Guideline 1: No selling from the stage
If it’s essential to a talk that the speaker mention what they do and describe the businesses that they’re in, they should. But speakers may never use the TED or TEDx stage to pitch their products or services, plug their books, or ask for funding. It’s a ﬁne line between shameless self-promotion and wholesome self-reporting so just remember this rule of thumb: “if it feels like an advertisement, it probably is.”
Guideline 2: No political agendas
Politics and policy are key parts of the global conversation. But the TED and TEDx stages are not the place for partisan politics, nor for extremist or inﬂammatory positions. Speakers should not advocate for parties, party platforms and political leaders in their talks — nor should they insult or belittle political adversaries. Advise speakers to focus on discussing concrete problems and solutions.
Guideline 3: No religious proselytizing (including new age beliefs)
We don’t book speakers who attempt to prove or persuade of the correctness of a single religion, deity or belief system, whether through rhetoric or “scientiﬁc proof.”
Be wary of presentations promoting new age beliefs, including concepts such as quantum consciousness, Gaia theory, archaeoastronomy, and drug-induced spiritual epiphanies. Speakers can be honest about their beliefs, but should not use the stage to promote them.
Guideline 4: Only good science
Science is a big part of the TED universe, and it’s important that TEDx organizers sustain our reputation as a credible forum for sharing ideas that matter. It’s not always easy to distinguish between real science and pseudoscience, and purveyors of false wisdom typically share their theories with as much sincerity and earnestness as legitimate researchers.
Indeed, the more willing a speaker is to abandon scientiﬁc underpinning, the easier it is for them to make attention-grabbing claims. So beware being seduced by “wow.” We want talks to be interesting. But before that, they must be credible. Here are some things to look for — and to avoid.
Claims made using scientiﬁc language should:
- Be testable experimentally.
- Have been published in a peer-reviewed journal (beware… there are some dodgy journals out there that seem credible, but aren’t.)
- Be based on theories that are also considered credible by experts in the ﬁeld.
- Be backed up by experiments that have generated enough data to convince other experts of its legitimacy.
- Have proponents who are secure enough to acknowledge areas of doubt and need for further investigation.
- Not ﬂy in the face of the broad existing body of scientiﬁc knowledge.
- Be presented by a speaker who works for an accredited university and/or has a PhD or other bona ﬁde high level scientiﬁc qualiﬁcation.
- Show clear respect for the scientiﬁc method and scientiﬁc thinking generally.
Claims made using scientiﬁc language should not:
- Be so obscure or mysterious as to be untestable
- Be considered ridiculous by credible scientists in the ﬁeld
- Be based on experiments that cannot be reproduced by others
- Be based on data that do not convincingly corroborate the experimenter’s theoretical claims
- Come from overconﬁdent fringe experts
- Use over-simpliﬁed interpretations of legitimate studies
Research Tips and Tricks
We understand that it is sometimes still difﬁcult to know whether an idea is worth spreading or not. You’re not expected to become an expert on all ﬁelds of intellectual thought overnight! Nonetheless, you need to be able to understand at least the big issues in every ﬁeld you present onstage. Here are some tips on how to start researching a topic so you can ﬁgure out whether your content is legit or not. Please note, all statements presented as fact must be vetted!
- Consult university websites, reputable science and health blogs, and databases of papers published in respected journals to check up on a potential speaker and verify his/her credentials. If you have access to a local university library, a research librarian can help you source relevant journal articles.
- Ask your local university’s PR ofﬁce to connect you to a professor in a relevant ﬁeld. Ask a friendly journalist to fact-check the questionable items to journalistic standards.
- Ask the TEDxOhioUniversity organizers, who can assist with research and fact-checking.
Topics to Avoid
We’ve found that some topics are particularly problematic. We recommend approaching these with the utmost skepticism or avoiding them altogether:
- “Healing,” including reiki, energy ﬁelds, alternative health and placebos, crystals, pyramid power.
- “Free energy” and perpetual motion machines, alchemy, time travel.
- “The neuroscience of [ﬁll in the blank].” We’re not saying all such talks will be nonlegitimate, but for some reason this ﬁeld attracts a lot of goofballs right now.
- The misuse of language about quantum physics. Quantum physics is certainly mysterious. Many other things are mysterious too. Some speakers can’t resist using arguing that therefore somehow quantum physics has proven the truth of their particular mystery. It’s bad logic, and a big red flag.
What if a presentation breaks the rules?
The TEDx license requires that we report any breaks from the Content Guidelines to the TED Conferences team. They will then review the content together and make a decision about how to proceed. It could result in an overlay on the video in YouTube alerting viewers that the content is outside TED’s standards.
Alternatively, if the talk raises issues worthy of a broader debate, TED may move the talk off of YouTube and onto its own site, where editorial staff will provide more context and offer a broad array of conversation tools. In extreme cases, TED reserves the right to remove the video altogether. All of these decisions are outside the control of the independently-organized TEDxOhioUniversity team.
A work in progress.
Like science itself, these guidelines will likely change over time as we run into new challenges and come across new issues. Let us know what works for you – and if you believe we should propose an adjustment to the guidelines, don’t be shy about letting us know. The TEDx team is constantly updating its rules and guidelines, so if you have a strong point to make, it might help future TEDx organizers.