Royal Ontario Museum dips deep(ak)ly into nonsense

By Phil Plait | May 25, 2010 3:00 pm

I received an email that appalled me: the Royal Ontario Museum, an otherwise excellent establishment, has invited new age nonsense guru Deepak Chopra to speak there!

Here’s part of the announcement:

World renowned teacher, author and philosopher Deepak Chopra presents his latest concepts in the field of mind-body medicine bridging the technological miracles of the West with the wisdom of the East. He will show you how your highest vision of yourself can be turned into physical reality and discuss how you can become a living cell within the body of a living universe. You don’t join the cosmic dance – you become the dance.

If that doesn’t make sense to you, there’s a good reason for it: it doesn’t make sense.

Chopra is perhaps the largest purveyor of pseudoscientific piffling pablum on the planet, and here is a museum — a science museum — paying him to speak. Non-ironically! Worse, check out how much they’re charging: $25 to $175! You can guess how much they’re lining Chopra’s pockets.


The Center for Inquiry (Canada) has written an open letter to the museum, and I think they have handled the situation well. I hope they can distribute a lot of flyers at the event. Of course, people who pay that kind of money to hear such nonsense are unlikely to want to hear arguments against it, but we’ll see.

Related posts:

What a week for alt-med smackdowns
Deepak Chopra: redefining wrong
Deepak Chopra followup
Deepak impact


Comments (47)

  1. Trevor

    I live next to the ROM and I’m not at all impressed….. but it gets worse!! The Ontario Science Centre has an exhibit right now to look at the magic of Harry Potter! Where’s the science in that??

  2. Carl

    As a Canadian, I am deeply embarrassed by this absolutely ridiculous situation. Petition SIGNED.

  3. Mchl

    Sometimes just informing ‘science’ people in such institutions work miracles. Homeopaths, creationists, deepaks etc. like to use Universities, Libraries or Museums for spreading their nonsense. They manage to do so, because people in charge of lecturing halls are just administration clerks, often with no scientific background. I’ve several seen cases, where such lectures were canceled or moved to different location, after a dean was informed.

  4. CyberCecil

    It’s sad that hucksters like Deepak Chopra get this kind of attention. I hope the person who booked this fraud loses their job. This man has no business anywhere near anything even remotely related to science.

  5. @ Mchl (#1),

    Wouldn’t it be wonderful is Deepak was moved to the garbage bin where he belongs?

  6. Thanks for posting this Phil! If we can get a lot of signatures (especially from scientists), it will add a lot of weight to our criticism. It will hopefully make them to take our criticism seriously.

  7. Mchl

    @Larian: What would be the point? He’d just close his eyes and the garbage bin would disappear…

  8. ND

    I wonder if he’ll cause any earthquakes in Ontario. Hope not.

    Oh Ontario, how low can you go?

  9. kevbo

    Out here in BC we call it Onterrible…

  10. Scott Belyea

    One correction …

    “…here is a museum — a science museum —”

    It’s not a science museum; it’s broader than that.

    I’m not defending Chopra’s appearance, but after all, accuracy matters …

  11. Bigfoot

    Too bad Deepak could not be relegated to the Ripley’s “Can you believe some people actually believe this?” museum.

    Hey, theres an idea for the Discovery channel. A weekly series called “People actually believe this!” exposing a different quack or field of quackery every week. They could even do season-long themes, like Coast-to-Coast regulars, etc. And a segment could be dedicated to showing actual “evidence” to support their claims (just to expose the fact that no objective evidence does).

    Well, I can always dream about this …

  12. Mchl

    Bigfoot: That’s a splendid idea! And it could sell well actually.

  13. cgray

    He’s no more a con artist than Barry Obongo. What’s the problem?

  14. noname

    Bigfoot’s idea is AWESOME!

    Maybe Phil can pass the idea to someone who has a chance at making it happen?

  15. Brian Too

    Generic ploy to make contact with audience:

    …leans in to the podium and says conversationally…

    “I’m not much into that book learnin’ you know, but back where I come from, we call that a (insert colourful but meaningless aphorism)”.

