on being perceived as hip, cool and having a certain caché.  Being exposed as being overly conservative and reactionary is bad for the brand.  Jerry Coyne and PZ Myers need to resign to remove the taint of radical skepticism from TED.  Nothing less than that is going to help TED.

“We greatly valued your service.”

This was a strategic win for the pro psi crowd, even if it was a tactical loss.  It is a very clear demonstration in a public forum that psi skepticism is quickly becoming an albatross around the necks of organizations that subscribe to it.  It isn’t so much the fact that the skeptical position is scientifically untenable, -telepathy has been proven after all-, it’s that a lot more people know this.  And because people have this knowledge, skeptics cannot rely on general ignorance to impose their narrow views.  What we have now is a situation where we are struggling against an ingrained and unfair culture that denies status to those who are psychic, people who believe in psychic ability and scientists who research it.  Before you can create the change, you have to change the minds not of those in power, but in the beliefs of those who are struggling.  And here is where we find the win for the pro psi crowd.  There is strength in numbers.  I am no longer almost alone, dealing with a crowd of obnoxious skeptics on various comment threads and forums like I was a few years ago, I am now joined by many people who know a great deal about consciousness research.  And boy are they pissed off at all the skeptical misinformation.

These people are the vanguard of the movement.  For every one of them there are many, many more lurkers who share their sentiments, but don’t speak up.  It’s only a matter of time before this group gains enough momentum to start steamrolling the skeptics.  Until this movement hits that critical mass though, the skeptics in authority will maintain their delusion that they are in complete control.  That authority, by the way, will never, ever give a single inch that isn’t fought over.  They have to be fought and overcome every single step of the way.  They never give up and they never give in.

“You didn’t win. I’m simply re-evaluating my priorities.”

That’s how it is going to be.  Any change that occurs will be the result of having demanded it and struggled for it and finally having forced it to happen.  And it matters . . . a lot.  This isn’t just some intellectual argument over the merits of materialism, it’s a social change as well that grants a measure of status to people who deserve it as much as anyone else.  (see Psychic People: The Last Quiet Minority)  This is about allowing a large amount of scientists to do consciousness research with full funding; this is about modeling our society on something a little warmer and fuzzier than cold, dead materialism.  Finally, this is about the truth.  Is there really anything else to add?

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39 comments on “TED Swings the Banhammer: It Rebounds Into Their Face

  1. Barney
    April 17, 2013

    Paul Feyerabend, a philosopher of science at Berkeley, defined why we have this problem, years ago, in Farewell to Reason (1987) – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Farewell_to_Reason – I am quite amazed it is not mentioned more often, especially be people who claim to be interested in Science. It is essential reading for both professionals and the well informed.

  2. Carl
    April 2, 2013

    Um, TED is a scientific lecture site. There should be precisely NO discussions on it that feature a “Pro-Psi” point of view because that isn’t science. Consensus doesn’t make truth. The number of people complaining when they remove non scientific material is completely irrelevant. Telepathy has in no way been proven. Show me a peer reviewed, repeated study that says it exists or GTFO. TED is a private site, they are under no legal obligation to “give everyone a voice” or please specific groups. They are meant to be a scientific site and allowing bullshit to be posted devalues them greatly. Do you see lectures up there talking about looking for god, or how to be a good Chiropractor? How about one about the dangers of chemitrails? No? Are you going to criticize them for not catering go the huckster medicine or conspiracy theory sets? Those groups are both just as large as your “pro psi” people. Maybe they should make a religious section too, since they aren’t requiring any credible evidence and are instead going by number of complaints when they don’t support. We can watch lectures on the world being flat and 4000 years old. If you are going to call being based in reality being “skeptical”, then yes, TED is a skeptical site. Anyone using the scientific method correctly then, is a skeptic. It be horrifying if they weren’t.

  3. John W. Ratcliff
    March 18, 2013

    This is probably relevant; as I was browsing through available TED talks I notice a number of presentations from a radical activist atheist viewpoint; Dennet, Dawkins in particular of course stands out.

    So, where is the balance? Where are the pro-spirituality presenters? Where are the presenters who argue that consciousness does is not necessarily confined to the brain and solely produced by matter?

    It’s an entirely valid point of view to take with some very heavy hitters like Henry P. Stapp.

    Seems like they have a strong material reductionist agenda.

