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Why I (Personally) Dislike TED

Posted by EnglishCaddy on May 11, 2016 at 8:40 AM

Many students are quite surprised when I list "No TED!" as one of the class rules each semester.  Certainly when we teach in language resource center, TED Talks would be a wonderful resource for undergraduate and graduate students learning English. 

But here's a few notes on why I disagree.

1) The over vulgarization of Science.

The short videos offered by TED Talks, are just that too short.   In attempt to condense the information into bite size, consumer digestible morsels, a lot of the important information is sacrificed.  This presents a problem for the viewer because with the simplification and omission of many of the unfortunately tedious details that is Science, the viewer and in many cases the media, simply does not have enough of the facts and details to form an educated opinion or complete understanding of the subject presented. (See video below)

2) The credibility of the information

While I don't believe that all guest speakers for TED are not credible, it seems the motivation of many of the speakers is questionable.  Many of the speakers seem to be "selling" and not explaining their studies.

Cases in point:

  • Human head transplant.  In September of 2015 Dr. Sergio Canvero appeared on TED Talks.  Presents that is is possible to transplant a human head, but doesn't disclose the reality that the head would have no control over the host body's functioning.  See video here. (https://youtu.be/_EHCHv5u3O4)
  • Solar Roadways. In September 2010 TED Talks published a video featuring presenter Scott Brusaw presenting his idea of replacing the nation's traditional roadways with a "glass" based solar capable material.  He just need money to do it, and so he created an indiegogo account and raised over $2 million dollars. (See marketing video)  However from both an engineering standpoint and scientific standpoint, very little of this project is feasible.

Just a couple of harmless (unless you donated money) examples, but there are many TED Talks where presenters speaking about health issues, are simply using TED to increase their visibility, prolong their funding or seek funding.  In these cases the information presented in usually incompletely, poorly gathered, and falsely presented.

3) The misrepresentation and false depiction of science. 

In part because of the over simplification practices the videos employ, the presenters/speakers give the impression that we have everything we need to "cure" or "solve" something, we just need to "change our perception"  and it will be all better. When in fact, we still have a long way to go, and a lot of research needs to be performed in many of the areas of science.  Miracle cures are seldom miracles, and instead behind scientific discoveries are years of research, teams of scientists, hundreds of publications, and pages and pages of peer review and hours and hours of testing.  Also a large percentage of topics are merely anecdotal and have endured no science based analysis at all.

Asking students to use TED Talks to learn both English and Science is the same as asking students to use  tabloids to learn about news events and the world around them.  Is TED all bad, no of course not.  For example, TED Ed provides many wonderful informative videos that correspond with what students are learning in schools and help supplement that learning with visuals and detailed explanations, that can watched and rewatched. 

As teacher's it is our responisibilty to elevate the students' knowledge and cognitive abilities, and for me tabloids and tabloid science only do the opposite.

Here are some interesting videos on the subject.  The first to TED's credit, is a TEDex Presentation by Benjamin Bratton, and the second a parody of TED Talks by John Oliver May 8, 2016.  Because there's always a truth in humor.  Enjoy!

New Perspective: What's Wrong with TED Talks (San Diego, 2013, Benjamin Bratton.

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TODD Talks John Oliver, May 8, 2016 (A spoof/parody)

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