    Cue Deepak. He’s much less folksy, so the style is mismatched. However as McLuhan would say, the message is the medium (did I just use my own ploy??).

  16. PJE

    I’m baffled as to why they would do this except as a ploy to make money.

    The ROM is an outstanding place to visit, but this isn’t right. I live in Toronto and like to visit the museum’s special events.

    As to the Harry Potter exhibit at the science centre, I’m guessing it’s just to boost sales and interest in the centre. It is very kid oriented after all, but it’s a slippery slope to be sure. I don’t want the science centre to end up going the way of TLC channel and others


  17. Paul

    This is the same museum that when faced with decreased funding, permanently closed their planetarium.

    Mind you, the planetarium unit was profitable.

    Pure Genius.

  18. The sign up site is currently down due to high traffic. You can sign the petition in the comments section in the CFI Canada blog.

  19. Jason

    Here’s the e-mail I just fired off to the ROM. Note that the Jack Horner reference is to a presentation scheduled for this (Tuesday) evening at the ROM:

    Wish I could have been there to hear Jack Horner’s presentation on dinosaurs. It would have been fascinating to learn how god created them 5,000 years ago. At least, that’s the message I assume I would have heard from an institute of “science” gullible (or morally pliable) enough to host a Deepak Chopra lecture. Every time I’m embarrassed by some educational idiocy in the U.S. (e.g. the Texas Board of Education), I’m reminded that our neighbors to the north are every bit as ignorant.

    Just our of curiosity, is it possible for somebody at the ROM to give a rational explanation of how Chopra was booked to speak at the ROM….preferably one that doesn’t involve selling one’s soul for 30 pieces of silver?

    I’ll be curious to see if I get a response.

  20. Well, they spent a squijillion bucks on making a beautiful old building look frakking stoopid. Just google it, you’ll see. They are still paying for it, and quackery brings in more bucks than science.
    But, to be just slightly fair, it is not a “science museum”, as Scott pointed out, there is art and culture there as well. Which is aesthetic anthropology, if you will, but a couple steps removed from science.

  21. Teshi

    Some people like it.

    EDIT: That is to say, I like the exterior and I like that it’s created a much more open space inside and in the exhibits which the museum sorely lacked prior to the extension. The dinosaur hall is nice. It’s definitely made the museum more able to absorb more people.

    However, I feel like they could have done a better job in some areas. But I’m not a Torontonian who hates it and I know for a fact I’m not alone!

  22. Cairnos

    Deepak explains how the greatest spiritual secrets are tied up in this simple answer: You can’t change the body without changing the self, and you can’t change the self without bringing in the soul. He explains, “It’s all one process, and it begins with….” paying me $50, we accept all major credit cards.

  23. Ruprect

    Nice idea. For now we will have to make do with Penn & Teller’s “Bull’s hit”.

    Unfortunately it appears to me more and more as though the Lowest Common Denominator-ites are winning and the pre-credit sequence of “Idiocracy” is true prophesy.

  24. Earthboundmisfit

    As mentioned above, the ROM is dedicated to world culture and natural history and is not just “a science museum”. Not that that makes Deepak Chorpa’s lecture there any more palatable.

  25. Pui-needles

    The person who made the decision to include Deepak is the one who should be ina amuseum as ancient history. 😉

    How sad. :-(

  26. Procyan

    Yes to Bigfoot’s proposal. Do you remember “War is Peace,” “Freedom is Slavery,” “Ignorance is Strength” ? Why does that keep coming back to me?

    Its a bit OT, but I sat next to the producer of a reality show recently. We were flying to UsA from Tahiti. It was the end of filming and exhuberance reined. I felt compelled to ask “What’s next, now that you’ve shown us all how much money it takes to get people to eat worms, how do you top that? NTS I got that quiet time I so crave on planes.

    We need to return to education. the kind with guts. That is our most powerful weapon against these vulgar indulgences. I would be so happy to partion significant tax fraction to make the first 2 years of college free to all who maintain their grades. Call it rational self-interest.

