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Mar 15 2013

TED Talk: spreading bullshit about the desert

What? TED vectoring pseudoscience? Unpossible! In one recent particular instance, though, a TED talk firmly grounded in bullshit — literal and figurative — is gaining a mortifying amount of traction with people who really should know better.

The lecturer is Allan Savory, who for the last couple decades has been pushing his own brand of Maverick Science despite hidebound opposition from “scientists” with their “peer review” and their “evidence” and their “reproducible results.”

Savory’s thesis: every desert in the world is caused by insufficient grazing. We know this because of reasons. All those desertified former grasslands in Africa and the Middle East that have been turned to dusty parking lots by cattle and sheep and goats just didn’t have enough livestock on them to churn up the soil, shit everywhere, and then move on to the next patch of land in a rotational grazing approach.

Savory’s approach can work in theory, on marginal grassland with very close monitoring and if your management goals do not include protecting species that are intolerant of cattle. Can work.  Doesn’t necessarily. And that’s irrelevant to actual deserts, yet Savory wants to push his approach onto ancient desert landscapes anyway.

The biggest problem for me, as I point out this morning at KCET, is that Savory doesn’t distinguish between actual deserts — stable, diverse yet fragile habitats — and ruined grasslands. He conflates “desertification” — a term that needs to be abandoned — with actual deserts, then misrepresents the basic science  of desert ecology, for instance calling cryptobiotic crusts a “cancer.”

None of this is a surprise to anyone who has followed Savory over the last few decades. Same shit, different day. But TED has helped him go viral, and there are people who are taking him at his word to an embarrassing degree. Even though he says stuff in the talk like “There is no other option” but to follow his program, a phrase that should cause any sane person to back away slowly with her hand firmly protecting her wallet.

But environmentally concerned people, even here in California, show a disturbing willingness to believe any negative shit they hear about the desert. The TED audience laps Savory’s crap up to a disheartening degree.

Anyway, I debunk what I can of Savory’s crap here at KCET. What I can given time and space, that is. It’s only a 13-minute video and one could write a book about the wrongness.

 

86 comments

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  1. 1
    Terry

    The TED talks have been a scourge on academic thought and rationality in general.

    The entire genre substitutes substance with well-phrased unsubstantiated stuff. Some TED talks might have good sound science or ideas in them. But the venue doesn’t support that well. You can just say a beautiful-but-wrong idea in an elegant way and people buy it. It’s maddening.

    The “onion talks” satire helps people see through the charade of the TED phenomenon.

  2. 2
    kieran

    Cause everyone knows antartica was caused by goats

  3. 3
    busterggi

    So if we send in an army equipped with lawn mowers could desertification be reversed?

  4. 4
    SallyStrange

    Huh, I had a professor a while ago who was very enamored of Savory’s approach and I hadn’t thought much about him in the years since. I’m curious to check out your debunking of him now.

  5. 5
    Sastra

    But environmentally concerned people, even here in California, show a disturbing willingness to believe any negative shit they hear about the desert. The TED audience laps Savory’s crap up to a disheartening degree.

    I hadn’t known about the desert controversy, but from what I’ve personally seen a lot of environmentally concerned people show a disturbing willingness to believe in any negative shit they hear about corporations, “toxins,” modern technology, and — of course — science itself. This gives TED an appealingly large and hip audience for videos which promote pseudoscience as daring, cutting-edge, outside-the-box thinking.

    TED’s in trouble. Rupert Sheldrake? Science?

  6. 6
    PZ Myers

    Desert chauvinist!

    People do the same thing to lots of other habitats. Swamps? Drain ‘em. They’re full of bugs and disease. Old growth forests full of leaf litter and eerie silences? Wouldn’t they look better as a park? Some of my favorite places along the Pacific Northwest coast are cold damp rocky beaches with stretches of mud, not sand — the tourists turn up their noses at them and consider them not a proper beach at all.

    Humans have an unfortunately narrow perspective on what constitutes a healthy environment.

  7. 7
    ChasCPeterson

    gah, I can’t watch it. My gorge rose just reading your KCET piece.

    It put me in mind of this classic example of self-serving desert pseudo-ecology.
    According to Mr. Vernon Bostick, desert tortoises are highly adapted to a specialized diet: shit. The only reason their populations are doing so poorly is because there aren’t enough cattle out there dumping their favorite highly nutritious food all over the place.
    Is Mr. Savory aware of this additional benefit to overgrazing the old-growth Mojave?
    feh.

  8. 8
    Rob Grigjanis

    Earlier in Savory’s career, there was no other option but to kill 40,000 elephants. Then he decided there were other options. He makes me nervous.

