TEDx Is Not Dead. But Science Education Might Be.

A Natural News article was circulated on Facebook recently with the title “TED aligns with Monsanto.” Loosely, it claims that the organizers of TEDx events, which are independently organized events similar to the well-known TED conferences, are shutting down talks about contentious issues, as though it were becoming a more hardened, conservative organization.

What is true about this is that TEDx isn’t going to be quite as generous with their stamp of approval in the future. Some months ago, complaints were made on the /r/tedtalks subreddit about the quality of speakers at 2012’s TEDx Valencia in Spain.

The TED name is being dragged through the mud in Valencia, Spain, where a TEDx-approved event is promoting pseudoscientific stuff like (and I quote): crystal therapy, Egyptian psychoaromatherapy, healing through the Earth, homeopathy and even “basic mind control”. (self.tedtalks)

submitted 8 months ago* by circuitry

I’m not really sure how this event got approved by the TED headquarters, but almost every respected scientific journalist in Spain is outraged by it.

Some of the speakers (Google-translated for non-Spanish speakers).

Amma – Mahatma (Great Soul) of Hugs, Lots of Politicians go to Her to Receive Her Blessings.

José Rius – Reiki Master, Master Reconnection, Basic Mind Control, Zen and Crystal Theraphy Specialist.

Aura Küpper – Energetic Healing through Earth, Rebirthing Therapy, Angelic Reiki and author of a book called “Doctors from Heaven”.

Adoracion Ferreres – Master in Clinical Psychology and Natural Therapies. Technical Expert in Bio-Energetic and Holistic, Egyptian Psycho-Aromatherapy and Transpersonal Homeotherapy.

Full list of speakers here.

The whole event is “women-oriented” and marketed as a female empowerment gig, which to me adds insult to the injury, as if women were incapable to distinguish true science from utter superstitious, anti-scientific bullshit.

Seeing the TED name associated with this freak show in a country where science and education have already been cornered and budget-cut by its own government is extremely sad. TED should react and examine its own standards in order to avoid being ashamed by these hordes of rain-makers and mystic scam artists in the future.

TEDx issued an open letter to explain changes to the approvals process and to guidelines for organizing TEDx events. Namely, junk science, mysticism, and general bunk will no longer be welcome at TEDx events, and organizers should be more conscientious about assessing their presenters. Why, nearly 10 months later, this has suddenly become an issue for Natural News, is baffling until you read the article. What Natural News is complaining about is this: TEDx, the organization which coordinates the independent & local TED events, is now preventing people from populating TEDx events with junk science, pseudoscience, anti-intellectualism, and quackery. If a topic does not meed criteria for scientific rigour, it will not be allowed at a TEDx event. 

Hysteria over GMOs, especially now that long-term studies are coming out showing no adverse effects after 20-odd years, is ridiculous. “Food as medicine” is BUNK. You cannot eat your way out of disease. Claims that certain foods “improve the body’s ability to cure itself” are vague and unscientific, not to mention misleading and medically irresponsible. Other topics that TEDx is shutting down, according to the open letter: reiki, energy fields, alternative health (aka nonscientific medicine) and placebos, crystals, pyramid power, free energy and perpetual motion machines, ALCHEMY, time travel, “the neuroscience of [fill in the blank]” (a much-abused topic and the basis for a lot of junk evolutionary psychology), and the fusion of science and spirituality (for example, junk science being used to attempt to validate creationism or Noah’s flood).

The Natural News article goes on to accuse TEDx of falling in line with the “Cult of Scientism,” which it describes as “a dogmatic circle-jerk of intellectual bullies who insist the only science that’s true is their own selected brand of corporate-sponsored science.” Folks, this is anti-intellectualism and scientific illiteracy run rampant, NOT a legitimate critique of TEDx. This claim betrays a misunderstanding of the very nature of scientific inquiry and the scientific process. Scientific consensus is not reached by “mob rule” (quotation from the article). It’s reached through repetition and independent verification. 

The idea presented by Natural News, that TEDx is running counter to something like 80% of the world’s general consensus on issues like natural healing and mysticism shows nothing but the fact that science education is failing in many places. For example, natural healing in rural Chinese medicine, mysticism and in India and Africa. Look at population density and distribution, compare it to penetration of modern education and the prevalence of post-secondary education, compare it to infant mortality and preventable morbidity and death from preventable disease, and then tell me that 80% of the world is right about the kind of medicine they use.

To conclude: this article is noxious waste. It’s anti-science, anti-intellectual. It’s the same crap as the anti-vacc movement — based on a misunderstanding of basic scientific principles and basic methods scientific inquiry. It pushes mysticism and junk psuedoscience as “the science you’re not supposed to know.” No, it’s just not science. There’s a difference.

Thank you for your indulgence and attention, folks. Much obliged.

Even when something seems like it’s questioning authority, question it.

And, as always, paddle your own canoe.

N.B.: I have specifically not addressed a major claim of the National News article, which is that TEDx is aligned with Monsanto. While this is patent misrepresentation, based on common publicly-held attitudes that GMOs are not harmful and that “food as medicine” is junk science, I want to wait to hear back from TED’s PR people before I address it specifically. Watch the site for updates.

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