Jim Vieira’s talk removed from Internet


It is with great regret that I must remove Jim Vieira’s TEDx talk video: Stone Builders, Mound Builders and the Giants of Ancient America from the internet.

Without going into the details here, I am attaching a letter – below – that I just sent to Jim which explains why I have made this decision. Rest assured, I did speak with Jim yesterday via telephone before sending this email. He was respectful, professional and personally supportive of me, and our community. Nevertheless, this is a hard lesson for me to learn as the TEDxShelburneFalls curator.

I invite your questions and comments about this unfortunate situation. Please post your comments at our online forum or write me directly. You may also comment directly to the wider TEDx community at: http://blog.tedx.com or write to TED headquarters at tedx@ted.com

Look forward to a live, face-to-face, forum in early 2013 to discuss next steps for our community. At the staff (volunteers/speakers) post-event closeout meeting earlier this month we discussed areas for improvement, successes and the future of our nascent community. There was an express desire to “do it again” next year and ~50 attendee feedback surveys concur. Please join us again to plan our collective future in this endeavor. Stay tuned.


Stacy Kontrabecki
Curator, TEDxShelburneFalls

14 December 2012

Dear Jim,

As you know, I have been receiving a lot of queries regarding your TEDx talk and challenging the scientific validity of some of what you presented. I, for one, have been deeply gratified by the on-line response to your talk even though a number of the YouTube comments have challenged your presentation.

As a result of these challenges, and challenges to other science-based videos from other TEDx communities, TED issued a detailed memo from TED on how to vet science-based speakers and discourage “pseudo-science” with respect to potential TEDx presenters. I wish I had received this before assembling our presenter group.

In any case, I agreed with the TED team, who felt they had to do a fact check based on these guidelines. While I concur with much of what the fact check revealed, I am still grateful for your presentation at our first TEDxShelburneFalls conference.

Basically, TED’s fact check found that your talk is based on a debunked popular hoax from the early 1900s and promotes a well-known and widely discredited fringe theory, while misrepresenting the existence of legitimate research on this issue. (TED/TEDx is not a platform that allows unsubstantiated claims to be put forward as science.)  Here are just a few specific examples of the unsubstantiated claims in your TEDx talk:

  1. At 2:03 — You claim: “These structures are so staggering that people don’t even think they exist still.” In fact, there is a general archaeological consensus about the impressive civilization demonstrated by the moundbuilders in Cahokia and similar sites.
  2. At 4:05 — You claim:  “The moundbuilders who built all kinds of structures.” All evidence for the moundbuilders’ architecture suggests that they built with sod packets and wood.
  3. At 4:19 — You mention carbon-dating but do not specify what was carbon-dated. You cannot carbon-date stone. Again at 6:00.
  4. At 7:26 — You mention Mayan theories. Since the recent deciphering of almost the full Mayan script, the astronomical preoccupation attributed to Mayan writings has been largely discredited. Most of the numbers found in the Mayan script are now believed to be dates of births, coronations and wars.
  5. At 9:15 — You share newspaper clippings from the 19th century, including quotes from Abraham Lincoln, and claim they are evidence of giants. In fact, as one of our experts writes, “Skeletal hoaxes were common in the 19th century (e.g., Piltdown Man, the Cardiff Giant, and Barnum & Bailey Fiji mermaids [now at Harvard’s Peabody Museum]). If (and this is a big if) the 8-foot skeleton is real, it could be a case of medical gigantism, but it is more likely a case of exaggeration.”
  6. With respect to the theories of gigantism, the TEDx fact checkers spoke to an expert who researched Middle Woodland and Mississippian skeletal collections at the Center for American Archaeology (CAA), based in Kampsville, IL, in 2007. The CAA is one of the largest repositories of excavated Woodland and Mississippian skeletal remains in the nation, and their osteological collections are available for student and scholarly study. One expert stated “I can assure you that the archaeological Woodland and Mississippian populations were not giants. In some cases, one can observe a slight decrease in average height (a few centimeters) with the transition from hunting and gathering to agriculture. This is a trend that is observed in many cultures that undergo an agricultural transition, and is likely related to shorter nursing times and increased early childhood grain consumption (maximum height is highly correlated to childhood protein consumption, so a high reliance on grain during childhood tends to result in shorter stature).”
  7. At 12:49 — “Bones crumbled away because they weren’t mummified.” Skeletal preservation and mummification are unrelated processes. Plenty of skeletons survive in New England, and the disappearance of any and all skeletons that could lend evidence to these claims today is highly suspect.
  8. With respect to repeated claims that the Smithsonian is hiding or covering up evidence, the fact checkers also heard this, as well: “In 2007 I was a visiting scientist at the Smithsonian Museum Support Center, and while it is full of amazing and bizarre material (e.g., an entire herd of elephants that Teddy Roosevelt shot occupies one floor), there is no conspiracy to cover up or hide Native American giant skeletons or artifacts. Like most museums, the Smithsonian displays less than 1% of its collections at any given time, meaning that a lot of material spends decades (or sadly centuries) in its vaults awaiting exhibition. We can debate whether or not this is responsible stewardship (a debate that would also have to include a discussion of the chronic underfunding of public museums and the economics of public education), but to portray the Smithsonian today as part of some sort of a conspiracy of ‘misinformation and corruption’ to cover up Native American history by hiding giant moundbuilder skeletons excavated in the 19th century is ridiculous. Smithsonian physical anthropologists have published an impressive body of literature on the analysis of their collections.”

