TED Quacks

lynneThe TED talks are a treat. TED runs a series of conferences around the world where interesting people are invited to speak about “ideas worth spreading”. You can view hundreds of these talks online from great thinkers, such as Richard Dawkins, the inspirational, such as Brian Cox, and the influential, such as Bill Clinton. Nobel Prize winners mix with politicians mix with innovative business leaders. And the video archive online makes a superb resource.

It was therefore something of a surprise yesterday to see that a TEDx event in Brussels had invited someone by the name of Lynne McTaggart to speak on the ‘science of spirituality’. McTaggart is well known to this blog as a leading publisher of misinformation about health, and as someone who sells to those with serious, chronic and terminal illnesses, doubtful devices, dubious seminars and absurd advice. Her appearance goes against the core values of the TED conferences where they “believe passionately in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and ultimately, the world” – unless, of course, they don’t mean necessarily for the better.

Before we continue, it is worth noting that the TEDx talks are independently run events, separate from the main high impact conferences, and run by local groups along the same themes as the main TED events. Nonetheless, they carry the TED brand and such a mistake will impact the credibility of the whole venture.

McTaggart runs the What Doctors Don’t Tell You web site and calls herself a ‘pioneer of medicine’. The stated goal of this site is to provide “Independent information on medicine’s dangers and the alternatives that work”. In fact, McTaggart is not a doctor, but a journalist and writer, and the WDDTY site is a classic expression of the pseudoscientific fantasy of the conspiracy of ‘allopathy’ and the suppression of ‘natural’ alternatives. It is full of attempts to downplay the benefits of medical treatments, highlight side effects and uncertainties, and to push people towards quack alternatives. The site serves as a wedge to be driven between people with chronic and serious illness and medical professionals. It pushes them into the hands of the ill-informed, the delusional and the unscrupulous.

As well as running this site. Lynne McTaggart has some quite staggering ideas about how the world works. She also has a site called the Intention Experiment where she tries to use mass meditation from her paying followers to affect the results of experiments in remote laboratories. Its classic pseudoscience and her ideas have gained her the dubious honour of appearing in the classic nonsense film, What the Bleep Do we Know? She also claims Dan Brown based a novel on these experiments. You can join in her in her latest thinkathon to clean up the world’s water using the power of love on December 11th.

These sort of ideas could be easily dismissed as mere crankiness. But her sales web site is somewhat darker. Here McTaggart sells, as well as the usual vitamins and minerals, a range of devices that at best can be described as doubtful and, for some, indistinguishable from fraudulent. Various pain relieving devices based on unproven magnetic techniques appear on the front page of her shop as well as the nonsensical and highly dubious QLink pendant. There are quack devices that remove unhealthy electromagnetic signals from your home and water filters that “put back healthy frequencies that are lost in its processing and treatment.”

Most disgustingly, in a few days time, McTaggart is holding a teleconference (£86 to join) where an ex-doctor will tell listeners that he has a way to beat incurable cancer,

What is cancer and why do you have it?

Explore the answers – and the therapies that really do work – with one of the world’s greatest healers.

Dr. Patrick Kingsley and Lynne McTaggart, editor of What Doctors Don’t Tell You, in a teleconference call that you must hear if you have cancer, or know someone who does.

Dr Patrick Kingsley is a conventional doctor with a difference. For 30 years, he has quietly practised in a remote village in the heart of England – dealing with ‘incurable’ and ‘last resort’ cancers.

He has treated thousands of cancer patients who have been dismissed as lost causes by conventional medicine – and he hasn’t lost a single one.

Dr Kingsley is no longer registered as a doctor in the UK. He specialises in what is called ‘ecological medicine’ and uses nutrition to treat the untreatable. It is a form of orthomolecular medicine, the doubtful practice espoused by the likes of Patrick Holford.

These claims to be able to help people with terminal cancer are not just morally dubious but may also be illegal according to the Cancer Act of 1939,

No person shall take any part in the publication of any advertisement containing an offer to treat any person for cancer, or to prescribe any remedy therefor, or to give any advice in connection with the treatment thereof;

If Trading Standards were any good, the people involved could be in a heap of trouble.

