TED conference censorship row
Paul Bignell is an Assistant News Editor at The Independent. He has previously been the acting News Editor of the i Paper, a home news reporter for The Independent for one year and a reporter for the Independent on Sunday for six years.
Sunday 07 April 2013
With over 500 million YouTube views, TED Talks have attracted guest speakers such as Bill Gates, Richard Dawkins and Julian Assange and in the process, made conferences cool again.
But in recent weeks TED Talks – with their mantra - ‘ideas worth sharing’ - have been accused of censorship after two British speakers had their talks removed from TED’s official website.
The row involves two British speakers, the journalist and author Graham Hancock and Cambridge and Harvard University lecturer Rupert Sheldrake. Both speakers have been deemed as ‘provocative’ amid accusations of ‘pseudoscience’ at lectures they gave at a TEDx talk – a franchised spin-off of the main TED Talk brand. Hancock describes a ‘war on consciousness’ that prevents the world from gaining a higher state of awareness through shamanic principles and psychoactives like the South American potion, ayahuasca.
Rupert Sheldrake, a biochemist gave a speech which was loosely based on his book, The Science Delusion in which he refutes enduring dogmas which he claims are holding back legitimate scientific enquiry.
Both speakers who spoke at the TEDx conference in east London last month had their speeches pulled from its YouTube channel. After complaints from Sheldrake and Hancock and many TED viewers, their videos were reinstalled, but not on the main website – ‘in the naughty corner’ as Mr Hancock described it.
Hancock and Sheldrake have also called for the anonymous science board which advises TED on the legitimacy of speakers, to be revealed –something which TED is refusing to do, citing they are unpaid volunteers.
At the talks, speakers are given 18 minutes to present their ideas, which range from a mixture of science and culture through to storytelling.
But in recent months, a series of controversies dogged the not-for-profit organisation and whose acronym stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design, leading many to question the integrity of the organisation which charges audiences several thousands of pounds to watch a speech, yet pays its speakers nothing. In 2009, TED decided to license its brand allowing anyone, around the world to stage ‘TEDx’ events.
Last week in California, officials withdrew the license awarded to organisers of TEDx West Hollywood. Organisers said the conference theme who were talking about the reality of ESP, was “pseudoscience”.
Graham Hancock, said: “I think it comes down to the management of popular culture, rather than leaving people to make up their own minds.
“I think the dilemma that TED found themselves in, was as a corporate brand they didn’t want to be associated with these talks which they had put out on their TEDx YouTube channel. But then when they find it doesn’t fit their corporate brand, they reserve the right to take them down again,” he said.
In a statement, TED said: “The reason people are upset is because they think there has been censorship. But it’s simply not true. Both talks are up on our website. If you Google them you will find them immediately. Both have attracted significant views and numerous comments. This whole flap stems from an initial alert put out by one of the speakers that he thought he might be about to be censored. And when you shout censorship on the Internet, it’s like shouting fire in a cinema. It causes chaos regardless of whether it’s true. In this case it was a misunderstanding on his part. We had made clear from the start that these talks were not being removed from the web.”
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