TEDx Issues Warning about Graham Hancock, Calling His Speech "Outdated" and "Counterfactual"
As regular readers know, the Viceland TV channel recycles the History Channel’s Ancient Aliens by having rapper Action Bronson and his friends get high and talk about reruns of the program. In an interview yesterday with corporate cousin Vice (the website), executive producer Jordan Kinley described how the program came to be, and why Ancient Aliens allegedly serves an important function. According to Kinley, even though hypotheses presented on the program are likely untrue, they demonstrate why we (as the public) should distrust official narratives because our history is “manufactured.”
Seeing these counter-theories presented, you kind of realize that you have an emotional connection to the [original] theories. You feel kind of lost when someone questions the historical narrative you’ve been taught. I don’t believe much of what’s talked about in the original show but I think it’s a good time for people to realize that some of our history is manufactured. Some of it is manufactured to be accurate, and some of it is manufactured to excuse horrible things that have happened.
Kinley seems to find in Ancient Aliens an entry point into questions of historiography, but doesn’t take the final step to ask what horrible things—racism, conspiracy-mongering, outright fraud--Ancient Aliens itself exploits and promotes, or to what end. It goes without saying that Ancient Aliens is bad historiography, and it is interesting that Kinley buys into the notion of “manufactured” history without pointing a finger at who, precisely, is doing the manufacturing. In many places the government does try to distort history through the school systems—from official propaganda in government-written textbooks in other countries to culturally convenient lies designed to appease textbook buyers on American school boards—but in the age of the internet, where information is easy to find, at least here in America, it is much less clear how history can be “manufactured” except through the willing acquiescence of an incurious audience.
Meanwhile, Graham Hancock is on another anger bender after the TED organization for issuing a warning about his most recent TEDx talk for failing to meet the organization’s “curatorial standards.” In a TEDx event two months ago, which is not sponsored by or controlled by the TED organization, Hancock promoted his most recent book, Magicians of the Gods, by summarizing its content, including allegations that a comet strike during the last Ice Age caused the end of a lost civilization synonymous with Atlantis. I reviewed his TEDx talk back in June and found it to be illogical.
The TED organization placed a warning beneath the video: “Please be aware that this talk contains outdated and counterfactual assertions, and should not be understood as a representation of modern scholarship on ancient civilizations.” It added a similar warning into the video itself as a superimposed YouTube annotation.
TEDx is an initiative of the TED organization that helps to organize TED-style events for local communities. It is not clear exactly who placed the admonishment on the video of Hancock’s talk. The note claims that it came from “TED,” but the TEDx subsidiary organization posted it from their account.
This is the second time the TED organization has reacted negatively to a Hancock TEDx talk. A few years ago they removed a previous Hancock speech on mysticism and consciousness because it failed to meet scientific standards.
Hancock, as you might guess, is crying foul, claiming that “TED is a tool of the dominator society that seeks to keep us all asleep, and that believes itself to be the fount and guardian of all legitimate knowledge.”
I wonder, though, what good it does to issue warnings about TEDx talks, especially where the evidence is at best ambiguous. It seems that the TED organization ought to have a “right to be wrong” insofar as no one individual is ever going to have 100% perfect knowledge, and even TED talks that seem correct today might become outdated or even dangerously inaccurate as scientific knowledge grows.
TED Talks have many, many bizarre or embarrassing entries that skirt the borders of truth or utility. Paul Zak, a “neuroeconomist,” once gave a talk on how oxytocin creates stable and happy societies. It’s a gross oversimplification of neuroscience. A guy named Joe Smith offered a TED Talk on the most efficient way to use a paper towel. Tori Amason offered an ambiguously evidenced set of claims about how “success partners” can lead individuals to achievement, and Barbara Frederickson asserted that positive emotions cause our minds to open up. That last one had some selective science behind it, about as much as Hancock’s speech. Eric X. Li gave a talk propagandizing for Chinese communism, arguing that the system is adaptable, meritocratic, and above all legitimate. it should take only a few seconds to recall all the people who would dispute those claims.