  27. mike burkhart

    You know I don’t need this guy. If I want” spritual secerts” Ill atend Church (actulay there are no spirtual secerts but thats a topic for religon and not science) As for becomeing a “cell of the universe” I thought we were alredy after all we are made of the same elements as the universe.

  28. Gonzo

    Out here in BC we call it Onterrible…

    Pfft. Frackin’ hilarious.

    He’s no more a con artist than Barry Obongo. What’s the problem?

    Other than your not-so-veiled racism? Probably the fact that you think this isn’t a problem.

  29. Cheyenne

    It’s kinda interesting that Colbert just had him on and the criticism was completely absent.

  30. I was pretty disappointed in the Colbert segment as well. It was pretty much, “Hey look! A famous guy! He’s smart. This is his book! You should buy it.”

  31. Zucchi

    Maybe someday I can pay $175 to have Chopra lecture me about materialism.

  32. Alex Murdoch

    I have sent a letter to the ROM expressing my dismay that they would sponsor this sort of pseudoscience. I would advise as many others as possible to do the same. We may not change their minds, but it would be nice if there was a significant backlash against this. On their directors message page, he states: “It is the ROM’s mission to engage the public in exploration of cultural change and to serve as an advocate for science in the study of nature.”
    I would also advise taking a pig with you so you could get your hogwashed.

    BOO ROM!

  33. LSandman24

    Museums often host exhibits on the side to attract larger crowds. Last October I went to the museum in Glasgow just for the Doctor Who exhibit they had (which was awesome), but also took the time to visit the rest of the museum as well. It’s all a numbers game. More people = more money.

    I too was disppointed in the Colbert segment. I just kept waiting for some snarky comment to come out- but I got nothing. :-(

  34. Gary Ansorge

    31. Shadmere

    I saw the Colbert interview. Seemed to me Stephen had one eyebrow raised the entire time(and his responses were timed for humor, which really IS his schitk.)

    Deepak is a new age philosopher. Just because his philosophy doesn’t make sense to rational materialists doesn’t mean it isn’t attractive to a lot of people. He plays to the far left, as Bush played to the far right and he gets paid for his,,,”insights”. Now, if he only had someone who really understood quantum mechanics to advise him, he might be able to craft a sensible philosophy.

    People want connection, either to other people(which is one of the major drivers for organized religion) or to a father figure(also a major driver for religion). Deepak offers connection to the universe, w/o the necessity of actually learning such esoteric stuff as QM.

    I could probably have some interesting discussions with Deepak. We could talk about actual spontaneous mystical experiences and how they originate within the brains Quantum MAtrix.(I just made that up. Sounds real sciency, doesn’t it?)

    GAry 7

  35. DigitalAxis

    Mind-body medicine? It’s like prozac for your brain! Oh wait.

  36. Godis10-7

    Chopra has been on Colbert twice now, the first time Stephen seemed to be a little harder (not hard enough) on Chopra, but this more recent one was very disappointing. Then again, it’s a comedy show so as much I’d like to be harder on the show since it does effect the opinions of many, it’s tough to do that.

  37. Paul


    Last summer I took the family back home to America and I was dismayed by the altars set up for the religion of global warming at the Bronx Zoo, the Central Park Zoo and even an entire hall blocked off and set up as a temple to siphon off cash for the evangelist CAGW mission and movement of the leftist elite.

    Our laughter hardly compensated for our disgust & outrage. Places of science should be places of science. Schools should be places of learning instead of the indoctrination centers they have become.

    I feel your pain.

  38. Floyd

    When does a quack like Chopra become an inadvertent comedian? Inquiring minds and all that. Maybe Penn and Teller can figure it out…

    16: The Harry Potter exhibit you saw was probably about how movie special effects were used in the Potter movies. For example, wouldn’t you like to see how the talking pictures and moving stairways were done?

  39. bruce

    My impression is that you, Tom, aren’t even a Dieist, or maybe you are an atheist. But does that mean that you do not think there is any form of human existence that is beyond the Five senses? Why did “Nature” find it supportive of the fittest of the species to have man develop “feelings”, what is their function?

