Parapsychology Journalism: The People, The Theory, The Science, The Skeptics
Continued from The Big TED Controversy of 2013, Part 1 (Click here for part 1)
On March 19th, TED opened up two discussions: one for Rupert and another for Graham. It’s not at all clear why there were separate discussions. It was, also, frankly annoying. Cross posting was constant. Both Rupert Sheldrake and Graham Hancock responded in the only way they could, in their respective comment sections. (You can find both responses at the end of this post.) This state of affairs put the speakers in a truly Kafkaesque situation. Both men were accused, but of what? And by whom? Both videos were still deemed to be unscientific, but no reasons why were given. It was not clear who was doing the accusing or what rationale they were employing. As a result, both men challenged TED to a debate.
At this point, it was all that skeptics and the parapsychological community were talking about. I counted at least 25 blogs discussing it and the controversy hadn’t even peaked yet.
On March 30th, TED cancelled the TEDxWestHollywood license it had granted 14 months earlier, with vague charges of pseudoscience. Speakers they singled out were Dr. Larry Dossey, physicist Russell Targ, Marianne Williamson and Rev. Paul Nugent, with Dossey and Targ, the scientists of the bunch, being the primary targets. Both have extensive resumes in frontier science. Larry and Russell both responded (which you can find below).
This was a story that I scooped. I was on TED’s Hancock thread and happened upon Suzanne Taylor, the producer for the West Hollywood event, and she related to me what was going on. She had been reading my blog, liked it, and hoped I would help publicize the story. After this blog post hit the streets, the next couple of days were the busiest my blog has ever seen.
On April 1st, TED issued a statement about West Hollywood in a blog post. Their main sticking point was that this was not allowed:
- talks that use the language of science to present speculative claims as fact
TED didn’t go into any detail about what speculative claims were being made and how these were being presented as fact — and they couldn’t know because they hadn’t seen transcripts of any of the speeches. They were taking action based on what they thought the speakers might say. (See http://www.TEDxWestHollywood.com for the mission statement about the program.) Suzanne and I made numerous attempts to publicize this unconscionable action by TED, and we did have some success with the mainstream press, although not nearly as much as we would have liked. TED compounded its perpetration against TEDxWestHollywood by getting Livestream to cancel the event that had been widely publicized, and nothing came of Suzanne’s attempts to get TED to reimburse the costs she picked up to deliver her program due to lost sponsorship and funding. (You can find Suzanne’s response below.)
On April 2nd, the sagas with both Rupert’s and Graham’s videos came to a close. The videos stayed in an obscure corner of TED, from which they couldn’t be embedded and where TED tried to avoid charges of censorship. Although both videos are now on other sites, they cannot be searched on the TED site. Rupert referred to this as “The Naughty Corner.” A scientific discussion never materialized –TED didn’t accept the invitation to debate Rupert or Graham, and never did give any substantive reasons for the takedown of TEDxWestHollywood. From TED’s message on Hancock’s thread, which is identical on Rupert’s, here’s a pertinent quote:
Finally, let me say that TED is 100% committed to open enquiry, including challenges to orthodox thinking. But we’re also firm believers in appropriate skepticism, or critical thinking. Those two instincts will sometimes conflict, as they did in this case. That’s why we invited this debate. The process hasn’t been perfect. But it has been undertaken in passionate pursuit of these core values.
And my response to this nonsense.
What open enquiry? What critical thinking? Where is the appropriate skepticism? Is it a secret? An endeavor can hardly be called an open enquiry or even a debate if none of the important questions are ever answered. So what are we left with? Nothing much.
In the end, it was a lot of discussion for nothing.
On April 18th, a Huffington Post blog article by Deepak Chopra, MD. FACP; Stuart Hameroff, MD; Menas C. Kafatos, Ph.D.; Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D.; and Neil Theise, MD took TED to task condemning their new policy of censoring talks that make “angry noisy bloggers who promote militant atheism” uncomfortable.
On April 19th, this Chopra article was enough to goad Chris Anderson into responding with the same poor logic that he had been using all along, as in this quote:
But he or she should expect to face a robust standard of proof before their ideas take hold. And for every Galileo, there are thousands of people who just have bad, unscientific ideas. That’s why in our guidance to the thousands of TEDx organizers around the world, we ask that they steer clear of talks that bear hallmarks of unsubstantiated science.
It’s already been shown that when asked to provide specifics, TED never did, but continued to make the same unsubstantiated claims.
This is really the core of the controversy that took place. When TED removed the videos and the whole TEDxWestHollywood program for what they stated were scientific reasons, they were obliged to deal with scientific thinking. That meant they were required to deal with the evidence wherever it led. They actually should have done their due diligence to find out whether the topics in question had actual science backing them up before taking any action.
TED had made a claim that talks by Rupert, Graham, Larry and Russell were pseudoscience. It was a claim about science and therefore had to be treated as science. If they could not prove that claim (and they couldn’t), they were obliged to withdraw it. This was not about free speech or differences of opinion, but about what was provable.
