TEDx speaker integrity

(via Slate) TED has published a letter to the organizers of TEDx conferences, a class of conference not run by the TED administrators but entitled to use the TED name, explaining how to detect pseudoscience, and making it very clear that TEDx conferences are obligated to vet their speakers, and weed out scammers and charlitans.

They wrote this letter in response to criticism and concern about the integrity of the TED name, including a reddit thread.  Really.  TED listens to reddit.

Here is my favorite part, a checklist for red flags that should clue TEDx organizers to look more carefully at a potential speaker's credentials:

Be alert if a potential speaker (or the speaker’s advocate on your planning team) does any of the following things:

  • Barrages you with piles of unrelated, over-general backup material, attempting to bury you in data they think you won’t have time to read
  • Holds a nonstandard degree. For instance, if the physics-related speaker has a degree in engineering, not physics; if the medical researcher does not have an M.D. or Ph.D.; if the affiliated university does not have a solid reputation. This is not snobbery; if a scientist truly wishes to make an advance in their chosen field, they’ll make an effort to engage with other scholars
  • Claims to have knowledge no one else has
  • Sends information only from websites they created themselves; there is little or no comment on them in mainstream science publications or even on Wikipedia
  • Provides data that takes the form of anecdotes, testimonials and/or studies of only one person
  • Sells a product, supplement, plan or service related to their proposed talk — this is a BIG RED FLAG
  • Acts oddly persistent about getting to your stage. A normal person who is rejected for the TEDx stage will be sad and usually withdraw from you. A hoaxer, especially one who sees a financial upside to being associated with TEDx, will persist, sometimes working to influence members of your team one by one or through alternative channels
  • Accuses you of endangering their freedom of speech. (Shutting down a bogus speaker is in no way endangering their freedom of speech. They’re still free to speak wherever they can find a platform. You are equally free not to lend them the TEDx platform.)
  • Demands that TEDx present “both sides of an issue” when one side is not backed by science or data. This comes up around topics such as creationism, anti-vaccination and alternative health
  • Acts upset or hurt that you are checking them out or doubting them
  • Accuses you of suppressing them because TED and TEDx is biased against them and run by rich liberals ;)
  • Threatens to publicly embarrass TED and TEDx for suppressing them. (The exact opposite will happen.)

This bit, also, was very good:

As a member of the community, if you do come across a talk on the TEDx YouTube channel or at a future event that you feel is presenting bad science or pseudoscience, please let us know. Bad science talks affect the credibility of TED and TEDx: it is important we get this right.

It's great to see the TED administrators taking seriously the community's concerns about TED's continued legitimacy.  It's especially great that they point out that Wikipedia is a good starting place for research -- and that research that can't be found on Wikipedia is probably bollocks.

Anita Sarkeesian's TED talk

Anita Sarkeesian, the vlogger behind Feminist Frequency and the Women vs Tropes Kickstarter, has a TED talk, at TEDxWomen 2012, now up on YouTube.  The talk is about the backlash to her Kickstarter -- a huge, organized hate campaign against her and her project. Trigger warning: misogyny.

Unfortunately I didn't have any money at the time all this harassment was going on, so I wasn't able to donate.  As a result, I don't have access to the news updates -- but I do have access to the headlines, which inform me that production started in late July of this year, since which point there have been two further updates.  I can't wait until this series comes out.

TEDxTalk: The Paper Town Academy

How was I unaware that John Green has a TED talk?

This is a fantastic talk.  It gets at exactly how I feel about learning -- it's not about collecting a catalog of disconnected ideas in a great big mental list, it's about mapping out the territory in your mind to guide you in learning new things.

There isn't much else to say about it, it just deserves as many views as it can get.

Alanna Shaikh's TED talk on Alzheimer's

In this TED talk, that floats between chilling and optimistic, Alanna Shaikh hits the nail on the head.  When I think about Alzheimer's Disease, there are only two thoughts that usually come to mind. Thought A:  Denial.  I'm not going to get Alzheimer's.  I don't have to worry about it.  It won't happen to me.  Thought B:  Prevention.  I'll avoid it.  I'll do crossword puzzles, eat the right foods (is tuna good or bad?  I can't remember) and donate to study efforts and they'll cure it in time and even if they don't I won't get it.

I avoid like hell thinking thought C: me, with Alzheimer's.  Just writing that sentence is painful.  It's hard to think about.  Damn near everything I value about myself takes place in my head, and it hurts to think about that all slowly slipping, to think about my mind ending not abruptly but slowly, piece by piece, while the people I love and who love me watch me forget them, and forget myself, and forget nearly everything else.

In all that mess, it honestly never occurred to me to reach thought D:  How can I be a good Alzheimer's patient.  How can I not make it miserable for myself.

That's what Alanna's talk is about.  Her father, who has Alzheimer's, is her model for what to do when the near-inevitable fate comes, and what to do before that point.  Alzheimer's runs in families, so it's likely it will come for her.  I don't think I have any relatives who got old enough that I'd know if it's in my genetics.

Here's the talk: