Yesterday I blogged about how TEDx has had a few problems with some of the third parties promoting bullshit instead of science (crystal therapy, Egyptian psychoaromatherapy, healing through the Earth, homeopathy and even “basic mind control”) and how the TEDx directors responded by issuing some really great guidance on how to filter out such bullshit. In reply, one kind soul pointed me at a HuffPo article penned by several purveyors of woo as an objection to such guidance, one of them being Deepak Chopra. Their article was entitled …
Dear TED, Is It ‘Bad Science’ or a ‘Game of Thrones’?
Oh Cool, I like Game of Thrones, so lets see if these guys have a sensible rational argument to present (you know that you don’t need to hold your breath here).
Their opening argument is that TED is practising semi-censorship, well you can be the judge of that yourself by reading my previous blog posting. To make their case, they have some examples of this “censorship” ..
the reputations of the two presenters, Rupert Sheldrake and Graham Hancock, were besmirched …. and among the thousands of comments aired on the Internet, one pointed out that Sheldrake and Hancock spoke at a TEDx conference explicitly dedicated to ideas that challenge mainstream thinking.
…Sheldrake’s talk was on “The Science Delusion” and covered ten dogmas in mainstream science that need to be examined; there wasn’t a hint of bad science in it. Hancock’s talk was on consciousness and psychedelics, a topic without fangs for anyone who has heard of the Sixties, much less lived through them. Even as the videos were begrudgingly reposted, TED felt justified in tagging them as “radical” and attaching a “health warning”.
Least you wonder, the term “health warning” is a polite way of saying “bullshit alert, here be stuff that has no actual evidence”. Oh and apparently the objections to those TED talks came via “angry, noisy bloggers who promote militant atheism“, and the evidence of this is … yep, nothing at all. Mr Hancock and Mr Sheldrake need not worry that others have besmirched their reputations, they have done a fine job of that all by themselves.
What comes next is quite stunning, they pick a bit of popular culture, Game of Thrones, and start painting an image of what is going on the show so that they can then use it as a metaphor, but they get it all wrong …
- Apparently dragons live on the other side of the great wall …. wrong.
- “a hereditary band of guardians swore an oath to keep watch at the wall, generation after generation” … wrong, not “Guardians”, but the Black Watch, and not hereditary (unlike them, I actually did watch the show)
So anyway, having now setup a metaphor which is bullshit and all wrong, they then attempt to liken it to TED …
TED has put itself in rather the same position. What the militant atheists and self-described skeptics hate is a certain brand of magical thinking that endangers science. In particular, there is the bugaboo of “non-local consciousness,” which causes the hair on the back of their necks to stand on end. A layman would be forgiven for not grasping why such an innocent-sounding phrase could spell danger to “good science.”
What’s with this continuous babbling about, “militant atheists”, that these militant woo-Meisters keeps deploying? All we have here is a complaint that critical thinkers object to the complete bullshit these kooks spout, but that is not just because it is different, but rather because there is no evidence for any of the claims they make.
They go on to claim …
Four of us (Stuart Hameroff, Rudolph Tanzi, Neil Thiese, and Deepak Chopra) have devoted years of research to neuroscience, clinical studies and consciousness. For millennia it went without question that such a mind exists; it was known as God. Fearing that God is finding a way to sneak back into the kingdom through ideas of quantum consciousness, militant atheists go on the attack against near-death experiences, telepathy, action at a distance, and all manifestations of purpose-driven evolution. Like the guardians in “A Game of Thrones,” these militants haven’t actually looked over the wall, and given their absolute conviction that the human brain is the only source of awareness in the universe, you’d think that speculative thinking on the subject wouldn’t be so threatening.
And after all these years of “research” they have come up with …. nothing at all, not one jot of actual verifiable evidence. Oh, and their metaphor still does not work, the “black watch” (not Guardians) do indeed venture over the wall. If they can’t even get fiction right, then you can be darn sure that they will have no hope with getting to grips with reality.
It continues on with more of the same .. one long rant, that ticks almost all the TEDx red flags that alert you to complete bullshit, but have also interlaced it with a seething mass of ad hominems, and no actual verifiable evidence at all.
Here are a few howlers …
- “Fearing that God is finding a way to sneak back into the kingdom through ideas of quantum consciousness” – the word “quantum” being deployed outside the normal physics context is indeed a bullshit alert.
- “Even a newcomer to science knows about Copernicus, Galileo, and other great scientists whose theories countermanded the prevailing body of accepted knowledge.” … sigh, the old fall-back of the militant woo-meisters … sure, those guys advanced our understanding, but they did it with evidence that disproved the prevailing religious dogma, and not by spouting bullshit that has zero-evidence.
- “The greatest breakthroughs rarely come by acts of conformity.” … but they do come with evidence.
What of course is truly funny about all of this is that if you look at the TEDx guidance on symptoms to watch out for …
Be alert if a potential speaker (or the speaker’s advocate on your planning team) does any of the following things:
- Barrages you with piles of unrelated, over-general backup material, attempting to bury you in data they think you won’t have time to read
- Holds a nonstandard degree. For instance, if the physics-related speaker has a degree in engineering, not physics; if the medical researcher does not have an M.D. or Ph.D.; if the affiliated university does not have a solid reputation. This is not snobbery; if a scientist truly wishes to make an advance in their chosen field, they’ll make an effort to engage with other scholars
- Claims to have knowledge no one else has
- Sends information only from websites they created themselves; there is little or no comment on them in mainstream science publications or even on Wikipedia
- Provides data that takes the form of anecdotes, testimonials and/or studies of only one person
- Sells a product, supplement, plan or service related to their proposed talk — this is a BIG RED FLAG
- Acts oddly persistent about getting to your stage. A normal person who is rejected for the TEDx stage will be sad and usually withdraw from you. A hoaxer, especially one who sees a financial upside to being associated with TEDx, will persist, sometimes working to influence members of your team one by one or through alternative channels
- Accuses you of endangering their freedom of speech. (Shutting down a bogus speaker is in no way endangering their freedom of speech. They’re still free to speak wherever they can find a platform. You are equally free not to lend them the TEDx platform.)
- Demands that TEDx present “both sides of an issue” when one side is not backed by science or data. This comes up around topics such as creationism, anti-vaccination and alternative health
- Acts upset or hurt that you are checking them out or doubting them
- Accuses you of suppressing them because TED and TEDx is biased against them and run by rich liberals ;)
- Threatens to publicly embarrass TED and TEDx for suppressing them. (The exact opposite will happen.)
… then what you find is that this HuffPo article more or less ticks almost every single one of the above.
There is no censorship going on here, the “militant” woo-misters (see, I can deploy the word “militant” as well) are quite free to organize their very own conferences, write their own books, setup their own websites, nobody is stopping them. If however they want to play in the evidence-based science arena, then they need to come up with some actual evidence for all the daft claims that they promote, and so far that has not happened. TED’s tagline is “Ideas worth spreading”, not “anything anyone feels like saying”; and that by definition excludes bullshit.