…Remember How TEDx Were All About Not The Bad Science, Pseudoscience And Health Hoaxes?

UPDATE – JERRY COYNE GETS A RESPONSE FROM TEDx AND YOU TOO CAN GIVE FEEDBACK!

Why yes, the peanut gallery cry! We remember that! Hang on, we got all happy about it and even saved it as a bookmark!

Below is an email sent to the TEDx community regarding our view on bad science/pseudoscience talks at TEDx events.

Oh hooray and small blue birds fly and brandy sauce for all and oh hang on… isn’t that Rupert Sheldrake?

Kind of feeling like this now… I’m going back to bed.

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About Kylie Sturgess

Kylie Sturgess is a Philosophy teacher, media and psychology student, blogger at Patheos and podcaster at Token Skeptic. She has conducted over a hundred interviews including artists, scientists, politicians and activists, worldwide.
She’s the author of the ‘Curiouser and Curiouser‘ column at the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry website and travels internationally lecturing on feminism, skepticism, and science.

  • Aliasalpha

    Ahh there’s not much that Bill Bailey can’t make better

    • http://sci-ence.org Maki

      Agreed! What a wonderful man :)

  • http://strangesally.wordpress.com/ SallyStrange

    Ahahah, why am I not surprised.

  • Pete Laberge

    A man talked for 14 minutes and said NOTHING, except mostly pure BS, and “sensationalism” . But he has a cute British accent, so I am sure many idiots will love it. It will then be taught to kids. Who of course, will be unable to actually use any of the stuff in life, or earn a dime from it. (Then we wonder why kids learn nothing in school, hate school, and graduate being unable to make change for a $20! And go out in life, and become vandals.) So this is what TED and TEDx are descending to: “How sensational can you be?” So much potential lost. Well, I understand. They have gone commercial. And they have to sell their little conferences. Of course. And this stuff sells.

    People: A galaxy is a galaxy, and a giraffe is a giraffe. And crystals do what they do, following the laws of chemistry and physics. It gets easier for us to do things, because well, we have more experience. And because we sometimes get either more or better technology. And, of course, because we have more people doing a thing… If one person builds cars, you get the abilities of one person (circa 1900), but today, there are dozens of companies doing it. So we get the models, styles, features, etc of all the players in the marketplace. What works for cars, works for phones, or anything else we make.

    And I could argue (and I know some who are better qualified than I, could) that most of his stuff was junk or warped science. He takes things out of context, and plays with them. He is a generalist, not a physicist, a chemist, or a biologist, or botanist.

    The actual speed of light has not changed in the least, for aeons. We are merely getting more accurate in measuring it. Sometimes we measure in an atmosphere, sometimes in a vacuum, etc. And the instruments we use, sometimes improve. Light cares not what number we assign to it. It stays the same.

    Oh, yes, around a black hole, for instance, you will have variations. But those things, as Einstein so well explained, are special cases. Was the speed different at the time of the “big bang”? Probably. But that universe, and ours are completely different. But for the amount of time that you and I will be in the universe, I think we do not have to worry. Nor do I think that various scientific measurements will be found in the newspapers, like stock market reports. If you had that kind of unstable universe, you would not likely have either an internet, or a newspaper, or a stock market, or anyone to do any reports.

    So, what we are doing is, we are closing in on, what the constants actually are, under various conditions. (Sound, for instance, travels differently in water, than air.) Considering that less than 100 years ago, we had almost no concrete idea what the various constants were at all…. (Either in value or in type. All we had were guesses, about some of them.) We merely use the constants to do calculations, which are only accurate to 1 to 4 decimal points, to begin with. Recall that we invent, use, and dispose of constants (and other values) as we need them, or do not need them.

    And his theories of psychic stuff…. Does anybody remember that Harry Houdini debunked most of this stuff decades ago? Gads. Somebody phone Yuri Gelder. Many of his claims and statements can easily be explained away. I will not bother to. I will leave someone else the chance to do that!

