Wikipedia, A New Perspective on an Old Problem

05/15/2014 04:10 pm ET | Updated Jul 15, 2014
  • Deepak Chopra CoAuthor, 'Super Genes​'; Founder, The Chopra Foundation

Many of you may already know how vocal I have been in the past year regarding Wikipedia's bias covering such topic matters as mind body studies, new science, and of course my friend Rupert Sheldrake's biography page. Since Rupert and I began to speak out about the level of abuse and outright vitriol occurring on these articles, many more individuals and organizations have also stepped forward, highlighting a similar problem, including Nobel prize winning laureate Brian Josephson. Key facts or relevant events in our lives or research are being omitted, efforts to include them in the articles by neutral editors are being met with harassment, defamation and personal attacks. Skeptic activists on Wikipedia are on a campaign to discredit notable biographies that deal with any form of alternative viewpoints and because I am a highly public proponent, my own article has been made into a 'ground zero' for these same skeptics who have sought to discredit my name and work for over 15 years.

Making the matter even more ridiculous, many of these skeptic activists willfully misrepresent the facts, especially regarding how many of the advancements of Integrative medicine are now in the mainstream, and are far from the 'fringe' label with which they seek to discredit all integrative work. Yet these subjects are zealously controlled by a band of openly and aggressively opinionated skeptics who do not reflect mainstream attitudes, but rather contribute extreme views of science, seeking to frame the work of pioneers in this area as fringe charlatans who cannot be taken seriously by any informed or educated reader.

Websites such as 'Wikipedia, we have a problem' offer a peek 'behind the scenes' showing how this abuse happens and how it influences what we discover on Wikipedia, including some of the skeptic 'players' who are organizing this kind of activism online. Wikipedia's culture is woefully far from the 'Temple of the Mind' that Jimmy Wales intended it to be and is increasingly becoming something closer to 'Lord of the Flies' where mob psychologies around ideological battlegrounds manipulate the world's most powerful and influential online publisher and database.

Most have simply washed their hands of the problem, claiming that the bigotry or bias on Wikipedia is just an unfortunate side-effect that we have to accept. But this is not a trivial unintended consequence of an open source system; bias goes against the very principle of Wikipedia and must be addressed. I have to deal with this bias and misinformation every time a journalist interviews me and references my Wikipedia article. I need to spend the first 30 minutes of interviews to correct all the misleading information from my Wikipedia article. It doesn't matter how many reliable sources are submitted, nor how well supported certain facts about my life are -- if it doesn't not fit within the narrative of extreme skepticism of the band of editors controlling my Wikipedia page it is quickly removed. And the editors who complain of this censorship are harassed or banned.

What should we do about this? Surely this is not an acceptable way to handle sensitive topics on an encyclopedia that holds 'neutrality' as its central pillar. I even explored ways to see if we could just delete these articles on Wikipedia. If they cannot responsibly and accurately handle publishing sensitive topics and biographies maybe it is best they just remove them? Wikipedia has blocked even this simple remedy.

Recently I have obtained a new perspective. A group of researchers and archivists approached me awhile back to explain how Wikipedia works and offered to mediate. They informed me that the problems that are occurring are not because of Wikipedia's rules and policies, but despite them. Wikipedia's purpose is to overcome these prejudices and misrepresentations, though the path there is tedious and long. They informed me that the best way to handle this issue was not by exposing the bias of Wikipedia editors (which they are already aware of) -- but to be patient and continuing to contribute information faithfully and genuinely, seeking to represent knowledge and nothing more. And that in time the article will become a fairer and more accurate representation.

When I actually reviewed Wikipedia's sensible guidelines, not only was I impressed with how forward thinking they were, I realized that their 'neutrality' policy is likely the best way to approach what some consider very controversial topics, especially topics that I discuss frequently, such as consciousness, wellness and lifestyle. I was relieved to see that Wikipedia was not meant to be the ideological 'battleground' that a large number of skeptics have made it into. That Wikipedia belongs to you and me just as much as it belongs to them. Those editors only have that much control because they have mastered the Wikipedia rules and learned how to use them to their advantage.

This team of researchers and historians has now formed the 'Integrative Studies Historical Archive and Repository.' The Chopra Foundation along with a few others are going to be helping them build and expand this database. Their concept is simple. Let's protect and preserve this knowledge objectively through citations and sources. Let's make this archive a donation to Wikipedia. Let's make sure this knowledge is represented without bias to the spirit and letter of Wikipedia's guidelines for all researchers and journalists. Let's solve this problem by contributing, not quarreling.

They are now representing my work and biography on Wikipedia and it has been interesting to see the reception that the representative from the archive is getting on my article talk page. Most of the skeptic editors on my article believe me to be a very dangerous man -- and believe that it is Wikipedia's responsibility to warn the world of how dangerous my ideas are. They are giving my representative a hard time and are harassing other Wikipedia editors who jump in and try to help. Although this is sad to see, I have hope that in time this can be resolved with integrity through this approach. I believe that by working together and encouraging cooperative behaviors on Wikipedia -- that all of this bitterness online can grow a little more productive. Wikipedia, let's work it out together. See you on the page!

Deepak Chopra, MD