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.

The features of scientific fraud

(via Boing Boing) ArsTechnica has a post up about scientific fraud, by way of explaining how to do it.  It follows the successes and errors (mostly successes) of Dr. Yoshitaka Fujii, who was publishing papers based on fabricated data for about 20 years before he was formally caught.

The article goes on to offer 8 tips on how to defraud the scientific institution:

05.  Don't publish in journals focused on your field. In general (see point 4), it's best to avoid publishing in high-profile journals altogether, since those will draw attention to your work. At the same time, you don't want to keep seeing your stuff published in the same journals, or those editors will start feeling a personal responsibility to make sure their star researcher is on the up-and-up.

It seems to me that the biggest flaws in science revolve around the pride of individual scientists and institutions.  There's no easy solution to that -- unlike government, I don't think a ground-up deconstruction and reassembly of science would work.  But to start, the article references huge stigma around even trying to uncover fraud.  Adding a system of random investigations of scientists irrespective of reputation might help open up suspicious scientists to exposure.