Debate Emerges Over TEDx West Hollywood Agenda

TEDx West Hollywood
Rupert Sheldrake

TEDx West Hollywood, the April 14 conference focused on “ideas worth spreading,” already is generating an esoteric controversy over whether the ideas of two British writers should be presented.

Rupert Sheldrake, a biochemist and author, has sparked heated debate in scientific circles for his attacks on conventional scientific opinion and his theories that dogs and their human owners can read one anothers minds, that there exists a collective human memory that is passed along from generation to generation and not stored in the brain and that conventional theories of evolution are incorrect. Graham Hancock is a writer who has posited that there is a connection between the Star of David and the Pentagon and between the pillars of Solomon’s Temple and the Twin Towers. He also has provoked controversy with a book that claims a connection between stars in the Orion constellation and the three largest pyramids of the Giza complex in Egypt. Hancock also has made arguments for the use of shaman concoction known as ayahuasca, which contains the drug DMT, a psychedelic substance that is illegal in the United States. Hancock argues that it can connect one to “seemingly intelligent entities which communicate with us telepathically.”

The scientific community largely has rejected the theories and research of both men. For example, a September 1981 editorial titled “A Book for Burning?” in the science journal Nature criticized Sheldrake’s book “A New Science of Life: The Hypothesis of Morphic Resonance.” Nature said “Sheldrake’s argument is an exercise in pseudo-science.” TED’s scientific advisors have raised concerns about Hancock’s advocacy of ayahjuasca.

Supporters of TEDx West Hollywood, one of hundreds of licensed offshoots of the famous annual TED (Technology, Emtertainment, Design) conference founded in 1984, have launched a campaign on the TEDx West Hollywood website and a petition at to get TED to reverse its decision to remove videos of presentations by Sheldrake and Hancock from the official TED website. According to the website, the videos were to have been shown at the West Hollywood event but no longer are authorized by TED.

The one-day April conference, titled “Brother, can you spare a paradigm: making the quantum leap, ” is co-sponsored by the City of West Hollywood and the West Hollywood Library Foundation. Tickets for the event go on sale Monday at the library. TEDx West Hollywood is organized by Suzanne Taylor, a Los Angeles resident who describes her home as a “gathering place for progressive activists,” Scott Balanda of West Hollywood, who teaches seventh and eighth graders, and Joan Hangarter of Novato, a former chiropractor who is a business consultant and psychic.

Speakers on the TEDx agenda include Russell Targ, a scientist who argues that extra sensory perception (ESP) is real, Larry Dossey, a doctor who contends that human consciousness exists after death, and Paul E. Nugent, a Los Angeles-based director of the Aetherius Society, whose adherents believe in calling on “cosmic masters” to send “spiritual energy” to help those harmed by Colorado wildfires, hurricanes in the Philippines, the revolution in Syria and other events.

One prominent critic of the proposed Sheldrake and Hancock presentations is Jerry A. Coyne, a professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago. “Whoever authorized the (West) Hollywood TEDx event was asleep at the wheel,” Coyne writes on his blog. “It is nothing more than a New Age Spirituality Fest trying to borrow some scientific respectability by putting “quantum” in the title and description.

“This event is a disgrace and an embarrassment to the TED brand. I hope that the organizers of TED, who license these events, realize what kind of nonsense is parading under their banner.”

  1. First and foremost, I want to extend my gratitude to all who have commented on this absurdity of an article.

    Besides being so farcical, it is quite ominous how the unknown author states “Scott Balanda of West Hollywood, who teaches seventh and eighth graders.” They couldn’t call me an educator or teacher, but instead they gab of my profession in a dishonoring tone. Guess the anonymous author doesn’t value the significance of great educators as does most anyone with a working brain.

    There was no mention of any of my nor my colleagues many academic and professional achievements or awards listed in our bios: Instead, he pulls out anything he can speak of in a manipulative and derogatory one-sided tone, in a poor attempt to discredit the organizers.

    The ‘author’ should do some research outside his/her bubble and look into the many ongoing blogs (one is TED) and see what the vast majority are saying on this subject, presenting both sides of an argument as a journalist should. Here are two: and

  2. I’m actually the writer of the petition you mentioned and have no relationship to the TEDx group in W. Hollywood. As I am someone deep in the middle of the controversy and supporting the authors I think you were trying to present a balanced piece and I found it was interesting to see the the backgrounds of the authors presented this way, though many seem to feel it is slanted against them. I’m happy to learn more of the reasons some are biased against the authors, whom I admire after learning more of them through the present issue.

