Have TED Talks Jumped the Shark?

by Benjamin Radford via Discovery News

ted-logoTED is a nonprofit organization devoted to the dissemination of, as their slogan says,  “Ideas Worth Spreading.” Supported by many prominent thinkers, scientists, and entrepreneurs including Bill Gates, evolutionary biologist Steven Pinker, and philosopher Daniel Dennett, TED began in 1984 as a collaboration between thinkers from three enterprises — technology, entertainment, and design — and has since broadened its scope globally.

“The two annual TED conferences, on the North American West Coast and in Edinburgh, Scotland, bring together the world’s most fascinating thinkers and doers,” according to the website, “who are challenged to give the talk of their lives.”

TED talks have been popular for years, highlighting interesting and thought-provoking speakers on a wide variety of social and scientific issues. However, TED has increasingly come under fire for promoting pseudoscience and misinformation.

A spin-off department of TED, TEDx, licenses individuals across the country and around the world to stage similar events, record the talks on video, and submit the videos to TED for inclusion on their website. As TED and TEDx talks became more and more popular, the standards began slipping.

Bad Science

One notorious series of TEDx talks in Spain invited speakers to discuss a long list of conspiracy and New Age topics such as “Basic Mind Control,” rebirthing therapy, “Angelic Reiki,” and even something called “Egyptian Psycho-Aromatherapy and Transpersonal Homeotherapy.”

This list of pseudoscience apparently did not set off any red flags for TEDx organizers at the time, but it did for scientists and journalists who demanded to know why these were considered to be “ideas worth spreading.”

Concerns that the once-prestigious TED brand was being diluted and contaminated by sloppy scholarship and bad science grew so loud that in December 2012, TED representatives issued a letter to TEDx affiliates about it.

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