TEDx Talks are even worse. I saw one from a “holistic radiologist” arguing that dreams serve as premonitions of cancer.
None of these talks received a warning or censorship.
With Hancock’s speech there are two related issues, and it is unclear which of them upset the TED organization. The first is the question of whether a comet hit the Earth around 9600 BCE. This is a scientific question over which there is disagreement. While most scientists do not currently support the extreme interpretation of the evidence Hancock offers, it is not wholly beyond the realm of scientific possibility. Here it seems that Hancock should have the “right to be wrong” and to offer a legitimate, if controversial, interpretation of peer-reviewed scientific evidence. It’s no less supportable than the idea that communism is the ideal government, or that oxytocin will literally change the world.
The second issue, however, is probably the one that got him into more trouble. In the speech he asserted, without evidence, that Atlantis once existed and that he believed it to have been destroyed by the impact of a comet. This is a troublesome claim because it gets into questions of how an organization like TED judges historical claims. While it is generally agreed among historians that Atlantis never existed, there is a long history of scholars accepting its reality, going back to Antiquity. While you and I likely agree that there is no good evidence that Atlantis existed, there is an enormous body of material, much of it from serious scholars, who have made the case for Atlantis existing at various times and places. I don’t agree with those claims, but it’s hard to argue that the scholarly work on Atlantis is less supportable than propaganda about Chinese communism’s utopian benefits.
Would TED censor a talk identifying Atlantis with the Minoan occupation of Thera, a claim that has a great deal of support from archaeologists and historians (despite being almost certainly untrue)?
What sets Hancock apart, though, is that Hancock identifies his Atlantis with an alleged lost civilization whose remains can be found in places like Gunung Padang in Indonesia. Even though many archaeologists deny that the stone structures of Gunung Padang date back to the Ice Age or were built by Atlantis, both claims were officially put forth by a government scientist working under official auspices for the Indonesian government. The claims are almost certainly propaganda, but they are official, much like China’s official economic statistics, which most Westerners agree are falsified. How, we might ask, does TED assess which official claims are false?
Hancock is right that TEDx seems to want to be the judge of truth. It’s a hard role to take because a lot of claims passing under the mantle of truth are ambiguous, and a lot of TED Talks—official ones, not even the independent TEDx presentations Hancock gives—are ridiculous. I’m not sure what the right standard is. An ad hoc system of censoring or warning about a talk because Hancock is a crackpot writer of pseudohistory seems unfair. But on the other hand accepting official or even academic claims at face value seems a poor standard, too. After all, North Korea officially claims that its former leaders rode unicorns and scored 18 holes-in-one on their first golf attempts. Clearly, a TED talk on the Kim family’s divine perfection would be entirely false, official sources be damned.
I’m not sure what the right answer is in terms of determining what is or is not acceptably factual, but it sure seems like the TEDx program is being selective in its outrage.
8/4/2016 11:24:22 am
I agree, if a TEDx let him talk, that should basically be it. On the flip side, we should all be free to criticize his talk, which I'm sure would send Hancock into fits. For someone who does a lot of weed, he seems really uptight.
8/4/2016 12:17:54 pm
Sounds like Action Bronson isn't the only one watching while stoned.
8/4/2016 12:23:11 pm
While I agree the TED situation is messed up, I have to wonder why Hancock would do a TEDx talk anyway. I thought he just made the rounds promoting his book to the media. The guy has made millions, so it's not like he's the fringe equivalent of Joe Smith, the paper towel guy.
8/5/2016 07:19:59 am
At a guess, I'd say he did it just for this reason. He had to have known the TED guidelines beforehand, or at least had the opportunity to review them before his first TEDx talk.
8/4/2016 12:24:46 pm
It appears the AA and fringe theorists are the ones manufacturing history because they're outright lying about historical sites. I remember watching AA when Giorgio of the Wild Hair was talking about the stones at Puma Punku stating:
8/4/2016 06:26:50 pm
Giorgio took the stone identification from E. Von D., who got it wrong in the first place.