The bottom line for me, Jim, as a TEDx curator, is that I need to support the criteria that all science-based TEDx talks I hope to present must be fully substantiated. Unfortunately, as a result of TED’s research, we will be removing your talk from the TEDxTalks YouTube channel.

You may contact the TEDx team at tedx@ted.com.
Address your correspondence to Lara Stein, TEDx Director and Emily McManus, TED.com Editor.

Thanks for your understanding.

Stacy Kontrabecki
Curator, TEDxShelburneFalls

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21 thoughts on “Jim Vieira’s talk removed from Internet

  1. This is censorsip plain and simple… I have a saying… Thank God we do not all get what we deserve……..otherwise we would all be in a world of “crap”……One day….the censors are going to miss some information that may be vital to their health or survival……while I don’t hope for it……censors certainly the ones who deserve to miss out on the info

  2. Censorship doesn´t like non- mainstream research if it doesn´t fit the paradigm and never has:
    This is censorship not debate as everyone precludes to. These type of buildings can also be found in Nth Africa and the UK and as to say there are no giants goes against the Bible and much other evidence.

  3. While it’s clear that Jim’s presentation was attempting to connnect some rather distant dots, it doesn’t mean that the dots cannot independently exist. His points about the mound builders being misunderstood and certain structures being incorrectly identified seemed extremely obvious.

    TEDs handling of this situation has officially identified the line that it can no longer cross due to the amount of self-importance that it places on itself. Loosing credibility in the mainstream scientific community would be devistating to TEDs profit source.

    Follow the money trail if you want answers.
    Follow your heart if you seek the deeper questions.

  4. But science isn’t supposed to be swayed by someone’s opinions about what our ancestors would think. It’s supposed to be swayed by facts, to the extent that they can be established by proper methodology and respectful debate — not summary rejection, which gets us nowhere.

    Science 101 teaches us that summary rejection is itself pseudoscience of the first order, partly because it throws out the baby with the bathwater. Bona-fide science would consider the possibility that Vieira’s work might be partially correct, despite its weaknesses, and would proceed to separate the wheat from the chaff in time-honored fashion.

  5. Mr. Vieira refers to more than a thousand historical published documents, spanning several decades, many attributed to various authorities. This quantity is difficult to fathom in the context of Stacy’s rebuttal claim 5. This claim would have us believe that just about everybody excavating burial mounds for several decades between the 19th and 20th centuries opted to perpetrate a hoax. This is as incredible as the apparent information it seeks to debunk!

