Locklin on science

Why I don’t like TED talks (or TEDx or whaddeva)

Posted in fun by Scott Locklin on June 9, 2012

Putting aside the fumes of smug self-satisfaction which shimmer over the audience, not mentioning the vacuous imbecilities regurgitated by most of the liberal arts talks, not even considering the $6000 seat price for attending this precious wankfest: sometimes, the “science” is often so unbearably bad as to defy parody. What am I talking about? Well, here’s some crank making perpetual motion machine and unified field theory claims at a TEDx conference. His lecture makes absolutely no sense; it is a schizoid word-salad of vaguely virtuous sounding quasi-technical phrases. The audience, gawdblessem, claps:

( Hat tip to Carl Zimmer for this stinker.)

Anyone who would clap for this ambulatory dildo after his 10 minute display of early onset dementia would  clap for just about anything, no matter how breathtakingly stupid, wretched or disgusting.

The inchoate chattering is that of the managerial upper middle classes giving each other sloppy wet tongue kisses for being so incredibly aware, creative and wonderful masters of the universe.   The subject matter is pure beigeism, from revolutionary musings that conservatives might actually be human beings, to precocious teenagers who fuse out a couple of neutrons in their kitchen, to superhero teachers, to TV noodle theorists, to, well,  Jane freaking Fonda. The whole thing is so fey and revolting it makes me puke liverwurst in my mouth. I can almost smell the ripe stew of VC types sporting dockers pantaloons, the gaseous emanations of powerpoint and keynote slides, the toxic outgassing of parked Segways, the vegetarian salami stench of upper level human resources directors.

The great Henry Louis Mencken used to laugh at the pretensions of the Chautauqua lecturer of his day, “belaboring and fermenting the hinds with his Message from the New Jerusalem.”  The average Chautauqua lecturer talking to the hayseeds is a regular  Marcus Tullius Cicero in comparison to their modern equivalent; certainly he was allowed to express thoughts more complex than ones which fit into an 18 minute presentation. While the yokel Chautauqua audience may have been less educated than the modern equivalent, they were also better dressed, better mannered, and nowhere near as smug. The two audiences appear equivalent in their superstition. The old audience believing in god and country, and the new one believing in sustainable, non-violent, managerial, egalitarian scientism. The old audience was geographically provincial; the new audience is socially provincial, probably regarding an infantryman or a cafeteria worker as a kind of exotic plankton; perhaps something akin to a sea urchin or bivalve.

I’m happy for the TED talks to continue. Why not concentrate all the smug no-goodniks in one place, for when the revolution begins? Imagine how many natural resources we can save by shelling their conference center, rather than hunting them down individually! I’m not happy if people keep enthusing over it and sending me dumb links to it.

With apologies to the master for turning a few of his delicious phrases to my purpose:

” The simple fact is that most of man’s thinking is stupid, pointless, and injurious to him. Of all animals, indeed, he seems the least capable of arriving at accurate judgments in the matters that most desperately affect his welfare. Try to imagine a rat, in the realm of rat ideas, arriving at a notion as violently in contempt of plausibility as the notion, say, of ‘social venture,’ or that of sustainability, or that of social media saving humanity, or that of mental telepathy. Try to think of a congregation of educated rats gravely listening to such disgusting intellectual rubbish as was in the public bulls of Eve Ensler. Man’s natural instinct, in fact, is never toward what is sound and true; it is toward what is specious and false. Let any great nation of modern times be confronted by two conflicting propositions, the one grounded upon the utmost probability and reasonableness and the other upon the most glaring error, and it will almost invariably embrace the latter. It is so in politics, which consists wholly of a succession of unintelligent crazes, many of them so idiotic that they exist only as battle-cries and shibboleths and are not reducible to logical statement at all. It is so in religion and ideology, which, like poetry, is simply a concerted effort to deny the most obvious realities. It is so in nearly every field of thought. The ideas that conquer the race most rapidly and arouse the wildest enthusiasm and are held most tenaciously are precisely the ideas that are most insane. This has been true since the first ‘advanced’ gorilla put on underwear, cultivated a frown and began his first lecture tour in the first chautauqua, and it will be so until the high gods, tired of the farce at last, obliterate the race with one great, final blast of fire, mustard gas and streptcocci.”


18 Responses

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  1. Barry Fay said, on June 9, 2012 at 11:00 am


    • Scott Locklin said, on June 9, 2012 at 11:59 am

      It’s being touted as such.

      • Tschafer said, on June 9, 2012 at 2:04 pm

        Just when you think you’ve seen and heard it all.