This is petty despicable stuff – taking money of people with cancer in order to tell them they have hope in a tub of vitamins. But the real issue here is why did TEDxBrussels give McTaggart a platform at such a prestigious event?

I despair. It is great that TED encourage such independent events. But the power of their brand will quickly be destroyed if their associates cannot tell the difference between clodhopping pseudoscience and genuinely interesting and challenging ideas. Legitimising quackery in such a manner misleads people into giving these ideas credence they do not deserve.

To keep the excellent TED series alive and powerful, it needs to ensure that they are not exploited. There are some ideas that are definitely not worth spreading.

24 comments for “TED Quacks

  1. phayes
    December 8, 2010 at 3:48 am

    “It was therefore something of a surprise…”

    I’m surprised you’re surprised. I would’ve expected many more Sevrins and Syboks in the TED series than there actually have been.

  2. Michael Power
    December 8, 2010 at 9:13 am

    Your remarks about the damage to TED are spot on.

    I find even more dismaying the promotion by TEDMED of people like Deepak Chopra and Dean Ornish:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/06/18/ted-talks-deepak-chopra-d_n_617278.html

  3. CGR
    December 8, 2010 at 9:53 am

    Wikipedia has a useful summary of the history or TED, and a short comparison of TED and TEDx events which might explain why there are different qualities of speakers at the two:

    “TEDx is a program that enables schools, businesses, libraries or just groups of friends to enjoy a TED-like experience with TEDx Events they themselves organize, design and host.”

    But you are right about the potential damage to the TED brand.

    It seemed to me that the quality of the TED events slipped after the change to their business model:

    “In 2006, attendance cost was $4,400 and was by invitation only.[8] The membership model was shifted in January 2007 to an annual membership fee of $6,000″ (Wikipedia again)

    Shortly after that I stopped subscibing to the feed because there was just not enough excellent content to justify trawling through the adequate stuff. Shame, because the early talks were, as you say, truly excellent.

  4. paulC
    December 8, 2010 at 9:55 am

    A bit unfair to lump Chopra and Ornish together. The latter has done some excellent work, and has published widely in a range of decent journals. Yu may not like his conclusions, but that does not justify your attempt to smear him by association.

  5. daGeek
    December 8, 2010 at 1:42 pm

    I wonder whether her “clean water with the power of love” experiment will have controls in the form or water left the same by indifferent observers, and water sullied by hate. What a pile of poop (but I love my poop, so it must be clean).

  6. BillyJoe
    December 9, 2010 at 11:32 am

    “A bit unfair to lump Chopra and Ornish together”

    If you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas.

    Ornish’s use of real science is mitigated by his oversell to the public, and his promotion of dogs like Rustrum Roy, Weil, and Chopra.

  7. rw23
    December 10, 2010 at 12:11 am

    “…in a remote village in the heart of England…”

    Isn’t this a contradiction in terms? In the heart of England you can barely chuck a cricket ball without hitting a village!

    Still, it’s the least bullshitty of all the Kingsley bullshit.

    • Muscleguy
      December 11, 2010 at 4:30 pm

      Indeed, it is instructive to fly low over England at dusk when you can still discern features but when street lights and car lights are on, the fact that England is laced with roads connecting small hamlets only a mile or often less apart. It is a triumph of the Green Belt laws that have kept agglomerating conurbations to a minimum but your comment is just about true.

      You might think it’s true up here in Scotland but that is only because many of our rural villages are distributed affairs, indicated in many cases only by the presence of a village hall sitting apparently in the middle of nowhere, but often at a crossroads.

      If you have grown up in Australia or Southern New Zealand you know more about what being isolated truly means.

  8. Tom preston
    December 11, 2010 at 4:02 am

    Hi,

    It seems there are many sources, legitimate sources, that point to our universe, and everything in it, to be of a holographic nature.

    As I understand it, at it’s most fundamental level a hologram is simply light and information.