    Also, do I have to watch the video to find out how water follows the grass which follows the cow?

  9. 9
    ChasCPeterson

    …and only now did I get the clever double-meaning of your post title.
    good one.

  10. 10
    jamessweet

    Cause everyone knows antartica was caused by goats

    Dammit, you stole mine :p

  11. 11
    The Mellow Monkey

    The breathtaking wrongness of that lecture is impressive. Perhaps next he can explain to us how the ocean was once all fields of grain and its wetness was caused by humans not shitting in it enough?

  12. 12
    susan

    Earlier in Savory’s career, there was no other option but to kill 40,000 elephants.

    But he feels real bad about it now. Yeah, I watched this with a TEDx group that was quite impressed. When Savory mentioned the poor elephants I thought, “That’s a pretty big mistake. Why are we listening to him?” Then, when he showed a picture of an actual desert I’ve been to (and thought gorgeous) and advocated turning it into grazing lands, I was done. Also, I was pretty sure Chris was going to have issues with him.

    One thing I wondered about while watching, though, was earthworms. I’ve got a small Worm Factory now and have become infatuated with them. I just read “The Earth Moved: On the Remarkable Achievements of Earthworms” by Amy Stewart (there’s a lot about Darwin in the book) and she mentioned that there are no earthworms in deserts. She also writes about habitats that have been ruined by the introduction of the wrong kinds of earthworms (like Minnesota forests). It seems as if, when Savory has had any “success”, that that’s just what he’s done–made it possible for worms to survive in a place where they really shouldn’t be.

  13. 13
    mythbri

    for instance calling cryptobiotic crusts a “cancer.”

    Wait, what? I know next to nothing about desert ecology, but I’ve hiked in enough public lands and National Parks to know that the crust is very delicate, which is why it’s bad form to leave the trail and go tramping over everything like a fool, leaving destruction in your wake.

    They tell you to STAY ON THE TRAIL for a reason – and I never for a moment questioned whether or not it was a good reason (or reasons).

  14. 14
    jaxkayaker

    Jerry Coyne has had a good response from TED by contacting them directly. I believe they’ve sequestered the Sheldrake talk.

    http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2013/03/15/tedxs-guidelines-for-science-and-pseudoscience/

  15. 15
    robro

    Swamps? Drain ‘em. They’re full of bugs and disease.

    You forgot the snakes and alligators (in the South). Beside the space makes great habitat for track housing.

    Old growth forests full of leaf litter and eerie silences?

    Plus all that leaf litter, etc makes the forests a fire hazard for the bazillions of “country homes” being built in the forests. Forestry services are trained to fight forest fires, not structure fires, so the houses just go up in smoke. Solution: Bulldoze the forest back 100 feet from every house. Now, where did we put those forests?

    And you forgot one: Hills in San Francisco? It’s just dirt and rocks, and they make the roads harder to maintain. Solution: Dig’em up and dump’em in the Bay. We need the space for airports, roads, and track housing.

  16. 16
    bryanfeir

    One thing I wondered about while watching, though, was earthworms.

    Which just reminded me of something…

    How many people here have read Gary Larson’s “There’s a Hair in my Dirt!”? The creator of The Far Side plays off the (rather significant) differences between a naïve view of nature and what’s actually going on… which, admittedly, was an occasional theme of The Far Side as well. (Larson, having spent some time working with the Humane Society, has understandably a rather dim view of how little most people actually understand about animals and nature.)

  17. 17
    Lynna, OM

    I’ve done a lot of hiking in the “Wild West” of the United States. I authored several adventure travel books that required me to explore a lot of varied terrain. I have yet to see an environment improved by cattle grazing.

    One of my brothers was required by the Forest Service to fence off a small mining claim on which he had dug a trench. That area has now been cattle-free for several years. It looks great inside the fence. Outside the fence, the surrounding hills are terraced with thousands of cattle trails and the decor is pretty much early-apocalypse.

    I’ve heard the “fertilizer” argument for grazing before … but I’ve never seen it work on public land. Yes, there are cow pies scattered everywhere as far as the eye can see, but the cow shit is accompanied by a striking lack of vegetation. The only thing that does seem to make a real difference is the enforcement of “rest” years. Letting the grazing allotment “rest” free of cattle for a year or more helps to mitigate the damage.

    I have seen improvement in land management practices over the past decade, and it really upsets me to see Allan Savory possibly setting those efforts back by promulgating ignorance. Who the heck is paying that guy anyway? Follow the money.

  18. 18
    cyberCMDR

    Savory bullshit, huh? I’ll pass.

  19. 19
    Angela Freeman

    This reminds me very much about the ‘plant a tree’ phenomenon.