  2. brucecharlton said, on June 9, 2012 at 12:11 pm

    It’s amazing how the great orators and teachers of the past managed without microphones, powerpoint and video; just ideas, words, voice, gestures, presence…

    No wonder we are so much better than them. Errr…

    • Scott Locklin said, on June 9, 2012 at 10:03 pm

      I think I’ve only heard one actual orator in my life. An after dinner speech by Classics Professor E. Christian Kopf. Such men are dangerous!

  3. Rod Carvalho said, on June 9, 2012 at 12:30 pm

    I love Moldbug’s scandalous post making fun of Romer’s crypto-colonialism:

    Similarly, if you do have 18 useless minutes, watch the TED talk. Marvel both at the production values, and at the adoration with which Davos Man laps up this “radical idea.” This, truly, is reality. (…) Professor Romer is digging up ancient chestnuts from the graveyard of history, repainting them slightly, and selling them to Davos Man as his own work. Nice job if you can get it. Would you trust this man with your daughter?

    • Scott Locklin said, on June 9, 2012 at 10:02 pm

      Thanks Rod: I read this years ago -wonderful essay. One which should be required reading for all “Seasteader” types to be sure.

  4. Jay said, on June 10, 2012 at 9:03 pm

    Sorry Galileo, looks like you’ve got ODD. Time to take your Zoloft.

    Now that CNN has declared that god is dead because evil rednecks, misguided minorities that don’t know what they’re doing and uppity blonde haired polygamists believe in him, The “Institutions of ‘Science'” are the new de-facto pulpit. Those denying their message of truth and beauty will simply be branded heretical bullies, regardless of how factual the denial may be, so please keep your 95 theses to yourself. It must be lonely being that cynical, ha ha, whoops, I mean depressing. I Can’t seem to find loneliness in the DSM V, so it no longer exists as a valid human emotion.

  5. Roger Bigod said, on June 11, 2012 at 4:34 pm

    This isn’t the True TED. They’ve started doing franchises, and the Charlotte farm team let a ringer in. Some of the TED talks are pretty awful, but some are excellent, especially in the sciences.

    The content sounds like paranoid schizophrenia. If you’ve ever watched interviews or dealt with such individuals, the first one is memorable. It’s amazing that one person could come up with elaborate theories of electrical influences, number theory, toruses etc. Along about #4, you realize that it’s all variations on a theme.

    This guy’s spiel doesn’t have the themes of conspiracy and remote mind control. He’s matter-of-fact about it, which could be the diagnostic point of “flat affect”. But it’s spoiled by his having to read it. He strikes me as a con man who’s put together a new-agey con, building up to the lame pitch for a DVD.

    They’re probably upset back at the TED mother ship.

  6. Matthew Pearce said, on June 11, 2012 at 7:35 pm

    Are we absolutely sure the guy isn’t launching a Sokal style insurrection on TED? I can’t accept this as serious.

    • Tschafer said, on June 12, 2012 at 12:53 am

      We can only hope…

  7. Roger Bigod said, on June 12, 2012 at 3:08 pm

    The usual pattern for a Sokal type operation is to produce one outrageous hoax, get it accepted, then make an announcement and watch the target squirm. It looks like there several clips of the same guy doing riffs on vortex theory, which would be a lot of effort for a prank.

  8. Kartik Agaram said, on June 16, 2012 at 1:15 am

    I found this post on my feedreader right next to http://tagide.com/blog/2012/06/when-history-is-rewritten-with-a-good-story

    • Scott Locklin said, on June 16, 2012 at 1:57 am

      Nice find! I suspect much of their output is similarly flawed.
      For things to be awesome, there must be quality control. TED/x seems to have none worth speaking of.

  9. Naveen Michaud-Agrawal said, on June 18, 2012 at 4:06 pm

    Holy crap, that was amazing! Somehow he crammed every single scientific term into one unified theory. I guess if you never made it past middle school science it sounds pretty plausible. I agree with Roger Bigod – it would have been much better if he had memorized it.

  10. nellibell49 said, on October 3, 2013 at 9:32 pm

    Reblogged this on METHINKS SHE DOTH PROTEST.

  11. Djfj said, on January 21, 2016 at 7:10 am

    I think you’d be pleased to know that this video was a troll, he’s a comedian who lied to the Ted organizers to get on stage and pull of Ted tropes

    • Scott Locklin said, on January 21, 2016 at 4:39 pm

      I thought that was pretty obvious at the time. At this point, Sam Hyde probably qualifies as “world’s leading troll who isn’t a political candidate.”

      TED richly deserves trolling, and I think better of Hyde for performing this valuable public service.

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