  6. As to your below comment that ted and tedx only deal with ‘proven facts’ – this is utter nonsense. Jill Bolte Taylor, probably the most famous of all the ted lectures was a scientist who had a stroke, a neurologist at that and she described her experience as a rational person realizing that parts of her brain were shutting down and her rational acts to contact someone to help her while this was happening. She knew her memory was going so she kept her finger on that last digit of the number she was dialing so that she could complete the call for help, this took she thinks 45 mins just to dial out an entire number. However she also described a feeling of expanding into the universe, an all-ness and a certainty that she would be OK. She described in the most compelling way (one of the reasons millions of people have viewed her lecture) the utter metaphysical experience that she had. A thing that no one can prove or disprove for that matter. I picked this lecture because its the most famous but I could call on Aubrey de Greys talk on physical immortality, or Jane Goodall”s lecture on the superhumanity of primates, or Keith Barry’s magic, or for that matter Al Gore’s nonsense ‘truth’, or Brian Greene, on string THEORY. But what I would like to leave you with miss is Alain de Bottom’s description of success and happiness. You should soul search my dear and then come back and tell the truth. It doesnt matter if Mr. Vieira is telling the truth or not, it is utterly dishonourable to silence him thus. Shame on you all

  7. Why does this site keep canceling my reply? I agree withe sentiments expressed by both York and Gregory Swain. TED presents all kindsn of speculative stuff. I have seen it myself, for example, in Woods Hole TEDX. So what ‘s with the heavy-handed copyright infringement threat? Is TED too worried about establishing a real dialogue with evidence about Vieiera’s ideas and evidence? It is circular reasoning to say that the very people whose science Vieira has questioned are the arbiters of what is “accepted science.” Put it all out there, leave it all out there, and let the evidence be the arbiter, not an interest group, or a groupi that is starrting to look a heck of a lot like an interest group. Frankly, I am shocked that the Vieiera material has been censored. I have seen enough TED stuff to know for sure that there are “establishment” scientists who would chalenge many presentations, or parts of presentations. The “science” argument is, sorry, BS.

  8. Yes, well. If there were some tall Indians who built mounds and stone structures, I find that to be really interesting. Why disrespectful? Jim was reading from historical texts, books, and reports from persons who excavated bones and mounds. Regardless of what one concludes of the evidence, it is certainly interesting. Why remove the all his info? I certainly didn’t know there were stone structures like that in New England which resemble megaliths in Europe. Censorship is so 15th century people. It sickens me.

  9. I’d love to have heard the conversation where Stacy is told “I don’t care what the hell you have to tell that Vieira guy, what part of WE TOLD YOU TO TAKE THAT CONVERSATION OFF IMMEDIATELY DID YOU NOT UNDERSTAND?”

    Just shaking my head at this gal. I used to think she would stand up for herself.

  10. One more thought – it is sadly disrespectful to our ancestors and loathing of ourselves to claim that ancient mounds, pyramids, sculptures and arts could not be created by ourselves & our grandmothers & our great-grandest family. No aliens, no giants, no atlanteans, no mysteries. We human beings ourselves can create great wonders (and awful sins) when we reach deep inside our very real human potentials together to achieve the miraculous.

  11. I was shocked that TED accepted Jim’s talk, happy that Jim got large press, and curiously waiting for the responsible response from the scientific community. TED has a reputation to uphold, but they cannot simultaneously claim copyright ownership of something which they do not wish to own as their own. Jim and his followers have a right to share his video work stripped of TED branding. As for Jim’s claims of conspiracies and ancient mysteries, unfortunately, such emotional claims call to our darker sides but seldom (and i say seldom, not never) hold up under the disinfecting sunlight of the day.

  12. I have my biggest problem with this discrediting reason given in the letter:
    “At 4:05 — You claim: “The moundbuilders who built all kinds of structures.” All evidence for the moundbuilders’ architecture suggests that they built with sod packets and wood.”——————————————————-
    I must say, my problem with this reason is the interpretation of “all kinds” because it was assumed he meant “many different materials” and thereby was wrong. However, taking that quote, we can build all kinds of structures using the same materials.

    We modern citizens of anywhere in the world can take iron and steel and build “all kinds” of structures out of iron and steel. We can build all kinds of structures from steel. From buildings to rail roads and more.

  13. Tom buddy,

    This is one of the best ideas that I have ever heard in respect to TED. I absolutely love it! You hit the bull’s eye all around all aspects of this.

