TED gets tough on bad science
Or, how to spot pseudoscientists and health hoaxers.
Mon, Dec 10 2012 at 1:06 PM
For the past several years the TED conference group has been staging talks presented by a wide variety of geniuses who want to change the world. The TED phenomenon has grown so much that they’ve created a licensing department, TEDx, which allows independent groups across the globe to create TED-ish events and use the TED logo. A franchising, of sorts.
Although daddy TED doesn’t vet the speakers presenting at TEDx events, all TEDx presentations are recorded and reviewed by TED.
Unfortunately, some of the TEDx speakers have failed to comply to the TED motto: “Ideas Worth Spreading.” Ideas like basic mind control, crystal therapy, rebirthing therapy, angelic reiki, Egyptian psycho-aromatherapy and transpersonal homeotherapy, as noted on a Reddit thread that got TED officials thinking maybe it’s time to have a little talking-to with the TEDx-sters.
And thus, TEDx Director Lara Stein, and TED.com Editor Emily McManus, issued a public letter to all TEDx organizers, reminding them that it is each chapter’s responsibility to check out the speakers and to “reject bad science, pseudoscience and health hoaxes.”
Behold the qualities of good versus bad science, according to TED.
Marks of good science:
- It makes claims that can be tested and verified.
- It has been published in a peer reviewed journal (but beware … there are some dodgy journals out there that seem credible, but aren’t).
- It is based on theories that are discussed by and argued for by many experts in the field.
- It is backed up by experiments that have generated enough data to convince other experts of its legitimacy.
- Its proponents are secure enough to accept areas of doubt and need for further investigation.
- It does not fly in the face of the broad existing body of scientific knowledge.
- The proposed speaker works for a university and/or has a PhD or other bona fide high level scientific qualification.
Marks of bad science:
- Has failed to convince many mainstream scientists of its truth.
- Is not based on experiments that can be reproduced by others.
- Contains experimental flaws or is based on data that does not convincingly corroborate the experimenter’s theoretical claims.
- Comes from overconfident fringe experts.
- Uses over-simplified interpretations of legitimate studies and may combine with imprecise, spiritual or new age vocabulary, to form new, completely untested theories.
- Speaks dismissively of mainstream science.
And whatever beliefs you may hold about crystal therapy and UFOs, here's the list of red flag topics that TED recommends should have TEDx organizers running for the hills: GMO food and anti-GMO foodists; Food as medicine, especially to treat a specific condition: Autism and ADHD, especially causes of and cures for autism; reiki, energy fields, alternative health and placebos, crystals, pyramid power; “Free energy” and perpetual motion machines, alchemy, time travel; Be especially careful of anyone trying to prove the validity of their religious beliefs and practices by using science.
Or how about … that mounds in ancient America were built by a race of strange, mysterious giants, all victims of a widespread cover-up, as revealed in the TEDx lecture shown below?
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