Rather than back down, TED showed the world the naked truth about what was going on. Those talks and the West Hollywood event contradicted their beliefs and nothing else. The claim of pseudoscience was a lie. Science had nothing to do with it. What they had was belief, and it was so strong that even though they lacked any proof they would not budge from it. The TED (materialist) version of science isn’t science at all. TED claimed to be skeptical but their posture was more like a religion.
I promised this would raise more questions than it would answer. Why didn’t TED have any answers? Why do they talk about science but actually mean beliefs? Why is the claim of pseudoscience a lie? What’s up with skepticism? These are questions I will be covering in my new book. Get on the mailing list to be notified about it. (Click here).
Rupert Sheldrake’s Response:
I appreciate the fact that TED published my response to the accusations leveled against me by their Scientific Board, and also crossed out the Board’s statement on the “Open for discussion” blog. http://blog.ted.com/2013/03/14/open-for-discussion-graham-hancock-and-rupert-sheldrake/
There are no longer any specific points to answer. I am all in favour of debate, but it is not possible to make much progress through short responses to nebulous questions like “Is this an idea worth spreading, or misinformation?”
I would be happy to take part in a public debate with a scientist who disagrees with the issues I raise in my talk. This could take place online, or on Skype. My only condition is that it be conducted fairly, with equal time for both sides to present their arguments, and with an impartial moderator, agreed by both parties.
Therefore I ask Chris Anderson to invite a scientist from TED’s Scientific Board or TED’s Brain Trust to have a real debate with me about my talk, or if none will agree to take part, to do so himself.
Graham Hancock’s Response:
I previously commented that I would not post further on this Blog page because it is so clearly designed to distract public attention from the disastrous way TED has handled their attempt to censor my “War on Consciousness” talk and Rupert Sheldrake’s “Science Delusion” talk.
That in my view is the important point, for it bears on the future of TED itself as a viable platform for “ideas worth spreading”. I am heartened that so many of the 400-plus concerned people who have now posted here (and the 1000-plus who posted on the original Blog page) have refused to fall for TED’s sleight of hand and continued to press the organization to rethink its policy.
Since TED has retracted and struck out all their justifications for the original deletion of my talk from the TEDx Youtube channel (http://blog.ted.com/2013/03/14/open-for-discussion-graham-hancock-and-rupert-sheldrake/) and since they have published my rebuttal, and done the same re Rupert Sheldrake’s talk, I agree with Rupert on a new post he has made on this page (http://www.ted.com/conversations/17189/the_debate_about_rupert_sheldr.html). There are no more specific points surrounding TED’s misguided decision that he and I need to answer. Nor is it possible to make much progress through short responses to nebulous questions like “Is this an idea worth spreading, or misinformation?”
But I now make this one further post, simply to add my voice to Rupert’s and to put on record that I, too, would be happy to take part in a public debate with a scientist who disagrees with the issues I raise in my talk. My only condition is that it be conducted fairly, with equal time for both sides to present their arguments, and with an impartial moderator, agreed by both parties.
Therefore I join Rupert in asking Chris Anderson to invite a scientist from TED’s Scientific Board or TED’s Brain Trust to have a real debate with me about my talk, or if none will agree to take part, to do so himself.
Suzanne Taylor’s Response:
I am writing this after the fact, in August of 2013, as I am attempting to get a reluctant TED to deal with the consequences to me of the cancellation of its license two weeks before our April 14th event. Those two weeks were to be spent honing a program which was fully funded and going to take place in a new, award-winning building that was donated by the City of West Hollywood, which was one of our sponsors. I had been working on this program for 14 months, and thematically it was no different two weeks before its presentation that it had been 14 months earlier when TED approved it. What had changed was TED. It had adopted a caution and conservatism where it started to censor, one way or another, programs that before this it would have approved.
One reprehensible aspect of its cancellation of my license, which required me to pick up all the expenses to present my program after I lost all my sponsorship, is that TED did not actually know what I was going to present. They did not ask to see the talks, but cancelled me based on my description of the program and the topics my heavily credentialed scientists were talking about. Here’s what my deeply dangerous TEDxWestHollywood program was going to deliver:
“More for you is more for me.” Charles Eisenstein
Our event, “Brother, Can You Spare a Paradigm?” will illuminate the urgent need to change our fundamental value system or worldview to one in which humanity pulls together rather than separately. This view would supersede the current worldview where whoever has the most toys wins. The new view is based on what science tells us about a quantum universe, with everything being interconnected and all of us being interdependent. A new science-based vision won’t take hold, though, until people know and understand that there are more humane alternatives available. This is what our presentations will focus on. Our hope is that our presenters will impact the world’s thinking about how we interact as global community. They will demonstrate and propose action on how practical programs and technologies can be implemented in communities everywhere.
