Twitter is abuzz right now with incensed individuals claiming "TED is dead," and my Facebook page exploded with people asking my opinion about this article, which appeared in Natural News earlier this week. It covers TED's decision to reject what they deem "bad science," including several subject areas that are "red flagged," such as talks about placebos, GMO foods, and food as medicine. Personally, I think the Natural News article is skewed, inflammatory, and agenda-driven, but I read the actual statement from TED, and had some thoughts to share.
As someone who is has spoken at three TEDx Talks and who has written a scientific account of alternative medicine, here's my take:
I think the intention of TED is pure. There are many charlatans out there who are married to their agendas, often with self-interested financial motives. And they use bad science, which real scientists can discredit in a heartbeat, but which may seduce the lay public.
Since this kind of pseudoscience could be used to back agendas that might lead people to make crucial choices about their health, I'm sure TED wants to ensure that their highly-respected brand isn't being manipulated to push someone else's dogmatic agenda.
And rightfully so!
You want to be able to trust that anything you learn on a TED or TEDx stage is trustworthy. TED is not saying they're stopping all talks about these issues. They've simply "red-flagged" these subjects. In their letter, TED said, "These are not 'banned' topics by any means — but they are topics that tend to attract pseudo-scientists. If your speaker proposes a topic like this, use extra scrutiny."
They also suggested TEDx organizers "look carefully at talks on these topics: ask to see published data, and find a second source, unrelated to the speaker and a recognized expert in the field, who can validate the research."
To ask TEDx organizers to play a role in quality-control about the scientific validity of a speaker's talk is certainly reasonable. That said, what concerns me is that there seems to be a closed-mindedness that calls into question whether there could be any scientific validity to the following topics: