This is a bit of drama—some National Enquirer stuff for this site—but it does bear on things we’ve discussed recently, viz., the probity of Dr. Deepak Chopra. Besides, it’s a slow news day.
A piece by Tim Farley at Skeptical Software Tools, “Quantum variations in Wikpedia rules: Deepak Chopra and conflict of interest,” shows us that Deepak is still up to no good: using his minions to profusely edit Chopra’s Wikipedia page and then dissimulating about it. (Farley is not only a software developer and security specialist, but a research fellow of the James Randi Educational Foundation.)
Tim sent me the link to his post (which is long and complex yarn, but an intriguing one), and also provided the short version. Only a computer detective could do such a thorough job:
TL;DR version: an editor who has been working on Chopra’s biography on Wikipedia for 5 years turned out to be an employee of Chopra, though they had vehemently & repeatedly denied it. Chopra accidentally “outed” this person by posting an open letter to Wikipedia on his website on November 7 – which was then taken down the same day. Lots of gory details and supporting links in the blog
If you want a bit longer version, but don’t want to read Tim’s whole post, here are some excerpts (quoted verbatim):
The editor who filed the OTRS ticket uses the login name Vivekachudamani. The name refers to an ancient Sanskrit poem about Hindu philosophy, and thus is clearly a pseudonym. Since this person started editing on December 7, 2008 they have made 189 edits, and 112 of those were to actual public articles (as opposed to discussion and other administrative pages which few see).
The user contributions history for this editor shows that all but two of those 112 edits were to the article “Deepak Chopra” – his biography. The two remaining edits were to add Sanjiv Chopra (Deepak’s younger brother) to the list of notable faculty of a particular hospital.
. . .During the COI discussion, a link was posted by the OTRS volunteer to a web page on the Chopra Foundation website entitled “My Open Letter to Wikipedia” and dated November 7, 2013. Google indexed it the same day at 15:50 UTC and the OTRS volunteer linked to it at 18:36 UTC.
But by 18:51 UTC on that same day it had already been removed from Chopra’s website. (One of the editors even commented: “Whoa – that’s been taken down pretty quickly!”). The page originally resided at this URL: http://www.choprafoundation.org/science-consciousness/my-open-letter-to-wikipedia/ (that page now returns an error). There is an internet web page archival service (I’ve written about them before) that has a copy of this page, and it from that archived copy that I am quoting here. (Do not attempt to link to the archived copy in the comments, per my warning above).
Here are some excerpts from Chopra’s letter:
I’d like to address the unfair and slanted editing of my Wikipedia article. As much as I and the Chopra Center support the ideal of a democratic, open-sourced encyclopedia, serious attention should be paid to bullying editorial gangs who use Wikipedia to further their skeptical agenda. News stories are already appearing to this effect, including a recent spot on BBC World News.
To that end, I’ve attached a letter directed to you from [redacted]….
The part I’ve redacted there is the name of a person. [JAC: that person is the real name of “Vivekachudamani”, whose name Farley can’t reveal because it violates Wikipedia ethics to name editors]
. . .The most interesting part in the open letter, is the attached “letter” (actually, an email) from the person whose name I redacted. In that email, part of their complaint to the Wikipedia OTRS, they write:
Here’s an update on Chopra’s page. On November 5, I put up this entry:
There follows a tedious description of a series of edits, which through cursory examination of the edit history of the Deepak Chopra article, can be tied to the aforementioned Vivekachudamani account. The wording “I put up this entry” is clear. In fact, the OTRS volunteer commented in the COI discussion:
Note: this may be moot, as a COI may have just been declared here (Note the email came through OTRS – the only person with access was Vivekachudamani)
In other words, in his opinion, Vivekachudamani had just declared a conflict of interest on themselves by posting this. This ran counter to the Vivekachudamani’s own repeated denials during September and October of any personal conflict of interest which you can read on their own Wikipedia user page. That sparked some more digging.
Binksternet turned up a short biographical sketch on an unrelated website matching the (redacted) name in the letter, in which a person with the same name claims to have spent the last 15 years working with Deepak Chopra on various projects.
Vivekachudamani appears to admit this connection, but downplays it writing in the COI discussion:
Have fun guys. That blurb was more fantasy than fact, and based on a school board interview that was sexed up. I actually index medical textbooks and other technical manuals. I once did some research that Chopra happened to use a long time ago, but he probably doesn’t remember it…. But hey, go crazy with this. You score double points for embarrassing me to Chopra as well for pretending involvement that wasn’t there.
Naturally, I and the other editors were dumbfounded that this person was defending lying about a conflict of interest by admitting that they lied about their background in the context of a job!
Vivekachudamani notes that he discussed this kerfuffle with The Chopra, who was lighthearted about it and then offered the offender a “research project”!
Farley then Tw**ted a question to Chopra:
But of course Deepak, so quick to answer those who criticize his woo, has not answered this query. Chopra has blamed the Guerrilla Skeptics on Wikipedia group for enforcing Wikipedia‘s own standards of scientific accuracy against his biography, but in fact that group has no documented connection with Chopra’s Wikipedia page. Rather, Chopra’s attempts (or rather his minion’s attempts) to promulgate woo have been expunged by other rationalists.
I’m not clear in all this about whether Chopra himself lied about this issue, but it’s suspicious that his letter naming his Wikipedia-editing employee was quickly taken down. But “Vivekachnudamani” certainly lied, and, as Chopra’s employee, probably altered Deepak’s Wikipedia page with Chopra’s knowledge, permission, and perhaps at his request. And it’s surely a violation of Wikipedia rules, which bar editing by people having conflicts of interest.
Chopra is obsessively concerned with his image, and in this case did something unethical to try (unsuccessfully) to burnish it. What’s ironic is that Chopra has been angrily accusing others of altering it (in the other direction) out of self-interest!