Deepak Chopra is a significant target of skeptic organizations, so his Wikipedia biography reflects common methods used by agenda-driven Wikipedia skeptics like no other and is a key component of this study which I believe proves my core thesis of editor suppression on Wikipedia.
‘Skeptic activism’ on Wikipedia is a perfect microcosm for how Wikipedia is easily abused by people with all kinds of agendas. When any group of Wikipedia editors dominate Wikipedia’s culture, they can corrupt the voice of any article.
In late December of 2013, right after I published a blog post detailing my experiences with editing Rupert Sheldrake’s Wikipedia biography, an associate of Deepak Chopra contacted me via Twitter. Chopra became one of many people dealing with a Wikipedia problem who reached out to me for advice.
Before then I was never a Deepak Chopra fan. I had no strong interest in Ayurvedic medicine or TM-style meditation, and I knew little to nothing about them. Never having read any of Chopra’s writing, I was probably mildly suspicious of him. Like most people, I imagine, I categorized him as an Oprah-type celebrity.
When Chopra contacted me I was immediately interested in his Wikipedia problem. Having dealt with agenda-driven skeptics in Rupert Sheldrake’s Wikipedia biography wiki-war, I was personally acquainted with what Chopra was complaining about. A wiki-war is a puzzling combination of arguing a legal case in court while trying to control the ‘conch’ in Lord of the Flies, a challenge I greeted immensely.
Whatever the problems in Sheldrake’s Wikipedia biography were, Chopra’s were nearly identical and far more severe. Chopra’s concerns about his biography were legitimate. The lead section of his Wikipedia biography framed him as a discredited crank, and Wikipedia editors had intentionally removed words that countered that narrative.
Even though Chopra is a licensed medical doctor, the lead sentence of his biography called him a ‘new age guru’ while denying him credit as a physician. The lead section also introduced suspicions about Chopra’s financial motivations. Besides blatantly violating Wikipedia’s own neutral point of view (NPOV) policy, his biography was also ‘crappy’ writing with awkward run-on sentences. This is typical of Wikipedia articles that have been heavily edited by skeptics pushing their point of view (POV). Wikipedia skeptics’ collective narrative voice just plain ‘sucks.’
Wikipedia skeptic activists go to extremes in a manner difficult for most people to imagine. Rupert Sheldrake’s Wikipedia biography proved that agenda-driven skeptics use Wikipedia biographies as pillories to defame and discredit anyone who espouses views outside scientific orthodoxy. This observation made me a pariah to many skeptic organizations and associated websites like Rational Wiki, which is devoted to exposing and debunking pseudoscience.
The Sheldrake biography wiki-war revealed that Wikipedia skeptics harass, intimidate, defame, libel, dox, ban, and, if possible, embarrass anyone who questions their Wikipedia tactics. From my experience, these skeptics on Wikipedia are akin to extremists, the more extreme, the more they bully while ostensibly collaborating to edit Wikipedia. They label everyone as ‘with them or against them’ with no middle ground.
Regardless of what anyone believes about Chopra—I’ve never known anyone so loved by so many and so hated by an equal number—his detractors’ domination of his Wikipedia biography, an encyclopedia entry, so grossly contravened Wikipedia’s biographies of living persons (BLP) policy that I had no qualms about defending him solely based on that. Even if Chopra is a crank, Wikipedia editors were using his biography abusively for shockingly irresponsible editorializing.
At that time Chopra was so concerned about his Wikipedia biography that he considered taking legal action against the Wikimedia Foundation, the nonprofit that runs Wikipedia. I helped diffuse that situation by encouraging him to embrace the possibilities of how a responsible version of Wikipedia could work.
I began my Wikipedia work with Chopra by encouraging him to directly confront clear abuses by Wikipedia skeptic activists at his biography. By that time Chopra was too afraid to try resolving his Wikipedia problem himself. He had already been embarrassed by previous attempts by others to help resolve issues with his Wikipedia biography. A number of his associates thought it was impossible to correct his Wikipedia biography because they feared Wikipedia skeptic activists would respond by trying to further embarrass him. Chopra genuinely felt harassed by Wikipedia editors.
In March/April of 2014 reporters were asking Chopra, “Why do they hate you on Wikipedia?” He told me he was embarrassed because he had no answer.
Wikipedia, Please Delete My Article.
