Pseudoscience Activism – The Week in Review

I’m posting in segments this week because I’m running behind.


I keep jockeying around the title of this section – sometimes I call it creationism, sometimes I call it anti-science, sometimes it’s intelligent design – because every week there’s a different twist of news in this arena that requires me to tweak it.

This week pseudoscience is the news because TED has revoked the license of a TEDx event that was to have happened in West Hollywood. There was too much woo on the program, according to excerpts from an email from TED to the TEDxWest Hollywood organizer that was posted to another blog site:

…[W]hen we look at your speaker line-up, we see several people who promote — as fact — theories that are well outside what most scientists would accept as credible. We’re not saying all the speakers are off-base. …[W]hen we look at the program as a whole, it’s clear that it doesn’t meet our guidelines. The problem is not the challenging of orthodox views. We believe in that. We’ve had numerous talks which do that. But we have rules about the presentation of science on the TEDx stage. We disallow speakers who use the language of science to claim they have proven the truth of ideas that are speculative and which have failed to gain significant scientific acceptance.

More than 2000 TEDx events will take place in the year ahead. If your program is allowed to proceed, it will truly damage other TEDx organizers’ ability to recruit scientists and other speakers. (Indeed many in the TED and TEDx communities have already reached out to us to express their concern.)

We have reluctantly concluded that your program is not appropriate for TEDx, and we have to therefore terminate your license. You are of course welcome to still hold an event with these speakers. You just can’t associate it with TEDx. We are happy to work with you to figure out how to smoothly transition it into an event under a different name. I’ll be happy to speak with you directly to facilitate this.

This revocation of licensure comes on the heels of TED pulling videos of the TEDxWhitechapel talks Rupert Sheldrake and Graham Hancock gave because their content blurred the line between science and pseudoscience.

TED remains one of the most mind-expanding places on the Internet. One of the first videos I ever saw there hooked me, but good: Sue Savage-Rumbaugh and her sexy, fire-using, literary bonobos. If you haven’t seen it, watch it. Then stick around the site and discover more amazing TED talks.


Got a legal question? Email me at I’m a lawyer, but there’s only a 2% chance I’m licensed in your state. Whether I answer your question or not, sending me an email or reading this blog post does not create an attorney-client relationship between us. I’m on Twitter as @aramink, and you can see my regular blog at, where I write book reviews, ruminate on Life, the Universe, and Everything, and occasionally – frequently – rant about Stuff.

FAITH: Woman burns down yoga studio to “get rid of the devil’s temple.”
ACTIVISM: The Hotline Project has officially launched!
FAITH: Jesus is not the answer to this question.
About Anne

Civil rights activist Anne Orsi is one of the spokespeople for the Arkansas Society of Freethinkers and is the primary organizer of Reason in the Rock, a conference on science, secularism and skepticism. Got a question? Email her at She's a lawyer but may not be licensed in your state. Sending her an email or reading her blog posts does not create an attorney-client relationship. Find Anne on Twitter as @aramink, and read her regular blog at

  • invivoMark

    Ha! I like “pseudoscience activism”. I’m gonna totally steal that!

  • Ken

    There was a great piece from the Harvard Business Review on TED and how they lost control of their crowd-sourced organization, and how they are trying to take control by using the crowd.

    This news is part of that effort. It’s a great analysis of the dangers of using crowd-sourced assets as part of any organization as well as the unique strategies required to retake some measure of control in such situations.

    TED has problems beyond pseudoscience, though. The very format of their talks emphasizes presentation over substance, which makes many TED talks seem more like infomercials than actual science, even when the science is sound. Still, they do manage the occasional gems, which may make it worthwhile.

  • baal

    :) Bonoooobooooooos!

    hrm, that whole bipedal thing seems awfully useful for carrying. Also, zoo keepers might want to take dangerous items away from the enclosure. I did the same when my son was small.

    • Anne

      I. Love. Bonobos.

  • abb3w

    There was an interesting bit buried in the latest PPP national poll; contrary to stereotype, anti-Vax attitudes look to be more common on the right than on the left.

    The rest of the poll is also of some interest, though less surprising.

  • Mick

    I don’t click on TED or TEDx videos anymore. There are plenty of other places I can get reliable information; places that have not been contaminated by woo-meisters.

  • Mark

    Isn’t TED a lot of pseudo-science anyway?

    • Loqi

      All too often, yes. Though I tend to better remember the ones that irked me, so I’m probably skewing the pseudoscience:science ratio.