    With that being said, if this is true it would mean that we are also light and information, every part of us, including the thing we call consciousness.

    Even Jon von Nuemann hinted that he felt consciousness was the “X” factor to explain the projection of the wave function from possibility to actuality.

    If the above is true, might it be possible that consciousness can and does have an effect on health?

    How many angry people do you know that have normal blood pressure?

    How many depressed people are subject to lowered immune response?

    These are not merely “abnormal mental states”, but a representation of states of consciousness.

    All I am asking is this: Is it at least possible, in some way, that consciousness does play a part in health and other aspects of our being?

    • Le Canard Noir
      December 11, 2010 at 10:04 am

      Yes it is absolutely true that consciousness can affect health. Right now, I am consciously sick of reading such drivel.

      • BillyJoe
        December 11, 2010 at 12:44 pm

        Tom Preston,

        “It seems there are many sources, legitimate sources, that point to our universe, and everything in it, to be of a holographic nature.”

        There is no evidence whatsoever for a holographic universe. It is pure conjecture. It is a fantastical idea that is barely even fringe science. It multipies assumptions unnecessarily and should be disposed of by a quick slash of Ockham’s razor.

        “Even Jon von Nuemann hinted that he felt consciousness was the “X” factor to explain the projection of the wave function from possibility to actuality.”

        Consciousness is not required for the collapse of the wave function. All that is required is particle interaction. And I would like to see a reference for John von Neumann (unless there IS a Jon von Nuemann I don’t know about)

        “All I am asking is this: Is it at least possible, in some way, that consciousness does play a part in health and other aspects of our being?”

        Hell, yes. Through pathophysiological mechanisms that have at least some basis in fact. As opposed to the unbridled imaginings and wild extrapolations encapsulated by quantum consciousness and holographic projections thank you very much.

  9. walter de brouwer
    December 15, 2010 at 3:59 pm

    The assumption that the audience is a stupid mob that needs to be protected, is a bit old-fashioned, certainly in TED’s case. Don’t forget that TED’s ‘E’ stands for entertainment. Does somebody really believe that Dan Brown’s books are real?

    • Le Canard Noir
      December 15, 2010 at 4:32 pm

      No one assumes that the TED audience need protecting from this stuff. Indeed, I was alerted to the talk by audience members tweeting WTF messages.

      The point is that such platforms can be used to give an authority to the speaker outside of TED that is not deserved.

  10. pv
    December 16, 2010 at 3:13 am

    I went to an exhibition of holograms at the RPS in Bath back in the early eighties. It was amazing, really amazing, and maybe one of the best exhibitions of any type I’ve ever been to.
    But holograms and holography would only be trolled out as being the substance of the Universe by someone who has no idea what holography is. Same goes for a the “quantum” pseudo-scientific garbage to which is attributed the reason why so much quackery and generally fraudulent medicine is supposed to work.

    Liars I say. Scoundrels and liars!

  11. December 30, 2010 at 4:01 am

    It’s nice to see so much love in the world…What works for one may not work for all. This includes most people’s BS! (Belief Systems) If you want to believe in God, Aliens, Chemotherapy, vaccines are bad, vaccines are good, Woo Woo, then believe or don’t. No worries here! The truth is out there, however, we will certainly not live long enough to find it. Live, Love, Laugh, eat real food, drink fresh water, get a little exercise and sunshine and stay away from negative people. And get on with your lives.
    Stay healthy!
    Marco

    • DES_Toronto
      April 1, 2012 at 4:12 am

      Aha! And there I was struggling for such a long time trying to find a bit of truth here and there, when all along I was just supposed to not worry about it, believe any damned thing I wanted and devote myself to a life of shallow amusements, like some frog on a riverbank.

  12. Anonomous
    February 18, 2011 at 7:35 am

    Not sure about holograms and quantum physics – We are learning! I
    am just a mom and a damn good one.
    What I know for certain is that Yes the mind has a direct reflection of a body and vice versa.
    For some years since the birth of a son who had leg tremours; and a fixed thumb that would not move and a hyperextended neck until we took him to our chiropractor at 3 months old whereby the tremours ceased; his opposeable thumb worked properly and his hyperextended neck improved 90 per cent.
    What say you now to THE WONDERS OF CHIROPRACTIC? Believe it when you see it? How about See it then you’ll believe it!