    In areas where the original habitat was always meadows and grasslands, people want to see forests, becuase of the inherent biomass in trees, and also the ‘plant a tree, save the earth’ philosophy.
    Any restoration ecologist that’s worth their weight would tell you that you have to consider what you are restoring it to – and also climate.
    There’s not a lot of rain in the desert, and it’s no one’s fault, and trying to trample it down with cattle is just silly. Let the deserts be deserts, the forests be forests, and the meadows be meadows.

    Sigh.

  20. 20
    Paulino

    Thank you for this Chris. Sadly I was one who fell for it, but I kept looking for some criticism. But here’s my question, has this kind of management shown any improvement in the production of degraded pastures? or productive ones?

  21. 21
    vaiyt

    I’d like to see him try to graze the Atacama into a grassland.

  22. 22
    Rey Fox

    Oh WHAT THE FUCK!?

    Who the heck is paying that guy anyway? Follow the money.

    Good idea.

  23. 23
    Rey Fox

    I wonder if cattle grazing will bring the cedars back to Lebanon.

    Jesus H. Christ.

  24. 24
    Chris Clarke

    Paulino, my sense is that the majority of grazing experts think you can limit damage through rotational grazing, but never repair it.

    But there are a lot of variables: humidity, soil types, rainfall, monitoring, fencing, stocking levels, rotation periodicity, and local grass species to name a few.

  25. 25
    aspidoscelis

    I think this guy is making the famous mistake of extrapolating from one place he knows to a lot of places he doesn’t.

    There are grasslands where what he’s saying is perhaps not as well-supported and unquestionably true as he thinks it is… but it’s at least plausible and basically a reasonable view of the situation. And there are lots of places where this just isn’t the case at all. From what I can tell, he’s done his research in the former kind of landscape, and simply assumes it’s universally applicable.

    At one point he makes the mistake of mentioning a place that I am familiar with–the Jornada Experimental Range in southern New Mexico (not “Jornada Research Station”, FWIW–there is no entity by that name). There is no evidence of huge herds of grazers wandering through this area at any point in the recent past (maybe this was the case during the last glacial maximum). This is not bison country; probably a few wandered through from time to time, but we’re not talking about an area where vast herds roamed the landscape. The historically dominant grasses in this area (notably black grama, Bouteloua eriopoda), further, are very poorly adapted for grazing. Although there are grazing-adapted, and probably even grazing-dependent, grasslands in the world, there is absolutely no reason to think that anything at the Jornada is remotely in that category.

    Furthermore, his lead-in to that pair of photos is that he was looking at research stations where livestock have been excluded. For most of the Jornada Experimental Range, livestock haven’t exactly been excluded–they are kept at fairly low numbers, though. So there’s that. Worse, that pair of photos is not on the Jornada Experimental Range. It may be part of their research, but those pictures were not taken on the JER, rather they were taken on the other side of the Rio Grande near the Sleeping Lady Hills, in an area where stocking rates are pretty high (much of that allotment was pretty well cattle-nuked as of 2004, when I first visited, although since then they seem to have dropped stocking rates to something that is at least not egregiously inappropriate). At most, what we’re looking at is a very small cattle exclosure in a sea of heavily-grazed land… maybe not even that. Without knowing the exact source of the images (which he unhelpfully does not mention in any way that would let viewers check for themselves), it’s hard to say. It could just be a monitoring plot out in the “100% use” permitted BLM land, who knows? There are a couple of things you can say just from the images, though. The shrubs are honey mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa), and are cattle-dispersed. The grass is tobosa (Pleuraphis mutica), which suggests we’re looking at an area that gets run-on water and is generally wetter than the surrounding landscape; this is also one of the grasses that has survived grazing pressure fairly well compared to others in the area, in part because cattle don’t much like to eat it (patches that look like his 1961 picture are still around and pretty easy to find, though not representative of the general landscape either now or back in 1961).

    So the gist is… his setup for that pair of images is misleading (we are not looking at a cattle-free landscape) and his explanation for the change is based on ignorance (there is no evidence that this is a landscape that has experienced large roaming herds of wild ungulates in at least the last few hundred years; this is not the Serengeti).