  40. Gonzo

    Our laughter hardly compensated for our disgust & outrage

    Did it compensate for your complete ignorance?

  41. Buzz Parsec


    Who’s Tom? Do you mean Phil? Ooh, find me some pearls to clutch.

    There are way more than 5 senses. Bees can see ultraviolet. Snakes can “see” infrared. Many fish can sense electric fields. Migrating birds (and bacteria) may be able to sense magnetic fields. “Touch” actually encompasses many different sorts of sensory nerves (heat, cold, pressure, irritation, tissue damage,…). Not to mention balance, position and acceleration as sensed by the inner ear.

    On a completely unrelated topic, Google the evolution of altruism.

    Gonzo@41, good answer!

  42. Paul

    @Gonzo “complete ignorance” is reserved for those with the mantra “lalalala I can’t here you”, which has been boastfully performed in chorus here at this blog regarding CAGW.

    That is hardly skeptical.

  43. Gary Ansorge

    40. bruce

    “Why did “Nature” find it supportive of the fittest of the species to have man develop “feelings”, what is their function?”

    You seem under the impression that only humans have emotions. I expect my dogs would vigorously object to that assumption and I’ve had several cats over the years that delighted in exacting revenge for perceived slights(cats are quite emotional critters).

    If you knew anything about the structure and development of neural systems, you would not have asked such a question and I really have no time or patience for someone who can’t even do a Google search.

    Gee, it only took 38 posts for the anti-AGW crowd to show up,,,

    I wonder if Deepak has any opinion on THAT? How funny if he said “Well, the evidence supports AGW,,,”

    Gary 7

  44. Messier Tidy Upper

    CAGW = ??

    I know AGW is Anthropogenic Global Warming but what does the C in front of it stand for? Curious.

    BTW. The increasingly frequent use of term “climate change” instead for “Global Warming” seems to have implications as to whether or not the globe is warming.

    If I remember correctly (& yes I *could* perhaps be mistaken but going on my memory & impressions from then) back in the 1980’s there was a big hullaballoo over “Global Warming” with a lot of eco-activists yelling very loudly about it. As environmentalists always seem to do, they predicted all manner of dreadful horrible calamities would start happening any day unless we changed radically exactlyas they told us to, right then. Immediately – as in back in the mid-to-late 1980’s. So at *that* time people said that *today* we’d be in awful lot of trouble from it and yet, well here we are, look around!

    Things don’t seem as bad as the extremists back then made out they would be do they?

    Now it seems “Global Warming” has become known as AGW or “Climate Change” and there seems to be a lot less certainty especially among the wider public.

    Yet the same alarming claims that haven’t come true are still being made and again we have to change & sacrifice very radically right now – or else! Or so it appears we’re told, still.

    The possibility does occur to me that – at the very least – the negative impact of AGW has been exaggerated and over-hyped to a point where a certain amount of skepticism and even cynicism is to be expected. Perhaps even to be advocated. Y’know “once bitten twice shy” & all.

    I would suggest the AGW believing side tone down their rhetoric and take a few deep breaths. If it sounds too bad to be true it probably is. People have been saying “The end is nigh” since before the year dot and it still probably isn’t. 😉

    I would also suggest they stop attacking and abusing their critics as “deniers” (a term with the *very* nasty Holocaust denier allusion) which is very unhelpful and makes the AGW side look bad and fanatical. Instead, I’d like the AGW-ists to and try and look at what these critics are saying more seriously and be willing to consider that AGW might not be as correct, as strong and as severe as they currently make it out to be.

    Finally, whatever the merits of the science, I think the AGW side needs to accept the reality that international agreements, domestic laws, lifestyle tokenism and harsh taxes are almost certainly NOT going to work given the numerical and politico-economic facts of life.

    Human nature 101 – Economic national self-interest will always trump feel good environmentalism. People’s first priorities will be having prosperity, jobs and a good quality of life.

