Just Because TED Doesn’t Promote Pseudoscience Doesn’t Mean They’re Censoring Deepak Chopra

The TED talks you see online tend to be pretty awesome. But that’s partially because we only get to see a small fraction of all the talks given at TED and TEDx conferences. Most of the talks never appear online because the content is curated and filtered. Anyone who has seen TED talks knows that they’re about spreading interesting ideas and starting fascinating conversations, even if you strongly disagree with what’s being said. As content providers, the TED staff isn’t opposed to controversy — nothing generates better discussion than a controversial topic — but the staff is also aware that they can’t post talks that are based in bullshit.

A few months ago, a letter was sent out to the TEDx community informing them of the guidelines they should use when selecting speakers. Among them: Don’t invite people who use bad science or pseudoscience in their talks.

Makes sense. You don’t want to see a fake Benny Hinn-like healing taking place on the TED stage, nor would you want to see a psychic or anti-vaccination promoter.

And who took offense to those guidelines? None other than Deepak Chopra, the king of bad science. On Thursday, he and several of his pseudoscience-pushing colleagues posted an open letter to the TED team questioning their obvious censorship of their ideas. The gist of their letter? Of course pseudoscience shouldn’t be posted on the TED website… but the stuff we do is totally not pseudoscience!

[TED] tags as a sign of good science that “it does not fly in the face of the broad existing body of scientific knowledge.” Even a newcomer to science knows about Copernicus, Galileo, and other great scientists whose theories countermanded the prevailing body of accepted knowledge… The greatest breakthroughs rarely come by acts of conformity.

In other words, Deepak Chopra believes he and his comrades are modern-day Copernicii.

The general public — and many working scientists — isn’t aware that consciousness has become a hot topic spanning many disciplines, and its acceptability is demarked by age. Older, established scientists tend to be dead set against it, while younger, upcoming scientists are fascinated.

Citation needed. (Though I’ll admit, I’m very fascinated by how so many people are taken in by Chopra’s pretense of doing actual “science.”)

So what’s his evidence for the growing acceptability of “consciousness” science?

There are any number of books on “the conscious universe.”

Because bullshit sells. It’s the same reason Christians can have their own bookstores.

There are peer-reviewed journals on consciousness and worldwide conferences on how to link mind and brain (the so-called “hard problem”).

There are also peer-reviewed journals and worldwide conferences about Creationism. That doesn’t mean Creationism is valid.

And then, somehow, Richard Dawkins‘ name gets dragged through the mud:

The real grievance here isn’t about intellectual freedom but the success of militant atheists at quashing anyone who disagrees with them. Their common tactic is scorn, ridicule, and contempt. The most prominent leaders, especially Richard Dawkins, refuse to debate on any serious grounds, and indeed they show almost total ignorance of the cutting-edge biology and physics that has admitted consciousness back into “good science.”

Aha! This is all part of a Massive Atheist Conspiracy to squash all the “cutting-edge” science that Chopra promotes!

That point is really symbolic of how Chopra works. He makes stuff up and then convinces himself it’s true. To him, that’s how science works.

Chris Anderson, the Curator of TED, responded to Chopra the next day.

He put to rest the idea of a Militant Atheist Takeover immediately by noting that Pastor Rick Warren, religious scholar Karen Armstrong, and representatives from many religious faiths have TED talks on the website.

And then Anderson talked about science:

Yes a modern-day Galileo may be out there with paradigm-shifting ideas that will at some point overturn huge pieces of existing science. 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…

There’s no suppression or censorship happening. Chopra’s not a good scientist. He’s just a good promoter of bad science.

Of course, Chopra wasn’t done… he responded right back by telling Anderson that if he really respected different ideas, he would post Chopra’s talk online as a “gesture of TED’s lack of censorship.”

Which is a horrible idea. Chopra would get free publicity while the TED brand would get damaged by offering a platform to a peddler of pseudoscience.

TED isn’t always perfect, and TEDx is even more chaotic than the main conference, but no one’s getting banned for having ideas that are unusual or unpopular as long as they’re based in some truth. The theories that Chopra promotes are based in his ability to use big words that sound like science.

The fact that many of the talks that were given on a stage didn’t end up on the main website is not a matter of censorship. It’s a matter of curation. You might have the best ideas in the world but an inability to communicate those ideas effectively. If that’s the case, your video isn’t going up on their site. On the flip side, you might have really horrible ideas that you communicate better than anyone else — those videos shouldn’t go up, either.

If Chopra wants to be recognized as a real scientist, he should do some real science. He won’t because there’s far more money to be made writing books that don’t get fact-checked by editors and are sold to people who don’t know the difference between good and bad pieces of evidence.

TED owes him nothing, certainly not the posting of his talk on their website if they don’t feel it meets their standards.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.


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