8/5/2016 07:58:42 am
And that's the point, their so called research is based on the flawed, unfounded theories of each other. Giorgio could have easily looked up the stones at Puma Punku and educated himself so he didn't make himself look like an ass on TV, but that would have required him to do something none of them appear willing to do, actual research.
8/7/2016 12:12:48 pm
The most recent and currently active proponent of the misinformation about the stonework at Tiwanaku being "granite" and "diorite" is Brien Foerster. He has been most insistent about this misinformation in both print and on the Internet. For a recent paper about the stonework at Tiwanaku, go see;
8/4/2016 12:43:32 pm
Never thought I'd see the day when you defended Han-kook, Jason. I get it though. TED needs to standardize their evaluation criteria and apply them to every one of their speakers equally.
8/5/2016 02:54:26 am
I've never agreed with that quote. Liberal wishy-washy nonsense from people who'd never say "I'll die defending the right to marriage equality or to live free from racial prejudice". Saying you'll die to protect free speech is easy, because you know you're never going to get called on it.
8/5/2016 06:30:06 am
In the end, most civilians who say they'd die for their country wouldn't do that, either. The sentiment is more about expressing a value (love of free speech) than a literal program of action.
8/4/2016 01:37:32 pm
I completely agree with what Jordan Kinley said. Ancient Aliens is a great way to become acquainted with manufactured history. Too bad that's not how he meant it.
8/4/2016 02:47:06 pm
8/4/2016 03:18:07 pm
Hi Jason -
8/4/2016 03:18:16 pm
Action Bronson is not the only one.
8/4/2016 09:46:08 pm
My issue with the History channel and AA is that people, in general, think that if it is on a channel called "HISTORY" then there must be *SOME* basis in fact, or at least what is perceived as such at the time the show was produced.
8/5/2016 10:18:59 pm
For a person who doesn't believe in Atlantis, you sure mention it a lot...
8/6/2016 05:12:07 am
Do you, Brady Yoon, believe in Bigfoot? UFOs? Giants? The answer isn't actually relevant. Jason talks a lot about fringe topics because people like you and Hancock keep them alive.
8/6/2016 06:49:43 pm
Well, I responded to Jason's blog post http://www.jasoncolavito.com/blog/rings-of-power-do-concentric-circles-prove-atlantis-real, and he never replied back. I'm thinking it's because he knows he doesn't have a winning argument.
8/6/2016 09:42:07 pm
It's not about winning an argument. You made a claim, he reviewed it and wasn't convinced by the available evidence. Instead of trying to "win", perhaps you should work on collecting better evidence.
8/13/2016 01:49:08 pm
I stopped watching TED years ago; most of the talks were far-Left academic nonsense.
5/9/2017 12:07:34 pm
Hancock raises many interesting and salient points about the origins of human civilization. I've read him widely however where he loses me is with his promotion of hallucinogenic drug use.
1/29/2019 09:24:23 am
And now here we are three years on and an impact crater has been discovered in Greenland.
7/28/2019 07:36:26 pm
I find it interesting that this article accepted mainstream archaeology without any doubt. I don't watch Ancient Aliens because every time I do, I find inaccuracies. As for Graham Hancock, the goal of ancient site researchers is to open the door to possibilities with supporting evidence but not necessarily definitive evidence. As for the meteor impact hitting the North America ice sheet, it is one theory. The second postulated is a plasma event that decimated the earth. Neither have been proven. However, both are up for research. As for the denigration of the meteor impact, it is like other phases of history. Today it is out of favor, but later it might again be in favor. However, I suggest all who are interested to research the Younger Dryas, its causes and effects. So let Hancock alone. He did a ted talk. Go do your own research. Let teb be a place of examining possibilities. For me, the fact that ted has a running disagreement with Hancock, leads me to believe that ted wishes to support the current historical propaganda in the text books. I'm no longer interested in their presentations.
2/14/2023 04:56:32 am
And here we are in 2023, with Hancock's theories gaining traction and evidence mounting to support many of his claims.
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I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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