|Style over substance|
Rupert Sheldrake, is an English former scientist who, since the 1980s, has preferred to spend much of his time promoting his own bizarre pet pseudoscientific theory of everything called "morphic resonance". Sheldrake believes that "memory is inherent in nature" and that "natural systems, such as termite colonies, or pigeons, or orchid plants, or insulin molecules, inherit a collective memory from all previous things of their kind." He thinks that "morphic resonance" is also responsible for "telepathy-type interconnections between organisms". He believes this is responsible for phenomena both real - such as animal and plant development and behaviour - and imagined - in particular parapsychological claims involving memory, telepathy, perception and cognition.
Unsurprisingly, nobody in science takes Sheldrake seriously. However, he has written several books targeted at the general public.
His latest book, "The Science Delusion" is an anti-scientific rant.
Background and credentials
Sheldrake's early career had some promise; a grammar school boy, he went to Cambridge University to study biology. A degree was followed by a PhD, and then some post-doc work. He took some time out to travel to India, spent some time in a monastery, and then wound up doing crop physiology research for an institute in India. Then, with some scientific credit in the bank, he discovered that writing books about woo was much more profitable than doing actual science.
Sheldrake, and his supporters like to appeal to authority based on his credentials, often describing him as a "Cambridge University biologist". He proudly described himself as a "Research Fellow of the Royal Society". To someone without an understanding of how science works (for example those without a background education in science), this may seem impressive. Closer inspection indicate however that he had a very short scientific career, and has not published any scientific papers since the mid-1980s. The Royal Society's Research Fellowship - essentially a grant for postdoc research - might easily be confused with the highly prestigious election to the Fellowship of the Royal Society. In particular, if we look at his prominent critics, including Susan Blackmore, Jerry Coyne, Sir John Maddox, PZ Myers, Steven Rose, Lewis Wolpert, etc, all have had more illustrious careers than a post-doc drop-out.
A New Science of Life
Sheldrake's first book was published in 1981. Sir John Maddox reviewed it for Nature, writing:  Sheldrake's book is a splendid illustration of the widespread public misconception of what science is about. In reality, Sheldrake's argument is in no sense a scientific argument but an exercise in pseudo-science.
However, what was picked up on by many was the title of the review - "A book for burning?", which played into the public's natural revulsion against book burning. Maddox concluded that the book "should not be banned but put firmly in its place among the literature of intellectual aberrations", although he did earlier suggest that it was "the best candidate for burning there has been for many years". This small part of the review provoked some controversy and this publicity opportunity has ever since been exploited by Sheldrake and his publishers. In fact, the review seemed to propel Sheldrake from being a nobody who had written a nonsensical book that most scientists would ignore to a nobody who could sell many copies of books to the general public, while infuriating anyone concerned about the public understanding of science. For any prospective future editors of prestigious journals, it was exactly how NOT to write a hatchet job review.
Sheldrake has devoted much thought and speculation on trying to find reasons for some of life's more peculiar and spooky occurrences; such as how dogs seem to know their owners are coming home, how separated siblings sometimes seem to experience symptoms of the other's illness despite living in a different continent, and how it takes bloody ages to try and get a protein to crystallise, but once one lab manages it, lots of others seem to be able to with ease. You know - basically things which make you go "hmmmmmm..."
Science generally has no explanation for observations of such happenings, and indeed scientific wisdom would suggest there can be no causal reason for them and they are simply flukes and/or people seeing patterns which are not there. Sheldrake, however, has developed the concept of the "morphic field" in an attempt to "explain" them.
According to his 1981 book A New Science of Life, such a field would make it so that once a species has evolved, the next species to evolve would look something like it, apparently due to the universe having a memory as it is alive. Or something.
None of Sheldrake's ideas are his own. In his book A New Science of Life (1981) the reader can get a good understanding of where he has pulled his paranormal ideas from. He was influenced by the "organismic" philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead (p. 17), the vitalism of the biologist Hans Driesch who proposed the existence of a life-force in organisms called "entelechy" (pp. 48-50) and the Lamarckism of the psychologist William McDougall (pp. 188-194).
In 1960, Ninian Marshall published a paper titled ESP and Memory: A Physical Theory. In the paper he proposed a hypothesis of "resonance" which basically said there is some kind of mysterious energy in nature that can explain biological mysteries and telepathic experiences. It's clear that Sheldrake's "morphic resonance" was influenced by this paper. In his book Sheldrake mentions the Marshall paper only in a footnote (p. 210) but admits his own idea is similar to it in "several important" ways.
