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 email@example.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.
14 December 2012
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- At 4:19 — You mention carbon-dating but do not specify what was carbon-dated. You cannot carbon-date stone. Again at 6:00.
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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).”
- 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.
- 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Address your correspondence to Lara Stein, TEDx Director and Emily McManus, TED.com Editor.
Thanks for your understanding.
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