Chopra began by asking me if I thought he could get his Wikipedia biography deleted—and if so, could I help? He offered to pay any related costs and asked social media advice in case a public relations campaign became necessary to resolve his Wikipedia problem.
Anyone with a libelous, misleading, or harassing Wikipedia biography can petition the Wikimedia Foundation to remove it. Despite Chopra’s desire to have his Wikipedia biography deleted, I suggested first having a representative propose corrections on his Wikipedia biography talk page, knowing full well that most of the Wikipedia editors there were skeptical detractors. This step is consistent with Wikipedia’s procedure for requesting deletion of a biography. I reasoned that if this approach succeeded he wouldn’t need to request deletion. If the approach failed, there would be a stronger case to present to the Wikimedia Foundation, and it would enhance any social media pressure that might be needed.
Chopra agreed to my plan of proposing changes on his Wikipedia biography talk page, and I became his Wikipedia media rep. I was transparent about this on Wikipedia. The gig didn’t pay much. Chopra offered a small monthly grant, far below my normal fee, but I was intrigued with issues on Wikipedia and inspired by his particular problem. Since my own case study dealt with Wikipedia harassment—and still does almost three years later—I was also itching to confront his Wikipedia problem for personal reasons.
Fascinated by the wiki-war problem, I previously decided to analyze one as a participant observer by editing in the Sheldrake biography wiki-war. I consciously steered clear of hotly contested topics, like Israel and Palestine, which are edited by fervent political operatives. My assumption that Wikipedia skeptic activists were harmless proved woefully wrong when they maneuvered to damage and defame me as expertly as any political activists could.
Enter SAS81, Chopra’s Wikipedia Media Rep
Returning to Wikipedia to facilitate a consensus resolution on Chopra’s Wikipedia biography entailed violating blocks on my previous accounts, ‘Tumbleman’ and ‘PhilosophyFellow,’ which I’d used to confront skeptic harassment and abuse. Wikipedia account blocks are notoriously impossible to have lifted, so I created a new Wikipedia account, ‘Chopra Media.’ After a Wikipedia administrator advised me not to use ‘Chopra’ in an account name, I changed the name to SAS81. SAS is shorthand for ‘Sages and Scientists,’ one of Chopra’s media channels at the time. A few members of his staff were already using that name off of Wikipedia, so I adopted it.
I strictly adhered to Wikipedia’s conflict of interest (COI), paid editing (PAID), and biographies of living persons (BLP) policies. My intention was to be transparent about my role on Wikipedia and to work within Wikipedia’s guidelines responsibly without violating Wikipedia’s integrity.
This means that
a.) I was working as a paid Wikipedia editor, and
b.) I had a conflict of interest on Chopra’s Wikipedia biography since I represented him.
c.) I was transparent about both those facts on Wikipedia, and Wikipedia’s rules allow subjects of Wikipedia biographies and their representatives to be involved in the Wikipedia editing process this way.
A Return to Wikipedia, and Confronting Skeptic Activists, Again
When I returned to Wikipedia as Chopra’s Wikipedia media representative, my first step was to go to his biography’s Wikipedia talk page to post that there were issues with Chopra’s biography.
Many of the editors involved with Chopra’s Wikipedia biography were the same skeptics I encountered when I edited Rupert Sheldrake’s Wikipedia biography as Tumbleman. I invited all the Wikipedia editors writing Chopra’s Wikipedia biography professionally discuss issues with it.
In the Sheldrake biography wiki-war I’d learned what to expect from hostile Wikipedia editors. Despite working with some of the same characters from Sheldrake’s Wikipedia biography, I engineered a total consensus on Chopra’s biography within six weeks. To achieve that I had to navigate through considerable pushback and harassment from many of those same editors. (In Parts 2 and 3 I detail my successful strategy, a blend of professional, friendly and confrontational consensus building.)
You’re Either with Us or against Us
Wikipedia skeptic activists so hate Chopra that they consider me guilty of promoting pseudoscience because I collaborated to create an even-handed version of Chopra’s Wikipedia biography. Tim Farley recently tweeted that another Chopra representative was ‘found out’ on Wikipedia, meaning me, though I never hid that I represented Chopra there.