  26. 26
    Paulino

    Oh well, there goes my hopes of a solutions for deforestation in Brazil, that is in great part due to cattle farmers expanding pastures. In Amazonia and other parts of Brazil, there is a serious problem of pasture degradation, if these problems could be mitigated with this sort of intensive management, especially if it meant more cattle, there might be some hope of slowing deforestation. I guess there’s no such a thing as a green burger…

  27. 27
    aspidoscelis

    I did eventually figure out the probable source for those images:

    http://www.rangelands.org/pdf/Global_Issue_Paper.pdf

    I also note that Savory has repeatedly brought these images & this publication up in various online fora, blogs, and so forth. He uniformly cites it as:

    Brown et al., Position Paper on Climate Change. International Society for Range Management –2009

    Title of the paper is wrong, title of the organization is wrong, the document itself is undated. Apparently the only thing Savory got right was the first author’s last name. This does not speak highly of Savory’s scholarship. In any case, this is basically a fluff piece on climate change and does not provide any further information about where exactly these images were taken or what kind of grazing exclusion we’re talking about. It is not and is not intended to be a technical article on grass/shrub dynamics in the area. The discussion of grazing and shrub/grass dynamics is limited to a couple of citation-free paragraphs in the sidebar. But apparently Savory sees one pair of before/after pictures with no supporting information… and that’s enough for him.

  28. 28
    nooneinparticular

    Chris

    An observation (or two) and a question. I watched Dr. Savory’s talk and read your column. You are correct that people watching his talk could easily conflate the term “desertification” with mature desert ecosystems like the ones you describe in your column. It is not clear to me that Dr. Savory is doing this to deceive people and I am sure he understands that (for example) the Sonoran deserts of South West America are not equivalent to grasslands that have been degraded. But the term “desertification” IS an apt description of that degradation and it is a term used by professionals. I can see why his use of the word bothers you; in the minds of people unfamiliar with the term it suggests that the vibrant, diverse and mature deserts of the world are as barren and lifeless as the destroyed lands ‘desertification” is meant to describe. In some ways it’s similar to “theory”; evolutionists use it before both professional and lay audiences despite the fact that some in the latter will confuse the term. So until the professionals come up with a better term, what would you prefer Dr. Savory uses to describe lands that were once grasslands but are becoming (or have become) severely degraded?

    Another question. Irrespective of Dr Savory’s claims, in your article you did a good job of defending the idea that the “true deserts” (if I may use the term) of the world don’t need to be greened and I think you are correct that Dr. Savory does not adequately distinguish them. But you did not address Dr. Savory’s main claim; that returning grazing animals to degraded grasslands can help restore them (in some fashion – his talk was very frustrating in that he did not discuss in any detail how this is done in practice, what its limits are, where it can work and more importantly where it won’t, etc). Will you do a follow up article to discuss this?

  29. 29
    Chris Clarke

    Will you do a follow up article to discuss this?

    Probably. As I’ll be out of my direct area of expertise, though, it’ll require some additional research. Which I’ve already begun.

    One commenter on my Facebook page said today “As one South African scientist pointed out, when in Africa, Savory talks about how well it works in America, and in the U.S. he talks about how well it works in Africa.” I suspect there’s as much showman as scientist in the man.

  30. 30
    dionigi

    I live in a desert environment where the oilfields are fenced in. when it rains the oilfields where there are no grazing animals except wild ones are lush and green with flowers carpeting the sand. directly on the side of the fence where there are sheep and goats the area is barren as they keep it cropped to the sand level. This is with a small number of animals, sheep and goats cut the vegetation down to soil height and allow the topsoil to blow away and very few of these animals are enough to destroy a fragile economy such as a desert.

  31. 31
    Eva Sabbert

    I just made the same point over here:
    http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2013/03/15/the-genetic-code-is-not-a-synonym-for-the-bible-code/

    However, I was pointed to this thread, in terms less nice than I’m used to from the webs, but what the hell…it’s not like this place claims to be the internet’s most civilized corner, does it. Anyway…someone on the thread following TED’s announcement of taking down Sheldrake’s and Hancock’s talks made the very astute point of pointing out TED shouldn’t profit from talks they ultimately take down and don’t endorse – though the poster might have had different aims in mind than me. I agree to the extent they shouldn’t be able to take money from anything they’re not willing to back 100%, and I want to call out anybody here, since this blog has been instrumental in getting thew debate started, to help take the talks down, or prevent TED making money from them.

    Pharyngula police, I hope this time I posted in a thread to your liking, awaiting your comments.

  32. 32
    Rev. BigDumbChimp

    Just trying to help.

  33. 33
    chigau (違う)

    Chris
    Be prepared.
    Read Eva Sabbert in the genetic code thread.

  34. 34
    Eva Sabbert

    @Rev. BigDumbChimp

    Very much grateful, Officer. Any further opinions ?

  35. 35
    Eva Sabbert

    @chigau

    Wow. You know, I honestly thought I’d find some people to talk to here, to the point where I humbly changed threads…but you have to go and be an asshole. But really, what’s your opinion on the matter ? Profit from woo ?

