Phil Plait discusses ("TEDx Talks: Some Ideas Are Not Worth Spreading") a public letter from the TED organizers to their derivative TEDx community: "A letter to the TEDx community on TEDx and bad science". I have criticized TED in the past for promoting Elaine Morgan, who gave a TED talk on her ideas regarding the aquatic origins of human adaptations. Although TED provides a platform that has enabled some scientists to bring valuable work to a broader public, many TED talks have promoted ideas that have either quickly proven wrong (bacteria making DNA from arsenic) or are dismissed for good reasons.
Plait shares his personal experience and gives a good accounting of how skeptics should approach untested ideas:
GOOD: “It makes claims that can be tested and verified,” and “It is backed up by experiments that have generated enough data to convince other experts of its legitimacy.”
BAD: “Has failed to convince many mainstream scientists of its truth,” and “Comes from overconfident fringe experts.”
These are then followed by a series of “red flag” topics and behaviors that, again, should serve as a warning that what the speaker is saying may not be legit: They are selling a product, they claim to have privileged knowledge, they demand TEDx presents “both sides of an issue.” (That last one is a biggie: In many cases there aren’t two sides unless one side is “reality” and the other is “nonsense.”)
I don't know if TED will be able to resist the allure of pseudoscientific pitch artists in the future. After all, it is not a "science" conference, and many of the "ideas worth spreading" seem uniquely to appeal to a certain group of woo believers. But this letter is helpful and gives the hope that they will be careful in the talks outside their main conference that they choose to promote more broadly. Now, if only we could get the History Channel to adopt a similar attitude...