    Those in the West largely have that and won’t give it up. Those in the Developing / Southern / Third World (or whatever they’re calling the other non-western nations now) are always going to aspire to gain the Western lifestyle and quality of life and won’t ever abandon their dreams on the say-so of well-fed, secure Western environmental activists. So the West and the rest esp. China & India will keep on polluting in order to be prosperous and have growing economies whatever the rhetoric and pretty speeches may be used to pretend otherwise.

    Environmental activism and activities incl. those with AGW are quite simply a luxury that most of the planet cannot afford & won’t buy into.

    If America or Australia or any other Western nation does anything major to try and fight AGW all that will happen is that that partciular nation willfind itself econiomically disadvantaged and damaged and in trouble. China and India will soon make up any “cuts” the West makes. Us Westerners cannot make a difference – unless we nuke two-thirds of the world & take out the overpopulated Chinese , Indian, Islamic worlds which I’m not seriously advocating due to the obvious ethical problems and “cure worse than disease” factor.

    So if AGW is real and if it is as bad as feared then any solution to the possible problems cretaed by AGW are going to involve technology and adaptation rather than what the AGW-ists currebntly seme tobe arguing for. The Copenhagen summit last year proved the world just will NOT buy ewhat the majority of AGW-ists are trying to sell them.

    We humans will keep using fossil fuels until forced off them, our economic prosperity will always take political priority #1 with environmental concerns rating a long way down the list and that’s not going to change any more than human nature is.

    Please note I’m not saying this is a good thing or to be applauded or anything just how it is.

    I sure *hope* the AGW skeptics are correct because if they are not a lot of death and suffering will almost inevitably ensue.

    Fortunately I *do* think AGW is nowhere near as big a deal as some of the scientists and all the political activists keep shreiking that it is.

    Only time & more reserach will tell however .

  45. Maurice Mescaline

    Messier tidy upper said:

    “The possibility does occur to me that – at the very least – the negative impact of AGW has been exaggerated and over-hyped to a point where a certain amount of skepticism and even cynicism is to be expected. Perhaps even to be advocated. Y’know “once bitten twice shy” & all.”

    Shouldn’t the above quote read:

    “The possibility does occur to me that – at the very least – the negative impact of AGW has been stated correctly to a point where a certain amount of denialism and even obfuscation is to be expected. Perhaps even to be advocated. Y’know “once paid by Exxon twice denier” & all.”

    Messier goes on to write:
    “I would suggest the AGW believing side tone down their rhetoric and take a few deep breaths. If it sounds too bad to be true it probably is. People have been saying “The end is nigh” since before the year dot and it still probably isn’t.”

    No one is saying that it is the end of the planet, or civilization like woo woos do. Are you willing to accept the chance that thousands, possibly millions may die due to starvation and flooding and do nothing?

  46. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ ^ Maurice Mescaline :

    I don’t think the “deniers” are all paid for shills of Big Oil. That’s a conspiracy theory approach which I think is invalid and amounts to nothing more than an ad hominem fallacy anyhow. :roll:

    Are you willing to accept the chance that thousands, possibly millions may die due to starvation and flooding and do nothing?

    Its not that simple and its not just up to me.

    I don’t think it can be prevented because of those sad political realities I mentioned.

    You won’t get people in democracies voting to lower their standard of living and harm their future national prospects and economic prosperity. China, India, the Islamic world nations and other countries generally either aren’t going to have the willingness or the power to do anything.

    Economic interests everywhere *will* come first whether people like it or not. That’s just reality. We’ve seen in Copenhagen that the major players of the World just can’t or won’t co-operate and if one nation, say America, takes action alone it can’t do anything sufficent to stop or even much slow AGW and is just hurting itself and giving its international compeditors and rivals an unfair advantage. :-(

    So I think Climate change therefore most likely cannot be stopped except by technological innovations (eg. building a giant sunshade or artificial volcanoes, Hydrogen or fusion power) and our best course of action is probably to adapt to changing circumsatnces as best we can.

    I know this isn’t the popular or politically correct view but I think its what we’ll find ultimately happens.


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