‘Censored’ TED speakers call for public debate

Biologist Rupert Sheldrake and author Graham Hancock have called for a public debate on issues at the edge of mainstream science, after their talks as part of the TED series were removed from its YouTube channel

To deal with the diverse and complex problems that our world is facing, “we need to challenge the dominant thought-paradigms and radically reassess the values which govern our world.”

So stated the organisers of TEDxWhitechapel, an independently organised event in London in January, which had licensed the TEDx branding as part of an international series of conferences aimed at sharing “ideas worth spreading.”

On 14 March, videos of two of the speakers from the event – Rupert Sheldrake and Graham Hancock – were removed from the TED talks YouTube channel at the request of the TED’s science board. It has triggered a substantial online debate about how much voice media platforms should give to ideas seen by some as radical.

In his talk, Sheldrake, a well-published scientist, spoke about the nature of consciousness and said that the assumptions of people who treat science as a “belief system” are holding back investigation of notions such as telepathy, or of how fixed the laws of nature are. He said limiting genuine scientific enquiry into such subjects could hinder a full understanding of the world.

Hancock, an established author, published in 27 languages, gave a talk titled War on Consciousness, about the role that psychotropic substances could play in progressing human consciousness.

The videos had together received more than 150,000 views in the month they were available and petitions for their reinstatement soon gathered hundreds of signatures. TED blog posts relating to the debate have drawn more than 4,000 comments, while copies of the videos have been posted elsewhere around the web independently.

After significant pressure from supporters of the speakers and from members of the TED community, the videos were reinstated by TED, though on its blog, not its YouTube channel. TED argued that the talks are “so radical” they should have a “health warning.”

However, Sheldrake blamed pressure from “militant atheist bloggers” for the removal of the talks and has called for a public debate in order to explore the issues constructively.

Commenting on the TED blog, Sheldrake wrote: “I ask [TED curator] Chris Anderson to invite a scientist from TED’s Scientific Board to have a real debate with me about my talk, or if none will agree to take part, to do so himself.”

Speaking to Positive News, he added: “Scientific fundamentalists object to ideas which question their belief system. So do fundamentalists of all kinds. But militant atheists currently have a disproportionate influence.”

Hancock joined Sheldrake in calling for a “free and open-live streamed public debate,” adding: “TED began as a great platform for spreading challenging and cutting edge ideas. It should try to stay that way.”

In an open letter to TED, published on Facebook, the TEDxWhitechapel organisers wrote: “We are now even stronger in our conviction that these are valuable ideas that need to be discussed and debated widely.

“We fear that TED will take a lot of criticism for censorship,” they added.

A spokeswoman for TED told Positive News: “TED has opted for an open, online discussion, rather than a specific public debate with Sheldrake, Hancock and the science board. While the videos do not meet the stated TEDx guidelines, they will continue to be displayed on TED’s blog, with a lively ongoing debate.”

Although his request has not been met, Sheldrake said he was pleased with the level of activity online: “I have been very encouraged by this debate, which shows there is a change of mood underway.”

He told Positive News that he believed those unwilling to consider ideas beyond mainstream scientific thinking “are being challenged as never before,” and “many people seem open to new ideas.”

Did you read Positive News’ coverage of the TEDxWhitechapel event? And have you read our new blog, Ideas worth spreading, which reviews TED talks? What do you think about Rupert Sheldrake and Graham Hancock’s ideas?