    John

  4. Celia Farber
    March 17, 2013

    I can’t stress how much I loved this piece of writing Mr. Weiler. I wrote a long comment earlier but it got lost when in the WordPress shuffle…I was thrilled to get your note at my blog, thank you. I am a brand new major fan of your work. I wish i could remain as calm and dignified. Thank you.

    • craigweiler
      March 18, 2013

      Awwwwww, thank you. I thought your writing was great as well.

  5. Pingback: Now It’s War: Crowd Fury Rises Against TED Elites For Pulling Sheldrake and Hancock Talks

  6. McBart
    March 17, 2013

    Great post! So well stated. Thank you for this.

  7. Sandy
    March 17, 2013

    TED shut down my conversation 5 days early. What a surprise!

    • craigweiler
      March 17, 2013

      I saw that. Man, you really laid into them! I did notice that they used the excuse of insulting behavior, -which I understand was primarily from skeptics- to shut you down.

      Also, an awful lot of comments picked up and left town that were on that thread. Not all of them were insults.

      • Sandy
        March 17, 2013

        There was one skeptical poster who posted quite a slew of inappropriate comments. You’d think they would just give him a warning or temporary ban rather than shut down the conversation.

        What surprised me was the hostility that I was actually responding to posts. I got that from every TED supporter. They would post half a dozen or so comments, and then get angry that I responded. Now having had the experience of working as a TA in grad school, I used to manage message boards for a number of first year science classes at university. Those classes have roughly 2000 students in them. So you get hundreds of emails every day demanding a quick response from frantic students needing answers. I didn’t find keeping up with 2 obsessive cult members all that challenging by comparison.

        I understand that TED let me have that conversation as a form of damage control. But I think it backfired on them. The TED people came across rather badly. It was only going to get worse as I kept adding links to the increasing number of blogs out there that are commenting on this. I’m sure that’s why they shut it down. They seemed particularly upset that I posted a letter from Rupert Sheldrake that mentions he has sent emails to TED and they refuse to acknowledge or answer those emails. It’s hard to say “we have never heard of this” when it is posted right on their website, isn’t it?

      • Sandy
        March 17, 2013

        I just had another look. They’ve deleted an awful lot of what was there. I imagine the whole page will be gone soon. They have a particular dislike for references to that Joe Rogan video.

  8. Stephen Leslie
    March 16, 2013

    As a former militant skeptic who managed to escape from the cave and realize psi is real, I am very angry at my former faction. I never saw parapsychology research reported anywhere and psi was (and still is) constantly denounced in science magazines (Scientific American is by far the worst offender). It is very hard to break free of the propaganda, especially if you work in academia and crave the respect of colleagues as being a “serious” scientist.

    • Fran Theis
      March 17, 2013

      So glad you’re no longer in that dark cave with the mushrooms, Stephen!

      The only way to combat the “breathtaking stupidity” Craig so aptly describes, is to present a form of information that is universally respected — data. Dean Radin has the data to back the reality! The MDs, physicists, neuroscientists, psychologists, and psychiatrists who have actually looked at the data and have come to the realization that something of interest, something marvelous, is happening, develop a deep respect for the difficult work Dean has done over the years, as he has beat against the wind produced by those who currently prefer to be in the dark.

      If you can take a moment to help bring the light to those who can’t yet understand, please nominate Dean to be a TED speaker here at the URL below. Thanks very much for your help.  www.ted.com/nominate/speaker

      • Stephen Leslie
        March 17, 2013

        I am actually working on replications of Dean Radin’s meditation EEG presentiment experiments. Preliminary data taken from my own brain matches his almost exactly but my experimental set up still needs to be improved with better electromagnetic shielding, etc… I’m thinking about writing an app for the Emotiv EEG system to run a presentiment experiment so researchers wishing to replicate it won’t even have to code anything and could do the experiment relatively cheaply assuming they found some meditators and could achieve low electrical noise.

        I used to (and may continue) to work in high-energy nuclear and particle physics. The cost of building those experiments runs in the billions of dollars and takes thousands of scientists years to work on. But an EEG experiment proving presentiment would only cost about $10,000 (for the EEG headset and a Faraday cage) and can be done in less than a year by one person, especially if you were just copying Radin’s known procedure. I’ll admit that proof of psi is much more revolutionary than proof of the Higg’s boson.

        And besides, if the psi effect micro-PK is real, as PEAR lab results show, it may call into question a lot of our high-energy particle and ion collision data because many of those are rare or finely tuned quantum processes which could be pushed one way or another by a research collaboration desperate for results. This should REALLY be checked. I have some suspicions about certain published results out there… If I get a chance, I’m going to try to calculate if micro-PK could explain them.