In January 2013, Sheldrake and the pseudohistorian Graham Hancock gave lectures at the TEDxWhitechapel in East London. In his lecture Sheldrake attacked modern science which he claimed is based on ten materialistic "dogmas" that are assumptions without evidence. He also supported a conspiracy theory that the scientific community have ignored and suppressed evidence for psychic phenomena and other woo topics because they are materialists. A video of the Sheldrake lecture was published on the TEDx YouTube channel which later received criticism from various scientists for promoting pseudoscience. In response the TED staff issued an official statement claiming that TED's scientific advisers have questioned whether Sheldrake's list "is a fair description of scientific assumptions" and "there is little evidence for some of Sheldrake’s more radical claims, such as his theory of morphic resonance". The advisors recommended that the talk "should not be distributed without being framed with caution".
The video of the talk was moved from the TEDx YouTube channel to the TED blog accompanied by framing language and a cautionary introduction. This led woo-meisters such as Craig Weiler to accuse TED of "censorship" and invoke conspiracy theories that the scientific community are suppressing Sheldrake's ideas. Weiler has been a major troll involved in stirring up the TED controversy all over the internet on various blogs and forums. In his blog post on March, 2013 "The Psi Wars Come To TED" he accused the TED staff of being atheists and deliberately censoring Sheldrake. In reality TED never censored the Sheldrake video and never planned to, it was never deleted. The TED staff responded to the false allegations of censorship "The reason people are upset is because they think there has been censorship. But it’s simply not true. Both talks are up on our website."
On his blog in March, 2013 the spiritualist crank Robert McLuhan complained that Wikipedia has been hijacked by a group of skeptical editors who have criticized parapsychology on Wikipedia articles. McLuhan did not bother to familiarize himself with Wikipedia policies.
In October 2013 a self proclaimed "psychic healer" Craig Weiler published a blog post titled "The Wikipedia Battle for Rupert Sheldrake’s Biography" in an attempt to stir up a controversy over Rupert Sheldrake's Wikipedia article. In the post he demonstrated a decided lack of comprehension with regard to basic Wikipedia policies, which do not allow the promotion of pseudoscience on Wikipedia. He also drew upon several conspiracy theories about how Sheldrake is supposedly being oppressed by a group of skeptics. Similar to McLuhan, Weiler believes all kinds of woo should be included on Wikipedia without critical or skeptical coverage.
Due to the blog posts of McLuhan and Weiler, Sheldrake himself promoted the conspiracy theory that skeptics have high jacked his Wikipedia article by publishing a wacky rant on the subject titled "Wikipedia Under Threat". The conspiracy has no basis in fact as no skeptical group had been editing Sheldrake's Wikipedia article (this is explained here).
Weiler continued to promote the conspiracy theory on his blog that atheists and materialists have taken over Sheldrake's Wikipedia article and are attacking and censoring his ideas   and even joined Wikipedia himself to troll. Weiler invited psychics and woo-believers from the Mind-Energy forum and other new age websites to join Wikipedia and edit the Sheldrake article. This is in violation of the Wikipedia policy regarding Meat puppetry .
Various woo-meisters joined Wikipedia but were soon banned for trolling the Sheldrake article. One of these banned users was the notorious troll Rome Viharo posting under the username Tumbleman. He was banned for sock puppetry, trolling and deleting people's comments on his IP address . Viharo had repeatedly claimed that he was a "neutral" editor and not associated with Sheldrake, however posts on the TED website in March, 2013 reveal him to supporting the pseudoscience of Sheldrake  and he was involved in a woo lecture himself about "Google consciousness" at a TED conference .
Viharo has a long history of being banned from internet forums for sock puppetry and trolling. In 2011, he admitted on a forum to creating a sock puppet account and playing tricks on people. . He has used the sockpuppet names Bubblefish and Gnu Ordure to promote his pseudoscience.
In October 2013, Craig Weiler defended Viharo on his blog and promoted a conspiracy theory by claiming the sockpuppetry was set up by skeptics to remove Viharo from editing the Sheldrake Wikipedia article.
- Gerhard D. Wassermann (a parapsychologist who proposed a similar idea to Sheldrake in 1956)
- ↑ Maddox on Sheldrake, 1981: http://www.project-reason.org/images/uploads/contest/Maddox1981.pdf
- ↑ Adam Rutherford on Sheldrake A book for ignoring Sheldrake persists in his claims, despite the fact that there's no evidence for them. This is bad science
- ↑ Read for yourself
- ↑ Ninian Marshall. (1960). ESP and Memory: A Physical Theory. The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science. Vol. 10, No. 40. pp. 265-286.
- ↑ The debate about Rupert Sheldrake’s talk
- ↑ TED conference censorship row
- ↑ Guerrilla Skeptics by Robert McLuhan
- ↑ [Google Consciousness WTF?? is this real?
- ↑ The Trial of Tumbleman
- ↑ Links to References on Skeptics (yes, that's the original page name)
- ↑ The Science Delusion by Rupert Sheldrake also see Rupert Sheldrake’s Alternative Science