Help editor tackle TEDx pseudoscience

By Grant Jacobs 04/12/2012 12

Earlier today I received this comment from editor Emily McMagnus:

Just dropping a note here, because this has been such a wonderful thread and community, to say: SIGH! Have you seen the latest outcropping of woo on TEDx?
It’s not possible for anyone to be more upset about this than I am, and I’d love to talk about it.
So basically, TEDx is a community continuously under assault by pseudoscience now. This latest mess-up is interesting to me because it involves a lot of the low-grade health woo that I think all of us have encountered in conversations in our own lives. I’d love to know: How do you speak respectfully to your students, friends, family when they start talking about how great this health woo is?
Please know TEDx is on the case to prevent this kind of event from recurring, and your thoughts are welcome!

English-language readers can read a Google-translation of the TEDxValenciaWomen website in English. (It should keep translating the pages if you follow links to the biographies of the speakers, etc.) Similarly, you can read commentary elsewhere on-line translated into English via a translated Google search.

I’m too pressed for time to offer my own thoughts at this moment, but hope to add some later. Likewise, I will try append to this post examples of the concerns being expressed.

In the meantime, please offer your thoughts, suggestions.

Those wanting some of the back story may like to read my earlier article that Emily directed her comment at, On vetting TED(x) events – a suggestion.

12 Responses to “Help editor tackle TEDx pseudoscience”

  • How does a Tedx event currently vet it’s speakers? I have difficulty imagining a Ted speaker list being anything other than invite only? There has to be a group that does the inviting surely?

  • Oh, FSM, One of the speakers at that event is “an energy healer to Earth”. I believe Orac’s phrase about fetid dingoes’ kidneys is particularly apt. Science this is not!

  • Perhaps another thing to consider is who vets the vetters, Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? etc.

    The point I’m raising is how are the TEDx organisers selected? The collection of speakers as a whole suggests whoever selected them lacks solid thinking – just my opinion.

  • Ben: I think the process for each TEDx event is in-house. I’ve previously suggested setting up some ‘crowd-sourcing’ of the vetting as a possible way of strengthening the process and being alerted to troublesome cases before they hit the road – see the link to my previous post on this subject at the very end of the article.

  • Alison,

    You wrote: ‘Science this is not!’.

    No, it isn’t. They’d have to allow non-science events, I suppose – think of the Arts and whatnot, but there is a line where there’s a distinct lack of critical thinking going on, which would apply irrespective of the ‘field’.

    I personally prefer to exercise the Church/State separation notion and keep religion out of TED, but I have no idea what TED’s stance on that is.

    I’ll try get back to the ‘low-grade health woo’ Emily referred to later. (I have to get back to the grind…!)

  • The letter (see previous comment) is well worth reading and a useful introduction to screening material for anyone, not just TEDx directors. Well worded, too. There’s a balance of wanting TEDx to be independent and needed to point out their responsibilities, even a firm warning (‘We take this seriously. Presenting bad science on the TEDx stage is grounds for revoking your license.’)

    I still wonder if my earlier suggestion of presenting the up-coming speaker lists to a wider public as a way of drawing informed comment would be useful, as it might pre-empt poor decisions.

    More later. Thoughts welcome.

  • That’s a great letter, I think fundamentally the lack of ability to distinguish between science & pseudoscience is responsible for so much difficulty in life, eg fluoride, vaccinations, …

  • Andrea — agreed; it’s the pseudoscience and conspiracy in daily life that is most concerning, and that we’re hoping to provide some tools for. I want our TEDx hosts to know it’s okay to ask a speaker — even someone who’s very, very sincere in their beliefs — for factual backup.
    Grant — thank you again for sharing this note!

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