  13. Alex
    February 20, 2011 at 5:00 pm

    Yes, there’s some truly grim stuff appearing under the Tedx name.

    Randy Powell’s talk in Charlotte last year and the excitement it’s generated in New Age circles is just mind-numbing. I don’t understand how so many people can listen to a stream of outlandish claims about free energy and the end of all disease and the mathematical fingerprint of God and not question what they’re hearing.

    This kind of credulousness is deeply unsettling… and it’s sad to see Ted encouraging the manipulative individuals who sell it instead of striving for education and honesty.

  14. Jose
    September 1, 2011 at 7:05 pm

    I’ve looked into The Field and the Intention Experiment and they’re essentially Scientology with the serial numbers filed off.

  15. November 8, 2011 at 7:36 pm

    It is truly amazing reading some of the stuff on this site, and the conceited, narrow-minded twaddle that parades as being scientific. What is scientific about having a narrow, closed, mind?

    Clearly, Mr Andy Lewis and his cronies on this site, have (no doubt) a financial allegiance to the medical industry …. and industry is what it is …. pushing quack products on the unsuspecting public, and refuting all claims of others that there are valid alternatives. In the end, people will go with what works for them, when they are properly informed of all possibilities. The overall nature of this site is akin to the Flat Earth Society …. although this site is much more sinister, and beyond hope.

    Instead of aiming blows at people like Deepak Chopra, Patrick Holford, Dr Patrick Kingsley and Lynne McTaggert, etc … why not attack the insidious mafia within the medical industry, where money always takes prime importance over the education and health of the people? Answer …. because you are also a part of that mafia, either through greed, ignorance or because you really think you are right, when you are totally off the wall and out of touch with reality.

  16. Douglas Warren Kinney
    January 21, 2012 at 10:08 am

    I was at TEDx in Brussels for McTaggart’s piffle. It cured me of future TEDx events. Many people were shaking their heads and expressing disbelief at her presentation but many more seemed to be impressed. There should have been an opposing observation, say by James Randi. That would have been truly enlightening for the many naive but intellectually curious people attending.

  17. March 20, 2012 at 1:10 pm

    Hi Le Canard Noir

    Thank you for noticing this TEDx talk. It brings out a discussion and that is great.
    Though, from my point of view, how can you utter something as being a quack without proof? There is as much proof to what Lynne McTaggart is doing to what you are uttering. I.e. the proofs are not indisputable on either side. That means your role in this society to get some fame for other people’s supposed quacks are not more on discussion than what Lynne McTaggart is aiming to create.

    A big difference that I see it is that Lynne would like to create a better world, meanwhile you wanna for some reason protect the stupid. Am I missing something? What is your agenda with this blog?

    What else is possible now? What legacy to the world would you like to see when you are dead? Something great and fun or something that is spewing on other people?

    With a hope for people to become more aware and ask questions instead of coming to conclusions!!
    Jesper

  18. Bob D
    March 31, 2012 at 3:29 pm

    TEDx has been responsible for some *awful* talks, as well as plenty of great ones.

    Search for Randy Powell if you want an example of just how dumb it can get. Unbelievable silliness.

  19. Kevin Folta
    March 31, 2012 at 3:57 pm

    Excellent blog topic. The problem is that TED brand was built on a foundation of real science and/or proven methods. The experts, were experts. This gave great credibility to TED speakers.

    Now that TEDx allows pseduoscience or any idiot with an opinion to use that forum, it lends its credibility to utter nonsense.

    One popular speaker used the forum to whip an audience into a frenzy about food- the crowd gave her a standing O– but she did not provide one piece of real data to substantiate her claims, other than correlations.

    She is help up by an anti-science group as an authority. When you question their claims, they say “Well then how do you explain this TED talk…”

    They are co-opting the brand and its credibility to promote crap. Very sad.

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