Jun 23, 2014

TED and the Diploma Mill Yoda

How did this squeak by TED's rigorous screening process?

By this I mean a TEDx talk written up in this feel-good piece in Mother Jones, a publication I thought had fact-checkers.

Ironwood State Prison resident Steven Duby served as MC for a bill that kicked off with Budnick interviewing Sir Richard Branson about the importance of, yes, second chances. (Branson once spent a day in "prison," he said, for failing to pay taxes. His mother was able to bail him out by mortgaging her house, Branson added, but not everyone has it so easy.) Among the acts was Illinois therapist and motivational speaker Sean Stephenson (above), who held the prisoners rapt with his tale of overcoming adversity. "When I was born, the doctors told my parents I would be dead within the first 24 hours of my life," he began. "Thirty-five years later, all those doctors are dead, and I am the only doctor that remains!"

Obviously, I agree that it's lovely that TEDx put together an event for prison inmates. I even agree that Sean Stephenson is a good speaker with an inspiring life story. But he is not a doctor. He admitted as much when he agreed to remove such verbiage from his website. My original post and our exchange in the comment section can be found here. Yet here he is, in the spring of 2014 still calling himself a doctor.

He is also still calling himself a therapist. I challenged him directly on his use of the term psychotherapist, but he's not backing down on that one. In his bio he calls himself a "board certified therapist." By what board, he does not say. As it happens, I answered that question in the above mentioned post. It's not surprising that he doesn't name it. He still won't call himself what he is: a hypnotherapist and NLP practitioner. Why? Is he ashamed of his actual credentials in hypnotherapy and NLP? Here's how he currently describes his practice on his website.

Since 2001, I’ve been working as a psychotherapist with an emphasis on clinical hypnosis and neuro-linguistics.

An "empahsis," he says. Those are the only things he's actually trained and certified in any way to do. He knows full well that hypnotherapy is not respected the way psychology, psychiatry, and even the very unfairly maligned field of clinical social work are. And maybe it's unfair that hypnotherapy is not taken more seriously. Maybe it's even unfair that there's no such thing as an accredited doctoral program in hypnotherapy. But his response to this perceived injustice is not to demonstrate the virtues of his actual field of endeavor. It's to mislead people about what it is exactly that he does.

Just a little reminder: TED censored the talks of a biologist with a PhD from Oxford for questioning some rather questionable assumptions of science and a professional journalist for having the temerity to say that indigenous shamans might actually have something of value to offer the world. TEDx organizers have been warned and even had their charters pulled for sponsoring the talks of a range of highly accomplished and credentialed people.

In fact, the same sort of "guerrilla skeptics" who've brought TED to heel, have been fighting for the heart and mind of Wikipedia for some time. Rupert Sheldrake was one of their primary targets there as well.

The Guerrilla Skeptics apparently did not take kindly to being outed.  Since June, they have gone on the attack to seriously change Rupert’s Bio.  On June 14th, he had a relatively stable and neutral biography, which is documented from June 14th.  Compare this to the pretty current September 28th version.  The changes are quite drastic and unfavorable to Sheldrake.

And yet here is Sean Stephenson's Wikipedia page, not only unmolested by the guerrilla skeptics, but clearly untroubled by even cursory fact-checking. All I can say is that the New Atheist guerrillas who wage war on legitimate, and even heavily credentialed professionals, for casting doubt on their material reductionist world view, have a very strange set of priorities.

TED Sean Stephenson photo TEDSeanStephenson_zpsb972832a.png

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