  36. 36
    Rev. BigDumbChimp

    It wasn’t an opinion just a suggestion. Glad you found the thread that might give a better voice to your valid concerns.

  37. 37
    erikthebassist

    Well now that you’re in the right place Eva, could you answer two questions?

    1. Why do you think this blog has any responsibility in regard to TED and what they do or do not profit from or obligation to hold them accountable for such?

    2. How exactly is TED continuing to profit from talks they have removed from their website?

    For the record, I have sneaking suspicion you are a Sheldrake acolyte who’s upset that the talks were taken down to begin with, so if that’s the case, just come out with it already.

  38. 38
    Eva Sabbert

    So, Rev., what do you think about the whole thing ? Is keeping money made by woo talks justified by funding further maybe scientifically approproate talks or not – simple question, simple answer. No on my side. Rev and anybody who unnecessarily gave me a hard time one here ?

  39. 39
    Rev. BigDumbChimp

    No I do not think so. Promoting woo to profit from it for legitimate reasons is wrong.

    If you think that was giving you a hard time then maybe the internet isn’t for you.

  40. 40
    chigau (違う)

    Eva Sabbert
    [hush]

  41. 41
    Eva Sabbert

    @erikthebassist

    1) This blog/PZ Myers were so,e of the first pointing attention to the pseudoscience of talks in question. If they have the right/obligation to do that, they have they right/obligation to point out any profits made from pseudoscience. If they choose not to, that’s well within their rights as well, but we migh justifiably question them as to why.

    2) Point out where I ever said they were “continuing” to profit from the talks…thought so.

    “For the record, I have sneaking suspicion you are a Sheldrake acolyte who’s upset that the talks were taken down to begin with, so if that’s the case, just come out with it already.”

    Save the conspiracy for the appropriate forums purporting such. I am who I am, I ask simple questions, make simple statements, if there’s a prblem, just point it out. No need to go down the rabbit hole.

  42. 42
    Inaji

    Eva Sabbert:

    Rev and anybody who unnecessarily gave me a hard time one here?

    No one gave you a hard time. Do you usually crash a social gathering where you don’t know anyone and start insisting that everyone talk about what you wish to discuss? No? Then why do it here?

    On TED talks: I don’t like the idea of them allowing talks which are bad and cause active harm, such as the specific one discussed in this thread. As for profit, I don’t know enough about the financial side of it to make that call. And no, I don’t like the idea of money being made out of disseminating bad ideas.

  43. 43
    Eva Sabbert

    Still amazed at how hard it is to get an answer here – TED has permitted wooey talks, they have profitted from them, so far keeping the profit, period. Am I the only one appalled by that ? If it’s wrong, call it, if it isn’t call it. Seriously, look at when I started this “debate” in another thread, came here and still try to JUST GET A DECENT DEBATE STARTED. Seriously guys, what’s so hard ?

  44. 44
    Rev. BigDumbChimp

    Still amazed at how hard it is to get an answer here – TED has permitted wooey talks, they have profitted from them, so far keeping the profit, period. Am I the only one appalled by that ?

    Except for here

  45. 45
    erikthebassist

    People profit from woo every second of every day Eva, if we all got as bent it of shape over it every time it happened, we wouldn’t be able to go a minute without losing our marbles. Why are you so upset about this one instance of profit from woo?

  46. 46
    Rev. BigDumbChimp

    and here

  47. 47
    Eva Sabbert

    @Caine, Fleur du mal:

    Dude, you do have a life beyond the internet, right, hopefully ? Because otherwise I feel like I have to explain to you the difference between making some points in an internet comment thread and crashing a social gathering. You ever been to a social gathering that’s been crashed ? Oh, BTW, point out where I insisted EVERYONE start talking about what I wanna talk about. Mild suggestion…wait for spring, get out, say “hi” or “what’s up” to one of those suspicious meat-bots in your vicinity. You might be surpirsed. Or scared.

  48. 48
    erikthebassist

    ftr, not many here are going to condone any single instance of profit from woo, we would all agree with you in principle, just not in degree. You’re making a mountain out of a mole hill here.

  49. 49
    Eva Sabbert

    @erikthebassist

    “Why are you so upset about this one instance of profit from woo?”

    Cause you pointed it out, and mid-way you’re just quitting ? Look at the comment-thread for the announcement that the talks are taken down – barely anybody calling them out on keeping the change whatever stance they might be purporting.

  50. 50
    Inaji

    Erik:

    People profit from woo every second of every day Eva

    Oh yes, and often with evil intent and causing massive harm. Matthias Rath is a prime example. He has much death and suffering on his hands.
    /derail

  51. 51
    erikthebassist

    Eva, Caine is not a dude.