Farley is one of many skeptic activists who attempt to create suspicion when none is warranted, one of their signature activities. The Rational Wiki website is notorious for spreading misinformation. It leverages the credibility of science and rationalism to spin damage control about the Wikipedia activities of activist skeptics. As a pro-science and politically progressive individual, I am embarrassed that Rational Wiki claims to represent a voice I share.
Similar to Farley’s attempt to discredit me, a Rational Wiki editor wrote that I disguised myself as Chopra’s media rep, another disingenuous lie. Rational Wiki even hosts a biography of me that warns readers that I’m a pseudoscience promoter and internet troll who writes ‘conspiracy theories’ about skeptic editors. Another Rational Wiki skeptic activist, sometimes known as Oliver Smith, impersonated me online to falsely associate me with creationism. He also claimed on various websites that I’m an internet predator who stalks and harasses Wikipedia editors.
The same Rational Wiki editor also used a photo of me in India wearing a Coca Cola shirt, which he claimed meant ‘cocaine,’ to manufacture a blog post titled, ‘Rome Viharo, paranoid drug user,’ which libelously states I have a cocaine habit. When I complained about that blog post ‘Oliver Smith’ declared I have a ‘persecution complex.’ Rational Wiki editors then added that fictitious ‘persecution complex’ to my biography without any psychological or medical evidence to support it. Considering that part of Rational Wiki’s mission is to expose quack medicine, it’s outrageous that my biography features a counterfactual psychological diagnosis.
Wikipedia and Rational Wiki skeptic editors haven’t posted any robust rebuttal or evidence-based counter narrative to my Wikipedia, We Have a Problem blog posts which expose their lack of ethics on Wikipedia. They have not apologized, issued retractions, or ceased their irresponsible, sloppy publishing. Instead, their disappointing, adolescent response was to repeatedly, and unsuccessfully, try to discredit me and this blog by twisting facts into fiction.
My work with Chopra also brought me unexpected rewards. For his part Chopra was curious about my efforts on this blog, Wikipedia, We Have a Problem, and my online collaborative project aiki.wiki. He asked if I was looking for an aiki.wiki business partner. Though I wasn’t, he generously offered me a grant to continue working on aiki.wiki, which I gladly accepted. Chopra’s responsiveness and attention surprised me.
Working with Chopra was both interesting and fun. Chopra exposed me to a broader world of ideas, problems, and opportunities, and I met some very interesting people while working with him. My first impression of Chopra was that he was very forthcoming and unusually responsive for such a huge celebrity who receives equal parts adoration and contempt. Regardless of what anyone thinks of Chopra’s intentions, motivations, ideas, or ethics, he is a fascinating and complex human being.
Chopra became more engaged with my brand of ‘wiki-enthusiasm’ and ‘wiki-idealism’ after I demonstrated that my core strategy worked on Wikipedia. Before Chopra moved on from his concerns with Wikipedia, he took up my optimism in his Huffington Post article, ‘Wikipedia, A New Perspective on an Old Problem.’
He then encouraged me to apply my strategy to a much broader issue than his Wikipedia biography. Within 45 days of beginning to work with Chopra I began building a collaborative online library designed as both as a database of worldwide mind-body scholarship and a companion to Wikipedia. This was named the Integrative Studies Historical Archive and Repository (ISHAR). Unlike Wikipedia’s software which naively caters to the darker side of human nature, I designed ISHAR incorporate a sophisticated collaborative architecture to solve many broad Wikipedia problems. (My work on ISHAR will be covered more in Parts 3 and 4.)
In addition to my biography, Rational Wiki hosts Chopra’s biography, as well as an article on the Chopra Foundation’s ISHAR project that I was the original architect for. To this day Rational Wiki misinforms readers about ISHAR, and the issues raised on this blog, not to mention me.
To my enduring ire, skeptic activists use Google’s search engine optimization (SEO) as a weapon by creating bombastic, misleading headlines about me, often not representing my views or work. Rational Wiki editors re-post them to boost the headlines’ Google search rankings. This dangerous form of harassment and libel can happen to anyone who edits Wikipedia.
Agenda-driven Wikipedia editors, routinely use Wikipedia, Rational Wiki, and other web platforms to spin truth into deception below the radar of public scrutiny.
Coming soon: In Part 2 read about the arc of skeptic harassment I encountered on Chopra’s Wikipedia biography while using the SAS81 account.