Better late than never, I guess.
In 2015, I published an article called “A Truly Biased TED Talk: The Bad Debunking of 10 Alleged Myths about Psychology”.
It was a critical analysis of a very popular TEDx Talk, “10 Myths about Psychology, Debunked”, by Ben Ambridge, where the psychologist — you guessed it — presented a listicle that included ten bits of information from the realm of psychology that he claimed were false or myths of the field.
Although it had a catchy title and an appealing theme, Ambridge’s own talk was not entirely valid from a scientific perspective.
Since I am professionally trained to administer the Rorschach Inkblot test, it was easy for me to spot the complete bogus claims he made about this projective method of psychological testing.
In short, I identified 11 mistakes that were uttered in less than 90 seconds by the speaker.
You can read all about it in the article linked at the beginning of this post.
Now, since the publication of my post, many people — psychologists or not — discovered this TEDx Talk and had similar suspicions as mine, that Ambridge had no idea what he was talking about, at least in one portion of his presentation.
Some landed on my website while searching for confirmation and a few even confronted Ambridge on social media by sending him a link to the post.
Many voiced their opinions directly on the webpages where the talk was hosted — TED, or YouTube.
Long story short, it was a very popular talk, delivered in an engaging manner, with less-than-scientific content.
The myth debunker was creating myths of his own and people bought them.
That was the most annoying part for me. I don’t have anything personally against Ambridge — I knew nothing about him until I saw the TEDx Talk recommended on my YouTube timeline — but I strongly dislike and disapprove of a certain type of sensationalism and superficiality in our own field, i.e. psychology.
It was not about a mistake — we all make plenty of them.
It wasn’t the controversial topic — the Rorschach test and its projective similars have been the subject of debate for decades.
It was the “I won’t even bother with the facts” and “who’s gonna know?”/ “who’s gonna bother looking further” attitude that, in my view, permeated the entire context of this particular talk.
To quickly exemplify what I mean by that: The speaker was putting forward arguments and claims that even went against the information included in the sources he himself listed for the talk.
The data was right there, in front of him. He just didn’t seem to bother to give it any importance. It was my impression that he had a personal opinion about various topics in psychology — the Rorschach test being one of them — and then just conveyed his opinion as fact in the presentation, convinced that any source on the subject would support his view. So he just slapped some well-known books on Rorschach as his “sources”.
I find it disrespectful toward the audience.
Anyway, FFWD to today. As I was browsing my website’s content for maintenance reasons, I discovered that TED made Ben Ambridge’s talk private on YouTube.
Click, click. Nothing on YouTube.
Click, click on TED. Bingo! The talk was there, on the official website… with a major difference: They’ve edited out the segment about Rorshach from Ambridge’s talk.
They also changed the title from “10 Myths about Psychology, Debunked“ to “9 Myths about Psychology, Debunked“.
This is a great win for critical thinking and professional ethics.
The fact that the justified criticism from those who caught the flaws in the otherwise interesting presentation — I am still to verify the other claims, I only focused on the Rorschach bit, to be honest — was answered, is the truly significant part of my story.
I want to make it clear that I have nothing personal against Ambridge. Although I am sure the talk modification wasn’t pleasant for him either, this is not about him.
Science is a dynamic field, things change all the time, and none of us will manage to “know everything”. Sure, he could’ve been more conscientious about his script, but we can all find ourselves simultaneously dead sure about something and dead wrong about that same thing.
The interesting part is how we handle the moment. Do we take responsibility for it? Do we attempt to make things right? Or do we bury our head in the sand, hoping that the problem will go away? Or, even worse, do we continue walking around with our head up high, not listening to any of the criticism, simply dismissing it as “hate” and “barks from lesser people”?
I have no idea when TED made the modification to the talk. I have no idea what caused it directly. No idea if Ambridge had anything to do with the change.
But the end result is what matters to me: it got fixed.
People can now watch this talk and hopefully, be presented with valid data about the other nine myths of psychology. — Geez, I really hope the rest of it is valid because, as I said before, I am yet to check the other claims.
Main takeaway: Some TED talks definitely include ideas not worth spreading.
P.S. The whole situation makes me wonder just how many other talks posted on that incredibly successful and popular platform, share pseudoscientific views or completely fabricated claims… Believe nothing, verify everything. Critical Thinking is our best shot to navigate this information-flooded world.
Thank you for reading.
Note: Originally published on a different platform on September 14, 2022.