TED Controversy

Yesterday, TED faced a whirlwind of controversy after it was rumoured that they had censored a talk by entrepreneur and venture capitalist Nick Hanauer.  TED had apparently invited Hanauer to talk, but had decided not to “spread his ideas” because they were “too political”.

He had given a lecture on the causes of wealth disparity and income inequality in the United States.

Curator of the TED conference, Chris Anderson, responded to these allegations and it was clear the situation was a lot more complicated than originally reported.  Anderson claimed that although Hanauer’s talk was on an important and timely issue, it was “explicitly partisan” and because TED only posts one video per day (from a pool of 250+) it would not make the cut for posting on their website.

When Hanauer discovered his video would not be posted, he was upset and sent private emails between himself and Anderson to the National Journal.  The story spread like wildfire.  TED was accused of censorship (which goes against their main message of being a distributor of unique and insightful ideas), and being controlled by corporate and political donors and advertisers.  When Anderson responded to these allegations, he also ended up posting the talk by Hanauer on a new YouTube account “WatchExtraVideo”.

For me, watching this drama unfold was troubling and confusing at times.  I am a big supporter of TED and I love the content they share with the world for free and their philosophy.  I understand that they want to post videos that are “truly special” and don’t want to post talks that descend into “dismal partisan head-butting”, however I thought Hanauer’s talk was very well done and did communicate some unbelievably important facts about the American economy.  And if any idea needs spreading and support from an intellectual entity like TED, it is income inequality in the United States.

That being said, I feel like Hanauer’s reaction to TED rejecting his video was highly inappropriate.  Blaming TED for censoring his talk would be the same as me saying most journals I have submitted manuscripts to have censored me.  Being rejected through a peer-review process is part of being an academic, and it is the best safe guard we have against bad research and plagiarism.  Perhaps Nick Hanaeur is not used to this process since he is not an academic.  Rejection can be tough.

However, TED is about spreading ideas, and if they invite someone to talk on their stage, I feel like they should post the content, and the world can judge whether it is good or bad.  If they still want to engage in a strict peer-review process for their talks, I understand that, but it should be done before they let the presenter on stage.  Or, as Anderson suggested, perhaps they should have a site for the talks that were admitted but didn’t make the cut for their website.  That way the content is out there for the world to see, but not associated with the material that is “TED approved” or what TED deems “truly special”.

You can read Chris Anderson’s response to the criticism TED has received (here) and watch the video by Nick Hanaeur below

 

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About Cadell Last
I am a science educator, freelance science writer, and founder of The Advanced Apes based in Toronto, Ontario. In the past my academic research focused on the evolution, ecology, and behaviour of non-human primates (i.e., chimpanzees, gorillas, ring-tailed lemurs). Currently, my official blog, The Ratchet, can be found via The Advanced Apes and Svbtle. I enjoy exploring recent research in human evolutionary sciences, as well as biology, ecology, astronomy, physics, and computer science. My work has been featured in Scientific American, American Humanist, Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, and Jane Goodall Institute of Canada. I am also exploring science popularization in new mediums in collaboration with PBS Digital Studios with an animated YouTube channel. You can contact me on Twitter (@cadelllast) or via email: cadell.last@gmail.com

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