        • Fran Theis
          March 17, 2013

          What good news, Stephen! You’re probably right on the money about the validity of some experiments currently taken as gospel by the scientific community — I’ll be watching for your data!

          And re Dean’s presentiment experiments, replicating those, especially the ones using GSR and pupil dilation measurement, would be a huge step forward for science! Please note, however, that women typically do far better with presentiment than men so you’ll want to balance your sample to get entirely accurate, full-population results. Dean jokes that if wars were fought entirely by women there wouldn’t be any because the women could see that something bad might happen… ;-)

          Best wishes for success with your endeavors!

          • Sheila Joshi
            March 17, 2013

            “Dean jokes that if wars were fought entirely by women there wouldn’t be any because the women could see that something bad might happen… ;-)”

            LOL!

          • Stephen Leslie
            March 17, 2013

            Thank you! But note that I’m posting here under a name which is not quite my real name … I’m searching for research jobs right now and openly expressing interest in psi could blow up my chances at some places immediately. I have to keep control.

            • Fran Theis
              March 17, 2013

              I’m so sorry you feel the need to do that “Stephen”. Good luck with your job search. It’s also disappointing to hear that TED is closing down conversations early — presumably because they don’t like what’s being said. Whatever happened to the First Amendment? — among other things…

              Hang in there — and best wishes to both of you.

    • Michelle
      March 17, 2013

      Hi Stephen, I for one would be very interested in hearing just how you came to turn away from militant scepticism and what changed your mind about the reality of psi. It’ always nice to hear stories from former psi-sceptics who have changed their views on the subject. Would you mind sharing? :)

      • Stephen Leslie
        March 18, 2013

        Sure. But this is going to be a long-winded philosophical discussion.

        I think it was because I studied physics for so long that I realized materialism must be wrong. Physics forms the basis of our understanding of the material world and particle physicists (like what I do) believe that they are working on the most fundamental aspect of reality. We like to joke that chemistry is just applied physics, biology is just applied chemistry, and psychology just applied biology. And yet, when I listened to science types who said consciousness is just an emergent property of a complicated system of brain activity and that there isn’t any special “spirit” stuff, something seemed suspicious. No one seemed to ever know exactly how this emergence could possibly work. And there was the philosophical argument which asks that if consciousness is just some emergent property, couldn’t we build a conscious system just by moving pieces of paper around a giant table, with each piece of paper representing a neuronal signal? It just seemed kind of absurd.

        Then I started reading more of the philosophy of consciousness. Daniel Dennett’s assertion that consciousness doesn’t even exist just seems absurd. Why do so many people take him seriously? I first became attracted to philosopher David Chalmer’s view of property dualism, that information has a subjective aspect based around qualia, or the raw aspects of conscious experience. Oh boy, were the materialists at my graduate school offended that I was dabbling in even such minimally dualistic theories. They saw it as a slippery slope to psi woo-woo (which it was :) ). But even Chalmer’s theory of consciousness makes consciousness useless. It has no causal impact, an epiphenomenon. This is because conscious time would lag behind physical time by a short amount. And there was the binding problem. That is, for example, when you see a red triangle, the neurons firing for “red” and “triangle” are in different parts of the brain yet you still have the experience of them being unified. As I was studying quantum mechanics as a physics student, I realized that quantum mind theories like Roger Penrose’s Orch-OR could solve both the binding problem (through entanglement) and the epiphenomenon problem (through retrocausality).

        It was only then that I stumbled upon my first parapsychology paper (I had previously only seen criticisms of the research) when I was actually searching for information on quantum mechanical retrocausality. I thought “wow, this all fits together!”. Precognition and presentiment are just longer range manifestations of a normal short-scale retrocausality. And telepathy looked like the entanglement solution to the binding problem, only on a larger scale. So there you have it. Somehow in all my science education I only stumbled upon parapsychology research after reaching the conclusion that it logically should be true from philosophical reasons.

        • marcustanthony
          March 18, 2013

          Interesting that you changed “sides” because of an intellectual process, Stephen. I was once an empiricist myself, but what shifted me was when I started meditating at 26 years of age, and was shocked to find that I was extremely clairvoyant. I had encounters with spirit guides and witnessed UFOs, after being told they would be there by a psychic. Didn’t have a lot of choice, after that.