  52. 52
    michaelbusch

    @Eva Sabbert:

    TED has promoted pseudoscience. They have made revenue from those talks. But no individual has profited monetarily from doing so – TED is a non-profit organization and, particularly for TEDx, fees are charged to cover operating costs.

    And strange as it may seem, there is no law against people giving money to people who promote pseudoscience.

    What we can do is call out pseudoscience where it appears and encourage people to not give money to people who promote pseudoscience. And that is what Chris and PZ have been doing.

  53. 53
    Eva Sabbert

    @erikthebassist

    “You’re making a mountain out of a mole hill here.”

    WOW. So TED seemed important enough for PZ and all of you (including me, not to loose sight of shit here) to become upset when they promoted woo – but the fucked up ideological issue of them almost BANNING woo, yet financially supporting themselves from it doesn’t upset anybody ? It rather make people on her question my integrity, motives and shit…but everybody is chill about TED actually not just having generated income from woo, but banning the woo, calling the woo woo, and keeping the cash ? Fucking disappointing guys. Shame the fuck on you. In the future, either shut up on issues like this or follow through till then end.

  54. 54
    Eva Sabbert

    @erikthebassist

    “Eva, Caine is not a dude.”

    At last, an intelligent contirbution. You do have some grey cells, huh Erik ?

    @michaelbusch

    “But no individual has profited monetarily from doing so”

    Please back that up right away.

    “And strange as it may seem, there is no law against people giving money to people who promote pseudoscience.”

    There is no law against people promoting pseudoscience either.

    “What we can do is call out pseudoscience where it appears and encourage people to not give money to people who promote pseudoscience. ”

    And you could simply call out pseudoscience that generated income (which it undisputedly did) and call for that income to go into promoting actual science. Why the fuck are people even fighting me on that ???

  55. 55
    Chris Clarke

    Eva, I’ve been an environmental activist for a very long time.

    And something I’ve noticed over that very long time is that there’s never a lack of people who are eager to assign work to others. Usually for very good reasons having to do with their own convictions

    You seem eager to tell both PZ and myself that we have an obligation to do work to suit your goals.

    Explain this to me: Why the everloving fuck have you not done yourself what you’re stamping your hoof and demanding the PZ and I do for you?

  56. 56
    erikthebassist

    Eva,

    We have a thing here about making ableist slurs, so I’m going to refrain from making any comments about your mental well being and bow out. Have a nice weekend.

  57. 57
    michaelbusch

    me: “But no individual has profited monetarily from [TED talks]”

    Eva: “Please back that up right away.”

    You may consult TED’s website, the relevant Wikipedia articles, and Wikipedia’s sources.

    TED is a non-profit organization. They do not take corporate or individual sponsorship for talks, they do not give speakers honorariums (although they do cover direct travel costs). Attendance fees are set to cover expenses. They are high because a relatively small audience in a venue plus a lot of speakers traveling a long way plus high-quality recording equals high cost per audience member.

    The problem with TED giving a forum to pseudoscience is that it gives that pseudoscience a thin veneer of apparent legitimacy, which gets used to promote the pseudoscience in the broader public arena. Hence everyone’s objections to TED and the various TEDx licenses not vetting their speakers adequately.

    Re. the idea of redirecting income:
    That might be a plausible idea, but how do you tell how much of TED’s revenue was from the offending talks? Also, most of your language here has been in terms of profit, not revenue. And since TED is a non-profit, that doesn’t make sense.

    Re. people disagreeing with you:
    That is in part a question of priorities. It is important to make sure TED doesn’t promote woo in the future.
    It is in other part because you started here by going into another thread and repeatedly posting stuff that should have been here instead. That’s roughly like going into a room where two groups of people are talking, one group about politics and one about baseball, and start loudly talking over everyone in the baseball group about how something is a serious political issue. Such blatant derailing is not well-received.

  58. 58
    Inaji

    Eva:

    At last, an intelligent contirbution. You do have some grey cells, huh Erik ?

    For someone who was moaning about being given a hard time, you’re quite the poison pill, Eva.

    Why the fuck are people even fighting me on that ???

    One question mark is sufficient. For someone posting every 5 seconds, you’ve done a very bad job of arguing your case, whatever that might actually be. People have, and do, call out pseudoscience, in its myriad forms, including TED talks. That would be why Chris wrote this post in the first place. No one has claimed that calling out pseudoscience is problematic and no one is happy with the idea of anyone promoting pseudoscience profiting from it. There’s no fight – why are so insistent on creating one?