    Yes, it is possible, that you could find small places in the cosmos, where the gravitational constant is slightly different, for short periods of time. Fortunately, we are unlikely to encounter much of that. Why? Well you might then be able to jump, and actually jump off the Earth. (Which could be fatal to you!) And if we launched a probe to Mars, it would not get there. Not that the probe would malfunction, but that the calculations used to launch it would be wrong. So ti would eventually get somewhere, just not to Mars, as Mars would not be where our math said it would be, when we launched. Last I looked, we are getting pretty good at launching stuff to other places. And any failures are ours, not because the speed of sound or light changed along the way. Not because gravity changed, or the solar system shrank or enlarged. (Increase gravity, it would shrink, decrease, it would grow. Perhaps, not by much, but by enough that our space probes and satellites would have problems.) And again do note that the length of time of change, and quantity of change, would also affect things in the real world. I would not want to live in such a universe. WHY? Because it would be bizarre, and likely unpredictable.

    Remember people: TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design. He is actually the Entertainment guy. He makes inane, outlandish, extreme statements, and people applaud. Why? They went to see a live show. They are being polite. But how many actually recall a thing he said? I once recall a “piano recital” I went to. The guy was so good, we gave him 5 standing ovations, and he came back and played for another 1/2 hour. He deserved it, though, even if we were being polite. In this guy’s case… UGH!

    One hopes some real scientists will explain this, and much better than I can. Please note, that I do not spend hours on my little comments, What you have is 5 minutes work. I do know a few people who would study the entire talk and analyse each word and point. I do not have time or inclination for that. Maybe someone else does. But consider how long it would be!)

    As for the song, well, I do note that I do not recall hearing that on the radio, or TV, or hearing it talked about in the stores. Oddly, it is not that bad, it could be improved. But I still think that Cher, Madonna, Gaga, and a few others will be more popular. And say more. And earn more. And likely be remembered for longer. The thing about art and music, is that one man’s great painting, is another man’s Mona Lisa. “Mona”, I have never cared about. Yet, Leonardo, I like and respect in general. On the other hand, I like Starry Night by van Gogh. But you may not like either, you may be a fan of Warhol. To each his own. Art and music are like that. I like Elvis, you do not. But we can still get along. Art and music are personal. Science, is not. Science is the study of the universe. And that takes time. Because it is a big universe.

    • http://www.facebook.com/thecoloursociety Drewzilla

      @3 Pete Laberge: That’s Bill Bailey, he’s not really aiming to get on the radio or have a popular song (as in a serious work of art) as far as I can tell. He’s a brilliant comedian and is hilarious to watch, you should look him up sometime. Actually, I think he’d be quite insulted with your comparison of him to Gaga or Cher, hahaha.

      • Pete Laberge

        Well, I was not trying to insult Bill. But, you know, his voice is not bad. But if you have a good voice and can play, sometimes you have to put out some stuff everyone can relate to, to promo the more comedic stuff that comes from your heart. Consider Allan Sherman (Google) for instance!

        • Kylie Sturgess

          I just like this song because it reflects my desire to throw myself into the ravine.

          • Pete Laberge

            Wouldn’t throwing yourself into a ravine hurt? I’m more of an easy chair fan myself. At least you did not say “under a bus”. I’d be worried about you then. But then I have (accidentally) fallen into a couple of ravines, learned things, and (obviously) survived…..

          • Kylie Sturgess

            Er, it’s a reference to the end of the song.

          • Kylie Sturgess

            Lyrics. For everyone who didn’t watch the second vid (or who’d like to sing along).

    • Rasmus

      Well Sheldrake is actually technically correct when he says that physicists have defined the speed of light as constant. But the spirit of what he’s trying to claim, that physicists have defined it as a constant to sweep a problem under the carpet, is totally bogus and silly. Te thing that they have done is to define the meter is in terms of the speed of light and the oscillation of a certain atom. So if Sheldrake is right the length of the meter changed in 1945 and 1948. A consequence of that would be that the constants that govern electromagnetics would change, because they depend on the meter, and then because of that the fine structure constant that governs almost everything in physics would change.