        • craigweiler
          March 18, 2013

          Great comment! I read a bit of Dennet’s book, Consciousness Explained, but it didn’t actually explain anything. He did what all the materialists do: Rearrange the material deck chairs while ignoring the problem that experience is completely immaterial. There is no such thing as a red electron, so how do we get the experience of red? Red is not a property of the universe, it’s an interpretation of a pattern.

          You can only get around this problem by acknowledging that information itself, consciousness, is a fundamental property of the universe. Energy can convey information, but the two are different things.

        • Fran Theis
          March 18, 2013

          What a long and difficult path it is to have arrived at your current understanding using only the “left” brain and logical thinking!! It was so much easier for me to have been smacked on the side of the head by my “right” brain when I had a precognitive dream of the shuttle explosion in 1986 three days before it happened. My sense of time reality and all of what my materialist teachers to date left me literally screaming until a kind parapsychologist helped me understand that precognitive dreams are part of our natural human nature. That, and “popping out” with an NDE during surgery, forced me to get to know physics, and folks who know that consciousness is primary. Goswami, writes brilliantly about that in “Physics of the Soul”. Perhaps your convoluted logical struggle to the “right” side points out the difficulty we face with getting materialists to accept a concept of consciousness that we “know” it to be. Full understanding of the realities involved seems to require experience at a gut level if one doesn’t have the intellectual power and urge to get to your sort of insight logically.

  9. marcustanthony
    March 16, 2013

    Not sure if anyone has posted this link. Eddie Huang disses TED. Sheds more light of this whole saga. Yep, this is backfiring big time for TED. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_hwLMBdnbXk

    • craigweiler
      March 16, 2013

      Thanks for the link Marcus. And if you haven’t checked your blog yet, I left a message. You’ve been blogrolled!

      To everyone else: Marcus has a great blog. Very professional.

      • marcustanthony
        March 16, 2013

        Thanks, Craig. Mine is a wordpress theme. I have to pay 40 bucks a year for it. But unlike my old blog on blogger I can’t track hits or know who is coming and going. I’m going to have to fix that somehow! Glad to know some people are following me to you! Marcus

        • craigweiler
          March 16, 2013

          Huh? WordPress has great stats tracking. Are you sure that you didn’t miss it somehow? It’s on the stats page with everything else.

    • craigweiler
      March 16, 2013

      I just saw the video. HOLY CANNOLI! Those TED people are creepy.

  10. Sandy
    March 16, 2013

    It’s an interesting experience having a conversation on TED about this. The skeptics are resorting to nasty language, so a lot of posts have been deleted. A lot of my posts have been deleted as well though, and I’ve been very civil. One deleted post was telling an angry skeptic to calm down and hug a puppy before making any more posts. I’m not sure why that was inappropriate, lol.

    • craigweiler
      March 16, 2013

      I suspect that if you replied to a comment that was deleted, your reply was deleted as well.

      I also suspect that the skeptics, facing this now insane backlash, are rather upset. ;)

      • Sandy
        March 16, 2013

        One poster named Theodore is actually a pretty good example of the group-think mentality. In the original discussion about Shedrake, where it was pretty obvious the majority of opinion supported leaving the video online, Theodore said that the Sheldrake video should stay on TED. But after TED made the decision to censor the video, he became 100% behind that new direction. Suddenly Sheldrake was bad, because TED told him so. Like a robot with new programming. Kind of scary.

        • Sandy
          March 16, 2013

          Shortly after I made my last comment, Theodore deleted all of his comments from my TED discussion. I guess that’s one way to win an argument???

  11. Fran Theis
    March 16, 2013

    Bravo. Thank you very much for speaking so eloquently on behalf of the rest of us.

  12. Sandy
    March 16, 2013

    My conversation over at TED is being censored left, right and center.

    Oh well, I guess that is to be expected, lol.

    http://www.ted.com/conversations/17083/a_new_policy_of_censorship_on.html

  13. Anonymous
    March 16, 2013

    I started a TED conversation about the situation, but the comments are getting censored left, right and center….

    I guess that’s to be expected.

    http://www.ted.com/conversations/17083/a_new_policy_of_censorship_on.html

  14. craigweiler
    March 16, 2013

    It already has. The fallout is pretty intense.

  15. moniquestevenson
    March 16, 2013

    Welp, that’s going to bite them in the rear…

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This entry was posted on March 16, 2013 by in Psi Wars, Skeptics and Skeptic Arguments and tagged , .
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