    If you truly find TED talks to be the bane of science and rational thought, out of all the pseudoscience out there in the world causing active harm, then do something about it. Stop attempting to castigate everyone here – we aren’t involved in TED talks and have no power to make them do anything. Go and start a petition or start a blog, whatever it is that you seem to think is necessary. You’re responsible for your own activism.

    Chris has already done something – he wrote this post, correcting misinformation, he did a spot on KCET and so forth. You have absolutely no business having a tantrum over what other people are doing on that score.

  59. 59
    Eva Sabbert

  60. 60
    michaelbusch

    @Eva Sabbert:

    Sexist and ableist slurs are both unacceptable. Goodbye.

  61. 61
    chigau (違う)

    I sense a bunny…

  62. 62
    rorschach

    Eva,

    please take a breather. Get off the net and go for a walk or something. Or I think you may have a banhammer coming your way.

    Ableist

  63. 63
    Inaji

    Eva:

    So either you cunts stop bitching and interact with me based on what I say, or you piss away any possible future contributor to your cause on here with your pathological distrust.

    We do not condone or use sexist slurs here, and yes, we know all about how “cunt” is an okey dokey word in the UK and Oz according to some people and all that. It doesn’t fly here. You also don’t get to demand that people interact with you in the precise manner you wish. People have been interacting with you, based on what you write. Given that you’re getting similar responses should cause you to be quiet a moment and reflect on what you’re writing and how you’re coming across.

    We also don’t condone or use ableist slurs here. As you don’t seem to know what ableism is, you can find out here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ableism – your use of ‘pathological distrust’ is implying a mental problem on the part of people taking the time to reply to you.

    There’s no distrust, people are taking you at your word, literally. If you don’t care for the responses, you need to look to yourself. Calling us all pathological and cunts doesn’t help in any way. It’s most likely going to result in you being written off my most of the commentariat. You will also most likely be bunnified.

  64. 64
    Eva Sabbert

  65. 65
    chigau (違う)

    That was pitiful.
    .01 of a Starfart.

  66. 66
    rorschach

    Oh well, now you seemingly incestous fucks can go on wanking each other on here in oblivious trust, I’m not gonna disturb.

    Is the ‘pit doing initiation rites now, like Creationists? Almost looks that way with this particular specimen. Comes in, demands immediate and absolute attention in 5 threads at once, throws some insults around when not paid proper reverence, and then starfarts out of here in a puff of righteous indignation. Pitiful indeed.

  67. 67
    Inaji

    Oh well, now you seemingly incestous fucks can go on wanking each other on here in oblivious trust, I’m not gonna disturb.

    Goodness, what sound and fury. Well, you managed to prove you’re all noise, no signal.

    Don’t bother replying if your intention is me reading it.

    :laughs: I sense control issues. Whatever floats your boat, Cupcake.

    Chigau:

    That was pitiful.
    .01 of a Starfart.

    It was indeed pitiful. Ah well, I’m sure there’s an audience for Eva out there somewhere.

  68. 68
    theophontes (恶六六六缓步动物)

    ‘pitiful

    Dang. Likely flounce. I was hoping to at least get a bunny rabbit out of all this old hat.

  69. 69
    Inaji

    Theophontes:

    I was hoping to at least get a bunny rabbit out of all this old hat.

    Perhaps Chris will be sweet to us and tack a bunny rabbit onto that terrible excuse for a starfart.

  70. 70
    chigau (違う)

    Yeah.
    We could all use a little bunny action.

  71. 71
    glodson

    . To anybody with a slightly open mind, go back to my initial posts.

    Which were just as pointless as this entire fucking thing. Leaving aside the sexist slurs and ableist slurs, and your subsequent dismissal of those objections as merely trivial, your initial posts… in short, were terrible.

    People pointed out that they were concerned with the very fucking things you claimed to be concerned about. Fuck, I’m concerned about police brutality, and the death penalty. And I address them where I can, but I can’t kick down the fucking door to the police station and start demanding badges, or tell judges sentencing people to death to knock that shit off.

    The same here. It isn’t like PZ and Chris can go all Boondock Saints on TED’s collective asses. They can point out the pseudoscience and make the valid objections. Which they have done.

    So… I’m failing to even see what the fuck your point was.

  72. 72
    aspidoscelis

    nooneinparticular wrote:

    You are correct that people watching his talk could easily conflate the term “desertification” with mature desert ecosystems like the ones you describe in your column. It is not clear to me that Dr. Savory is doing this to deceive people and I am sure he understands that (for example) the Sonoran deserts of South West America are not equivalent to grasslands that have been degraded.

