community building

Open letter to Schumpeter (Adrian Wooldridge) of The Economist about his “TED” article

Dear Mr Adrian Wooldridge

I’m writing to you to challenge your article here in which you make some claims I don’t think you will be able to defend. I’m assuming The Economist’s media directory is correct in identifying you as the author.  I already posted the first comment beneath the article – am writing to you directly as well.   As someone who has been both using and contributing to TED and TEDx in my professional and  private life for a number of years I strongly object to your unsubstantiated claims in the final paragraph, which give an deeply unpleasant tone  to an otherwise quite informative  article. Specifically how do you justify:
“TED meetings have a revivalist feel, from the preacher’s promises of salvation to the happy-clappy congregation.”  I’ve been to many, and nothing remotely reminds me of the lunacy of Happy Clap religion. Indeed TED has a strong, public, (and enforced) stand against Bad Science and gave the platform to Ben Goldacre for example.   Exactly how many TED and TEDx events have you been to? and/or how many of the people who told you that the atmosphere was like a fundamentalist church have attended enough events to justify the assertion?

You state “A striking number of TED talks preach that you can have it all, a great career and a fulfilled life, if only you work hard and follow your passion. ”
This is not true. “A striking number” suggests a lot. The only TED talk that I can think of that actually says something like this is the excellent, and researched “secrets of success” by Richard st John… and there is nothing wrong with his message at all.   Most of the TED talks I can think use the language of reasoned debate. How many of the 1000s of TED talks transcripts did you or The Economist fact checkers review before making this assertion?  If you can quote cite 30 or 40 quotations – (the transcripts are all on line) or even 20 that is less than  4%. I don’t think you will be able to, and even if you can  is that really enough to merit the label “a striking number” ?

You don’t present any  evidence for your claims about TED  “The ultimate secret of TED’s success is not its commitment to disruptive innovation but its ability to repackage old-time religion for the digital age.” It’s absolutely not true based on my contacts with TEDsters and TEDx-ers from all over the world.  Some TEDsters are religious, for example Billy Graham and Karen Armstrong got the stage – but by far the majority are positive, progressive, modern minded people. The fact that most are more interested in ideas than average mean that they have more in common with Economist readers than revivalists. It’s abusing language to paint TEDsters and TEDx-ers in these colours, and completely unfair.

Finally, your remarks about Chris Anderson’s childhood are offensive.   It is as if I looked into your childhood, found out something about your background or parents and used that digging to challenge your views. Chris Anderson’s childhood has no relevance to the reasons why for many millions TED and TEDx make a powerful and positive difference.

As one of the few remaining print magazines of any significance, you as an individual and The Economist have a responsibility for the words you write and print. may have more traffic than The Economist but The Economist is still important.  Responsibility means that you should respond. I’ll publish whatever you write in full.


Richard Lucas March 15th 2014