    “A balanced forum is far better than censorship.” I love it! This is a TEDx event. They can easily open up and invite any TEDx to speak against or on behalf of Vieria.

    I have been listening to an Mp3 of Vieria’s recent show on Coast to Coast AM. I really want to believe him and the way he talks on the radio is very convincing. However, the examples given in letter from the TEDx curator are worded and chosen so well that they are very discrediting to Vieria.

    I would like to see a new tree branching themed type of video forum where for example as you find Vieria’s talk you will find talks about it. But you can also go back a few levels or branches until you get to the main trunk of the site from where you can chose the field that you want to start watching and make your way to more and more specified videos. Does this make sense to anyone? Does it sound good/interesting?

  14. But TED does not “only present proven facts in the field of science”, they present all sorts of interesting ideas as per their namesake mandate, and Jim’s presentation was not intended to be a scientific presentation but rather obviously a historical observation based on the, um, concrete field evidence and historical record. Moreover, Jim presentation could fall under the “Entertainment” mandate of TED, as clearly many folks are interested in the ideas presented, but should fall under the “Discovery” aspect of the TED mandate as the “Technological” attributes are as yet unverified precisely because of the ignorance of the academic community and failure to properly study the evidence presented by Jim. As a graduate history major and anthropology minor I can attest to the fact that neither discipline is a “science” but rather a consensus that fluctuates depending on funding.

  15. The examples you use in your letter to justify removing the video are non-issues, irrelevant asides, and taking a figure of speech as something else. And you choose to give credence to experts on the opposing side, while giving none to Mr. Vieira. There will always be two sides to an argument. And who are you to say they’re right and Mr. Vieira is wrong? Really, all you’re doing is making the video much more famous and in demand. While impugning your own credibility.

  16. It seems to me that it would be more intellectually honest to invite speakers with opposing viewpoints to present the arguments against Mr. Vieira’s contentions. Simple removal of the material is more an approach of censorship than of scientific debate. Given this approach, I would expect that TED would act to deny almost any idea access to its venue unless it was “proven,” also known as accepted by the orthodox scientific community.

    History shows us time and time again that what is correct today may well be proven incorrect tomorrow. A balanced forum is far better than censorship.

    Is Mr. Vieria incorrect in his assertions? Quite probably. So what? Bring on the debate, not the censors.

  17. Though I question the validity of Mr. Vieira’s subject matter, one can honestly view the handling of the TEDx video and your response here as a matter of censorship. When you have to point out copyright infringements, it leaves a rather bitter afterthought to the whole matter.

  18. Mishelle,

    Perhaps you missed the memo. Ted X doesn’t want Jim Vieira’s lecture and information he presented at their venues to be viewed by anyone anymore anywhere. His video in just two short weeks invited 118,000 views 1400 likes, 100 some dislikes. It was going viral, and his sort of information was not in the interest of certain scientific institutions, such as the Smithsonian Institution (and a few others).

  19. While many of the ideas Vieira puts forth in this talk are creditable, many apparently are not. TED & TEDx only present proven facts in the field of science. I was asked to take the video down by TED headquarters. You can access Jim Vieira and his other works through this page. His TEDx talk will not be publicly available through us. Any other person or organization re-posting the video is infringing on copyright laws and should be reported. TED headquarters can be contacted at tedx@ted.com

  20. Dear Stacy and all, while I really appreciate you making this information public, because I was very confused when I went to watch this popular talk and could not get access, I would like to also mention that it’s unfortunate you must completely dump the material instead of present it with the above as a disclaimer. I’m sure you can understand how to the average person, just a curious viewer who is not a scientist, would feel that it looks suspect to suddenly remove material that the public is very interested in seeing. Every minute fact doesn’t need to be correct for it to have social value, though I understand for scientists it must be very frustrating to see false information in their area of expertise be used publicly. Still, it looks to the layman as a support for conspiracy theory, a top-down decision, over-riding public wishes, and controlling the flow of information and theory. With all due respect for your excellent programming, I hope you will reconsider this decision, or tell the public where else we might view this material.

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