    Watching his talk that is not at all the impression I got. Just look at his big circles on the map. Those are the places he’s talking about. Included in those big circles are most of the world’s deserts (oddly, the deserts of the west coast of South America aren’t in there, but maybe that’s just because he was going for great big circles and not squiggly long ovals, I don’t know). IIRC, he also says pretty explicitly that he considers deserts to be anthropogenic. He’s got some obnoxious line in there to the effect that deserts are our fault and the last hundred years of modern range science are just making it worse.

    Maybe he understands the difference between “desert” and “degraded former grassland” but, if so… he sure doesn’t say give any indication of it. Sure, maybe he isn’t a total kook, but any evidence for it is coming from your speculation, not from anything he said in that video.

  73. 73
    Ichthyic

    I might need some whole grain bread to whip me back up into action.

    might I suggest you appear to have an unnatural overabundance of energy already?

  74. 74
    darwinharmless

    Chris, thanks for this. I admit I was sucked in by Savory’s presentation. It was just good to hear some hopeful news. But I also wonder whether there isn’t some middle ground here. When the white man first came to the Kamloops area of B.C., the buffalo grass was shoulder high on a horse. Now the vast herds of bison are gone and land management practices have turned that whole area into a desert. It’s not the old growth desert you care so passionatgely about, and I also love and want to see preserved (I happen to own ten acres in Morongo Valley and I’m leaving it untouched). It’s degraded and destroyed grassland. I wonder if there isn’t some truth to Savory’s theories, and I wonder whether that area could be brought back by imitating the great buffalo herds we destroyed. I realize that Savory conflates that area with old growth desert, and I’m sure he’s wrong about that. But could he be right about grassland management in cases where we know the history, and we know what was there before we fucked it up?

    Now let me try a pre-emptive defense here. Every time I comment on Pharyngula, I get flamed by people who seem to have more interest in clever put downs than in actually exploring ideas. So please, folks, don’t fire up that flame thrower until the more thoughtful among you have a chance to consider my question.

  75. 75
    Ze Madmax

    glodson @ #71

    It isn’t like PZ and Chris can go all Boondock Saints on TED’s collective asses.

    I’d watch that. Does Ed Brayton get to play the part of Billy Connolly?

  76. 76
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    I get flamed by people who seem to have more interest in clever put downs than in actually exploring ideas.

    Why do you think every idea needs to be explored? You just like stirring the pot? Some ideas just don’t make sense.

  77. 77
    slowdjinn

    darwinharmless

    I realize that Savory conflates that area with old growth desert, and I’m sure he’s wrong about that. But could he be right about grassland management in cases where we know the history, and we know what was there before we fucked it up?

    That’s answered by Chris Clarke (in the OP)

    Savory’s approach can work in theory, on marginal grassland with very close monitoring and if your management goals do not include protecting species that are intolerant of cattle. Can work. Doesn’t necessarily.

    dh:

    Now let me try a pre-emptive defense here. Every time I comment on Pharyngula, I get flamed by people who seem to have more interest in clever put downs than in actually exploring ideas.

    Word to the wise – you might get a better reception if you didn’t insult the commenters before they have a chance to answer.

  78. 78
    marilove

    I grew up in Parker, AZ which is about 45 miles south of Lake Havasu City. I was born in Havasu in August (average high over 110 degrees.) I KNOW the desert. I love it still, even tho I have lived almost in downtown Phoenix for the last 12 years.

    The desert is beautiful and full of life.

  79. 79
    marilove

    Lots of memories of running from wild donkeys. No lie. Yee-haww

  80. 80
    Rey Fox

    OOOHHH I HATE TED TALKS WITH WOO! THEY SHOULDN’T PROFIT FROM THEM! RAAAAAGE!

    Is that what Eva wanted? I do aim to please, you know.

  81. 81
    chigau (違う)

    yeah for bunnies!

  82. 82
    pakicetus

    So far, the only lectures I’ve seen at TED, were *actual* lectures.

  83. 83
    Ichthyic

    Is that what Eva wanted? I do aim to please, you know.

    not good enough Rey.

    you’d have to repeat that at least 4 or 5 times, in multiple different threads, and then tell us we aren’t listening to you at least 4 or 5 times as well.

    …and it still wouldn’t be good enough.

  84. 84
    Rey Fox

    Oh, right. And also attack anyone who suggests that I mind my manners a bit.

    Y’ever notice how it’s always the biggest flaming assholes that insist that the rest of us in Blogland are the ones that lack social skills?

  85. 85
    Ichthyic

    Y’ever notice how it’s always the biggest flaming assholes that insist that the rest of us in Blogland are the ones that lack social skills?

    it does seem to be a theme.

  86. 86
    charlessoto

    Everyone knows it is the Little Makers. And further down the Golden Path, all we will have is our precious Sareer.

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