I had worked for over a year to present a program dear to my heart. I am focused on our worldview and how it needs to move from being money and greed based to being caring and compassion based. The TED platform was respected enough for me to work without compensation under its aegis (organizers are not allowed to make any money producing TEDx events). And, by TED making my program the only one of 5000 ready-to-go TEDx programs for which they had revoked a license, even if I hadn’t had a passion for what I was delivering and only thought it to be a pleasant program, to preserve my good name I would have had to spend my money to let people see what I had been working on.
Then, TED did one of the most shameful things I could imagine. They went from what they felt was protective toward themselves to aggressively punishing me. When I was under TED’s auspice, I had booked a Livestream broadcast. Getting my program widely seen was why I had devoted over year of my life to producing it, even taking a chance that if I didn’t get sponsorship to cover the expense I’d pay for it myself. But, that Livestream was not to be. Although we were no longer a TED program, TED got my Livestream event removed, so people would not even have a chance to evaluate the efficacy of its concern. I bought a second Livestream without “TED” in the url, but with two days to get the word out we ended up with hundreds instead of thousands of viewers. Why did they do this, inflicting a grave wound on a goodhearted ally, and then going in for a kill?
The world still hasn’t to any great extent been made aware of our program, but I am not finished. I will enlist the aid of the intelligent people who were offended by what TED did to Rupert and Graham to open a new dialogue. Rupert and Graham, who are among my favorite allies, have prospered from the controversy in that many more people now know their work, but with my being out thousands of dollars and very few people having seen my program, I am in a different situation. In the meantime, a couple of very pithy clips were put together from the West Hollywood day – one is 4 minutes and one is 18 minutes – and those pieces start off the whole program that’s on YouTube: http://tinyurl.com/oj8j8e4.
Larry Dossey, M.D. (His talk is here: http://tinyurl.com/lkfwgvy.)
I can add my name to those of Rupert Sheldrake and Graham Hancock as speakers who find themselves in TEDx’s crosshairs. I was scheduled to speak at the TEDx West Hollywood event. But my scientific credibility was questioned by TEDx’s science advisory board in their decision to withdraw support and revoke the license of TEDxWestHollywood.
I’ve lectured at dozens of top-tier medical schools and hospitals all over the U.S. for two decades. Although my colleagues don’t always agree with my points of view, this is the first time my scientific credibility has ever been questioned.
My TEDx talk dealt with the correlations between spirituality, health, and longevity, for which there is immense evidence; and recent experimental findings that point toward a nonlocal view of consciousness for which, again, there is strong and abundant support. In view of our lack of understanding of the origins and destiny of consciousness, and considering the demographics of the TEDx followers, I thought this information would have been of considerable interest.
As a board-certified physician of internal medicine, former chief of staff of a major hospital, author of twelve books and scores of papers on these subjects published in peer-reviewed journals, a recipient of many awards, a frequent lecturer at medical schools and hospitals, and executive editor of the peer-reviewed journal, Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing, I’d be interested in knowing from TED where I came up short.
“A clash of doctrines is not a disaster, it is an opportunity,” Whitehead said. It should not be a reason for censorship.
Russell Targ (His talk is here: http://tinyurl.com/lpyv93m.)
In cancelling the license for the TEDx event in West Hollywood, it appears that I was accused of “using the guise of science” to further spooky claims (or some such). People on this blog have asked what I was going to talk about. That’s easily answered. I was co-founder of a 23 year research program investigating psychic abilities at Stanford Research Institute. We were doing research and applications for the CIA, Defense Intelligence Agency, Air Force and Army Intelligence, NASA, and others. In this $25 million program we used “remote viewing” to find a downed Russian bomber in North Africa, for which President Carter commended us. We found a kidnapped US general in Italy, and the kidnap car that snatched Patricia Hearst. We looked in on the US hostages in Iran, and predicted the immanent release of Richard Queen, who was soon sent to Germany. We described a Russian weapons factory in Siberia, leading to a US congressional investigation about weakness in US security, etc. We published our scientific findings in Nature, The Proc. IEEE, Proc, AAAS, and Proc. American Institute of Physics. I thought a TED audience would find this recently declassified material interesting. And no physics would be harmed in my presentation.
Remote viewing is an ability that many people can easily learn. It is a nonlocal ability, in that its accuracy and reliability are independent of distance. Dean of Engineering Robert Jahn has also published extensively on his experiments at Princeton (Proc. IEEE, Feb 1982). I am not claiming it is quantum anything. It appears to possibly make use of something like Minkowski’s (8 dimensional) complex space/time that he described to Einstein in the 1920s, and is now being re-examined by Roger Penrose. This is not necessarily The answer. But the answer will be some sort similar nonlocal space/time geometry. We taught remote viewing to 6 army intelligence officers in 1979. They then taught a dozen other officers and created an operational army psychic corps at Ft. Meade, which lasted until the end of our program in 1995. You can see two examples of real remote viewing on my website, http://www.espresearch.com. One with Hella Hammid is double blind, live on camera for a 1983 BBC film, “The Case of ESP,” available on Google.