      So if everything about physics changes, surely that would mean that telepathy and homeopathy would start to work, right? Well, no. Small changes tend to have small effects. For a tiny change like the one Sheldrake claims the universe would continue to function approximately like it does now. We would barely notice. The fine structure constant would have to change by at least a percent to have really dramatic effects. Even then the effects would be rather stupid, like radioactive decay happening at a higher or lower rate, nuclear fusion in stars happening at a higher or lower rate, and so on and so fourth. The fine structure constant almost certainly has no bearing on whether or not matter in general has a consciousness or a soul, but it does have some bearing on whether or not life is possible. If it were much different we would not be here.

  • timberwoof

    The Ten Dogmas of Science? More like the Ten Strawmen of Science.

    He was pretty sloppy in describing the development of the Big Bang theory. He didn’t actually say that it was an assumption, but in neglecting all the evidence for it and sort of offhandedly dropping that word in, he sure made the insinuendo. (The CMBR’s spectral distribution is that of blackbody radiation; that speaks pretty strongly for some continuity of physical laws.) Only a professor of literature and theologian like C. S. Lewis would mistake scientific laws for legislation!

    That’s where I grabbed the mallet and hit the gong. I hope they follow the advice of their own letter.

    • Pete Laberge

      Well written, and Witty!

      I loved your ending:
      “That’s where I grabbed the mallet and hit the gong. I hope they follow the advice of their own letter.”

      Thank you for saying what you said so clearly. And I needed your ending paragraph!

      Note that I am not saying TED or TEDx is no good. But they should tell us when they are being Entertaining, Technological, or Design-ish…..

      • Kylie Sturgess

        Agreed – I LOVED the local TEDx, but I’m just so surprised that after the letter that went out internationally… maybe the Sheldrake promoters didn’t get the mail that week?

        • hemlock

          No, it’s common to have dodgy speakers and TEDx is getting a bad reputation (which is flowing on to TED itself). I was interested in going along to TEDx at one stage then they had Ken Ring (the “moon man”) so decided no, not worth my time and money to get presented with pseudoscience and purveyors of quackery. I suspected after seeing that that their speaker criteria is “can breathe” and quality material doesn’t really count and that seems to have been confirmed.

          I think it’s just that this one was particularly bad and has drawn some attention to the issue, I’m very pleased that TED has stepped up to address it directly.

  • Cuttlefish

    I have Sheldrake’s “Sense of Being Stared At”. I really do.

    Having read it, and having thumped it against my forehead sharply, I can attest that the latter was far more pleasant.

    • Kylie Sturgess

      I have his “Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home‎” due to a relative reading it. I’m glad I did – it was my first introduction to the work of Richard Wiseman!

  • Pingback: For shame, TEDx » Pharyngula

  • Scott R

    These Ten Dogmas are actually backed up by a lot of evidence. Rupert does not provide any evidence to the contrary at all – many of his statements about science are just wrong wrong wrong. Genes don’t define the shape of animals… so morphic resonance? *ugh* please. And constants vary ‘quite considerably… within limits’ – this is just babble.

  • Didgya

    I am so glad that I have great skeptics like Kylie and Steve Novella, to name a few. I remember a time when this joker would have sounded very convincing to me. *shudder*

  • Pingback: TEDx talks completely discredited: Rupert Sheldrake speaks, argues that speed of light is dropping! « Why Evolution Is True

  • lippard

    “Speed of light decay” was popular among creationists in the late 80s/early 90s, until even most of them decided it was bogus.

    See: http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/c-decay.html

    and

    http://www.magicdave.com/ron/Does%20the%20Speed%20of%20Light%20Slow%20Down%20Over%20Time.html

    and:

    A young-earth creationist refutation (Aardsma is now somewhere between an “old earth” and “young earth” creationist himself, he left the ICR): http://www.icr.org/article/283/

    • Kylie Sturgess

      Cool, thanks for the links!

  • Pingback: Speed of Light discredites TEDx talks of Rupert Sheldrake? | Adonis Diaries


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