Mar 15, 2013

TED's War on Consciousness

Crossposted from Reflections Journal.

Yesterday morning I learned, to my horror, that TED has decided to censor Graham Hancock. I'm not entirely surprised about this as I've been aware for a while now that TED is quite censorious and terrified of controversial ideas. Read: Ideas which might upset their donor base. Still, their move against Hancock came like a sock to the gut, because it's not just about Hancock. It's a giant F you to anyone whose ideas are off the beaten path.

I had previously posted the lecture here. I've updated the embed, as someone was good enough to download it before it was deleted and upload it to their account. We'll see how long that lasts and if TED takes issue with someone else posting it.

As per Hancock's first Facebook post on the problem, TED's Science Board claims Hancock's presentation “strays well beyond the realm of reasonable science” and makes “non-scientific and reckless” statements regarding psychotropic drugs. What constitutes "reasonable science," I wonder?

I'm betting this is primarily about the psychotropes. There is a certain symmetry to the whole thing. Hancock's presentation addresses the ridiculousness of criminalizing plant teachers that indigenous peoples have been using since time immemorial, and that suppressing such shamanic practices is a method for delimiting our consciousness. He has been very outspoken about the right of a free people to explore their own consciousness without legal impediment. And now he's being censored for it. Shocker.

As the day went on, Hancock posted some of the specific criticism TED has used to justify deleting his presentation.

(1) The TED letter says of my presentation: "...he misrepresents what scientists actually think. He suggests, for example, that no scientists are working on the problem of consciousness."

. . .

(2) The TED letter says of my presentation: "He states as fact that psychotropic drug use is essential for an “emergence into consciousness,” and that one can use psychotropic plants to connect directly with an ancient mother culture."

. . .

(3) The TED letter says of my presentation: "He seems to offer a one-note explanation for how culture arises (drugs), it’s no surprise his work has often been characterised as pseudo-archeology.”

Having listened to the presentation in question and being extremely familiar with Hancock's body of work, as I am, I'm fairly horrified at this litany. This completely misrepresents what he's actually said. So they're censoring Hancock based entirely on straw man arguments, which is just lazy and cheap. Hancock has quite reasonably asked them to point to where exactly he has said any of the above and the response has been to put him off until next week some time, meanwhile letting those statements stand. Early this morning Hancock posted an open letter to TED demanding that they justify these defamatory comments or remove them. He has also posted Chris Anderson's reply to his concerns.

The way TED is currently handling the controversy is by posting his presentation -- along with Rupert Sheldrake's, which they are also censoring -- on a special blog page in which they frame their arguments against them. (I originally posted Sheldrake's lecture here and if someone reposts that on YouTube, I'll update that page as well.)

A rather raucous debate ensued, which they are clearly unhappy about.

It would help your cause to let this whole discussion calm down a little. You seem to have whipped your supporters up into a bit of a frenzy.

Yeah. It sucks when the little people get all worked up and start complaining. It must be Hancock's fault. We couldn't possibly be pissed on our own, having formed independent opinions about TED's actions. Nah. That couldn't be it. Graham Hancock. What a demagogue that guy is. Yeesh.

A quick scan of the ensuing debate on that page brings up the following, thoroughly disingenuous and condescending statement from Chris Anderson, which seems to sum up the attitude from TED in a nutshell.

What on earth are you talking about?!! They haven’t removed the videos. They’re right here on this very page! And scientists do know better than the public when it comes to discerning pseudoscience from science.

Not censored -- just blocked on YouTube where they were getting thousands and thousands of hits and removed to a blog post that only regular readers of their blog and those following the controversy would even know about.

Worse is the supposition that "scientists do know better than the public." Hancock is a journalist whose books are based on the work of scientists, archaeologists, psychologists, and other researchers. Sheldrake IS a scientist -- with a Ph.D. in biochemistry from Cambridge. So what this really comes down to is an "our scientists are better than your scientists" argument. Their position is that their science board knows what is good for people. And all those other scientists... well they're not really scientists are they. They might lead the little people who can't really think for themselves astray. It's TED's responsibility to do the hard thinking for us.

This attitude will be familiar to anyone who has followed sites like Wikipedia, through the years, which also ruthlessly suppresses anything that isn't mainstream, status quo science. None of these sites are the "free expression in the brave new world of teh internets" they claim to be. They're thought farms -- even more censorious and controlled than conventional media. Most of the big web sites are terrified of breaking new ground. Take for example the Daily Kos which we learned the other day censored and banned the "47 percent" filmmaker, who arguably went on to turn the last presidential election.

TED was taken to task last year for suppressing a presentation by Nick Hanauer, a billionaire who dared to point out that it's actually middle class consumers who are the engine of the economy, not the top 1%. He had charts and graphs and stuff so it was all very convincing... but I'm sure that was pseudoscience, too. The ensuing uproar and media attention seem to have forced TED to publish the lecture.

Nick Hanauer gives an explanation of his theoretical framework and the controversy on TED in this interview.

A little more on TED's decision to censor it can be found in the following, which also explains that Melinda Gates talk on birth control -- BIRTH CONTROL -- was also very risky and controversial. The Young Turks posit that this really comes down to the politics of TED's big money donors.

So TED is a forum for "ideas worth spreading" as long as they don't rock the yacht.

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