The Weiler Psi

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

Interview with Paul Revis, Organizer of The TED Protest Coming April 2nd


Paul Revis is organizing a protest April 2nd at TED’s New York office to ask that TED reinstate Rupert Sheldrake’s talk and release the names of their anonymous science board.  He has also started a petition for PhD’s and MD’s to show that Sheldrake’s ideas have scientific support.  The website for the protest can be found here:  http://setsciencefree.org

While the petition is solely for PhD’s and MD’s the physical protest in New York has now been opened up to everyone.

Before I get into the interview, I want to point out that this purely scientific protest is a unique event in the history of mankind.  There is no religion involved, no philosophical axes to grind.  It is solely about accepting evidence and allowing theories that contradicts prevailing attitudes and beliefs and following it wherever it leads.

Paul, tell us a little bit about yourself:

Hi Craig, thank you for taking an interest in this protest and interviewing me.  I’ve been a long time fan of TED and I’ve always had an interest in science and in freedom of speech. I’ve been interested in people that push the boundaries of our present knowledge and ask the hard questions. Even when I disagree with someone’s theories, I will still fight for them to be heard.  My day job is as Product Development Manager of Integral E-Stores.

What motivated you to organize this protest?

I felt TED was disrespectful to the scientific community and the spirit of science itself. I have also become weary of having to defend my own personal views against irrational arguments. Many times, I have noticed people, including scientists and academics dismissing research without even having looked at it. This is troublesome and needs to be confronted.

What made you want to do a one year anniversary protest?

Simply because it is one year since everything has happened and we have yet to see a substantial answer.  Rather instead we have nebulous comments by an unknown board and a load of comments, articles, statements, and speculations.  The door is has still yet to be opened and now we all know that it is very much there.

How did this protest come about?

Look,  it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that there is bias and discrimination in scientific communities.    So, no….we aren’t scientists,  we’re just passionate about what science can explain to us about ourselves  and we made a simple observation. We saw a silent war being fought in the intellectual community. This should be public because the greatest minds of humanity are discussing some very big issues here that will trickle down and have an effect on all of us. In the future, in 100 years, our understanding of reality will likely be very different than it is today. The history of science has shown us that what we accept as fact could very well change.

So I did my research to learn more about the controversy, including reading your book.  I spoke to friends and PhD’s to gauge interest and got an enthusiastic response.

I recruited a couple of like minded colleagues and began the process of launching this campaign.  Now everything is up and running and slowly becoming automated so I have a chance to concentrate on improving our overall strategy.

Speaking of which, how is it going?

Very well.  We have over 125 signatures (from PhD’s and MD’s) including a Nobel Prize winner in physics so far and more on the way.  While this isn’t a huge number, we’re very happy with what we’ve gotten so far because this is an esoteric subject that not everyone feels passionate about.  We invite your readers to encourage any PhD’s and MD’s they know to sign the petition because it’s been our experience that word of mouth has produced the best results.  One of the things that we unfortunately haven’t had the bandwidth to deal with is putting out a petition for everyone to sign.  We would be grateful if someone else took up that project and we would help publicize it.  Our goals are to have Sheldrake’s TED talk re-instated and for TED to disclose the names of their science board.

Any stumbling blocks?

We have been mailing requests for support to many academics and a small handful have responded by making the pseudoscience claim, but we always respond politely by asking them to please point out what part of the talk is pseudoscience.  We have yet to receive a reply.

But the video for Graham Hancock was also taken down as well as TEDxWestHollywood.  What about them?

We didn’t forget them.  The TED controversy of last year was about so much more than just Rupert Sheldrake.   I very much sympathize with Graham who had his TED talk removed as well and especially with Suzanne Taylor who had to spend $30,000 of her own money to put her program on after TED withdrew their support a mere two weeks before the event; and this was after a year of planning.

However it’s very important when you do a protest to keep things as clear, focused, and simple as possible. One of the problems of the Occupy movement was that they didn’t have any specific goals to hang their hats on and that diluted their message.  We didn’t want to make the same mistake.  It’s my hope that by bringing everyone’s attention to the central issue, they will be curious enough to inform themselves about the other players in this controversy.

Any final words?

Yes, this protest is a place for activism toward a more rational approach to science.  I ask everyone to please help publicize this event and this controversy in general.  We need your help to make this protest meaningful.

Background information:

TED Controversy

My book on the TED Controversy

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2 comments on “Interview with Paul Revis, Organizer of The TED Protest Coming April 2nd

  1. Pingback: TED censored two TEDx videos that questioned the materialistic assumptions of modern science. Censorship was apparently based on the recommendations of an anonymous board | Eslkevin's Blog

  2. Stephen Baumgart
    March 19, 2014

    Thank you for your efforts. I have a Ph.D. in physics from Yale and have signed my name.

    I have seen genuine pseudoscientists before at conferences such as APS. I think they generally fall into two classes. They can be arrogant men who believe themselves geniuses but are too lazy to do the hard work of familiarizing themselves with the fields they attack. Or they can be motivated by ideological or corporate agendas. Those people who promote young-Earth creationism because of religious beliefs or those who tried to sow doubt on the link between smoking and lung cancer while in the pay of the tobacco industry are examples of pseudoscientists.

    Though I think Rupert Sheldrake made a mistake on one of his dogmas, I do not think he is a pseudoscientist. He has done his investigations carefully and I think his diligent work on psi in animals and humans brings an important new perspective to the table.

    On the point on which I disagree with Sheldrake, I think the response of his critics has been very telling, showing the extremely tribal nature of the debate. Unlike Rupert Sheldrake, I do not believe that unchanging physical constants is a dogma of science. Or it wasn’t until Sheldrake brought it up in his talk. Let me explain. I have heard discussion of whether the fundamental physical constants change with time discussed in completely mainstream physics labs and seminars with no one raising an eyebrow. However, once Sheldrake claimed it as a dogma of science, skeptical bloggers rushed to defend unchanging physical constants as true science and attacked the alternate opinion as pseudoscience. It was grimly funny to watch this unfold. It was as if the skeptical bloggers define “science” as “the opposite of whatever Rupert Sheldrake believes”. Very childish indeed.

    I think there is a lot of anxiety about pseudoscience in the scientific community because of hyper-specialization among professional scientists. It is extremely difficult to recognize bad science outside of one’s own field. And a professional scientist is going to be very afraid of being the one idiot in the lab who falls for some crazy theory. Far safer to endorse whatever is the mainstream. But who defines the mainstream? Often it is the editors of the major science magazines such as Nature, Science, Scientific American, New Scientist, etc. Professional skeptical groups have cultivated deep ties with those magazines and their biases are reflected in how those magazines report on controversial topics.

    I think the scientific community needs to rethink how it deals with controversial topics. It is most important that science resists pressure from ideologues. It doesn’t matter whether these ideologues are Christian fundamentalists, militant atheists, libertarians, etc. Intellectual integrity requires that their biases be ignored.

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