The message at The Amaz!ng Meeting (or, TAM) earlier this year was “Fight the Fakers”, with the point being that it’s no much use ridiculing the victims of quackery or woo-woo for being taken in by charlatans. Sometimes, we’re desperate for a cure, or for hope, and this leads us to believe things we might not otherwise.
Also, some quacks and fakers genuinely believe that they have magical powers, or that they have cottoned on to some sort of secret. For example, even though I haven’t been shy of expressing my view that Professor Tim Noakes sounds increasingly like a pseudoscientist, I have no doubt that he’s sincere in believing what he tells his disciples, whether or not he ends up being right or wrong.
Of course there are difficult boundary cases, where we really should know better, and can’t escape taking on a healthy portion of the blame either for misleading others, or allowing ourselves to be misled. The distinction I’m making, though, highlights that there is more that is blameworthy about your conduct if you know you’re deceiving people, or if you’re knowingly on the side of deceivers.
An example of the latter – being on the side of the deceivers, and against common-sense, or science – has recently come to my attention via 6000, and involves a TEDx organising committee ignoring the lessons learnt in the Sheldrake affair. In case you’re not familiar with Sheldrake, he’s a fairly controversial scientist who wants you to to believe in “email telepathy” (never mind the humdrum sort of telepathy in dogs and other non-human animals) in addition to various other odd things.
Sheldrake (and Graham Hancock, he who believes the Ark of the Covenant is real, and that aliens built the pyramids) spoke at TEDx events, but both of their talks were removed from the TEDx archives following widespread protest regarding TEDx being used as a vehicle to promote pseudoscience. These episodes led to a joint TED (the mother-ship) and TEDx policy reminder that pseudoscience was not welcome at these events.
So why, then, is Ivan Jakobović, inventor of the water-powered car and the “orgonic launcher” (which – as you no doubt know already – fires the universal life force “orgon” into the air, to strip pollution from the atmosphere), speaking at TEDxMaksimir today? And furthermore, why is it that Željko Svedic has been banned from today’s TEDx event for pointing out that Jakobović is a crank, and that TEDx events are not supposed to host cranks?
You can read all about it on Svedic’s blog, including what he recalls of the abusive phone call he received from the TEDxMaksimir folk, before they deleted his comments from their Facebook page, refunded his registration fee, and posted the following announcement:
Mr Zeljko just got a phone call he will be refunded entrance fee.. ..We need to protect speaker reputation.. ..Ivan Jakobović will speak about his rich experience as an inventor.. ..one of the inventions Mr Zeljko is criticizing (ozonic exhaust) was already presented by Ivan on our first TEDx event in 2010.. ..that invention was sold and is successfully produced in Canada.. ..Thank you Mr Ivan Jakobović for sharing your rich experience with us and for honoring us again.. Karlo Matić, TEDxMaksimir license holder
There are numerous fantastic talks on both TED and TEDx. But by contrast to when TED began, and you could normally expect a fairly high level of quality (and, sanity) in the presentations, it now seems to be more and more of a lottery. The TED – and especially the TEDx – brand no longer offers any guarantee of the content being worth watching, and judging from this episode, some licence-holders of TEDx events don’t seem at all concerned about upholding the standards they’re supposed to.
It’s about time that TED either enforce those standards more rigorously, or instead shuck off the TEDx brand entirely. The latter seems to make more sense, seeing as there seems to be a TEDx on every street corner these days, never mind in every big city – making it an impossible undertaking to ensure quality is maintained. But until something changes, I’ll keep ignoring TEDx entirely, except for when it’s someone I know on the programme.