    Coming from a bastion of progressive values and representing a demographic that has had its own persecutions, I would hope you would approach this with sympathy and an open mind as these authors are under a modern day witch-hunt, but any publicity is good publicity and I can see work was done to research this article. If you have any questions or would like to see our archive you can contact me through our support group on Facebook:

    One other point, the outpouring of support to the authors on TED’s Blog and Conversations areas has been >95% in favor of the authors and against TED’s actions, have been eloquent and civil, and blog posts seem to reflect this elsewhere. You can find much material on our Facebook group reflecting this outcome.

  3. So, after watching the kind of blog posts WeHoVille makes over the last day, after publication of this post, it’s easy to conclude that WeHoVille is most interested in eyeballs on its pages rather than a fair presentation of truth. Put a different way, what WeHoVille wrote anonymously on March 23 it has let stand without update, and it doesn’t even qualify for a standard as low as yellow journalism. What WeHoVille posted was simply malicious gossip. If WeHoVille readers want truthless gossip, then can have it, just as they can also watch the fact-free presentation of Fox News any time they choose. We live in a mostly free country.

  4. Really? Are you suggesting you anonymous “staffers” have the inside track to the truth about any of these subjects, or that the scientific “establishment” knows all? And are you claiming any ideas that contradict this establishment are “controversial?” Gimme a break. Ideas are ideas. If you don’t like them, don’t pay attention to them. This “article” is the biggest bunch of nonsense I’ve ever seen.

  5. How disappointing to see that science is attempting to control how people can think and perceive things for themselves.Is there really only one way to observe a set of events, one correct conclusion to be drawn, and one truth associated with the conclusion?That is stifling to our creative self expression Where is the balance between subjectivity and objectivity? are we to be robots with no inner authority? Why so much fear around consciousness…a topic that many are interested in right now?

  6. So, WeHoVille: what exact purpose does this anonymous article serve? Is it meant to be unbiased reporting? Are both sides presented in a responsible fashion? Does WeHoVille feel a need for responsible reporting? Or is WeHoVille simply trying to boost its readership. You’re the ones who know the answers to that, and clear answers would be absolutely fair.

  7. All of the speakers are credentialed and have been vetted. Alternative views are not only desirable but necessary. ‘If we keep doing what we’ve always done, we’ll keep getting what we’ve always gotten,’ which is unacceptable. We need to wake up!

    1. It takes a great deal of courage to come forward with new information that differs from mainstream dogma. Just look what happened to Copernicus and Galileo, imprisoned and persecuted for revealing a controversial and startling reality for those times, diametrically opposed to religious and scientific dogma.

      Thank goodness we have innovators and scientists ready to explore and push the boundaries, even risking defamation of character, and loss of their careers. All for telling the truth!

      The only thing holding back a new world – view is the rigid adherence to the old and limiting one that prohibits new thinking and new exploration, and hides truths under the guise of pseudo-science.

  8. God knows we wouldn’t want thinking that does not conform to the mainstream to be presented. After all, the audience could never manage to sort through and decide what is credible. Not only that, why overturn the apple cart when things are going so well for the planet, the poor, and the legacy of war and greed we are leaving for the next generation. These speakers should pay for their strange viewpoint as Galileo did.

  9. Another article written in a hurry just to get the adds money… The internet is riddled and sick of this kind of practice.

  10. I am surprised that this article was not posted under your “Gossipmonger” column.

    Do an otherwise unemployed writer, and a Jerry Coyne blog make for a controversy? Is this “if it bleeds, it leads” pseudo-journalism?

    Consciousness being non-local and/or interconnected is no great call for pedagogical alarm, and reports of TED EX’s immanent demise are right up there with George Bush’s on the aircraft carrier!

    Shame on you, Staff!

  11. What claptrap this is. Shades of McCarthism. There’s no truth to this: “Supporters of TEDx West Hollywood…have launched a campaign on the TEDx West Hollywood website and a petition at” If the launchers support me, I don’t know them or have any connection to them that would justify this beyond-misleading post. Watch you don’t get yourself sued for whatever such unfounded attacking is called. And pity a world that would read your laundry list of topics as if their very existence is offensive. Everyone talking science has credentials and is using peer-reviewed material. If TED is in harmony with this horrible diatribe, it’s not long for the respect of the world.

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