Over at HuffPo, Deepak Chopra is still kvetching about his Wikipedia page. The fact that PuffHo still lets the old quack continue complaining about his “misrepresentation” at great length shows that no matter how low you think PuffHo has fallen, there’s still a ways to the bottom.
In a piece published yesterday, “Wikipedia, a new perspective on an old problem“, Deepakity essentially argues what another website, Skeptical Science, characterizes as “Deepak Chopra complains about his Wikipedia page being factual” (note the final quote in the S.S. piece from Professor Ceiling Cat).
Chopra is a man who hasn’t grown up and come to terms with the internet, for, though he’s famous and rich, he demands that everything written about him conform to his wishes; and when it isn’t, he effectively throws tantrums. The fact that he repeatedly tries to respond to small-time critics like me shows that he is, psychologically, like Maru the cat, who plaintively admits, “When I see a box, I cannot help but enter.” When Chopra sees criticism, he can’t help but engage. And his own Wikipedia article (particularly the section called “Ideas and reception“), simply shows the craziness of many of his claims, and how people have responded. A sample; I’ve left in the original references so you can see that sources are cited.
Chopra has been called America’s most prominent spokesman for Ayurveda. He has described his approach to healing using the metaphor “quantum healing”. This refers both to a discrete jump from one level of functioning to another – a quantum leap – and to the idea of thought as an irreducible building block. Chopra has equated spontaneous remission in cancer to a jump to “a new level of consciousness that prohibits the existence of cancer”.
Of the aging process, Chopra has written that it is, to some extent, learned behavior and reversible – accelerated by the accumulation of toxins in the body (including toxic emotions), and slowed down by physical exercise, good nutrition, meditation and love.
Chopra has described the AIDS virus as emitting “a sound that lures the DNA to its destruction”. The condition can be treated, according to Chopra, with “Ayurveda’s primordial sound”. Taking issue with this view, medical professor Lawrence Schneiderman has said that ethical issues are raised when alternative medicine is not based on empirical evidence and that, “to put it mildly, Dr. Chopra proposes a treatment and prevention program for AIDS that has no supporting empirical data”.
Ptolemy Tompkins wrote in Time magazine in 2008 that “Chopra has steadily enlarged his reputation from that of healer to philosopher-at-large”, and for most of his career has been a “magnet for criticism”. According to Tompkins, the medical and scientific communities’ opinion of Chopra ranges from dismissive to “outright damning”, particularly because Chopra’s claims for the effectiveness of alternative medicine could lure sick people away from effective treatments. Tompkins concluded that “Chopra is as rich as he is today not because he has been dishonest with anyone, but because his basic message… is one that he wants to believe in just as sincerely as his readers do.”  According to Robert Carroll, Chopra “charges $25,000 per lecture performance, where he spouts a few platitudes and gives spiritual advice while warning against the ill effects of materialism”.
Note that the article accurately represents what Chopra thinks, and then reiterates the criticisms of it. Wikipedia’s policy is not to present quackery unopposed, and it’s absolutely admirable that they allow these caveats.
But Chopra hates it, and wants his Wikpedia page to present his woo without opposition. Here are some excerpts from his new PuffHo piece:
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.
First of all, Chopra shouldn’t be associating himself with Rupert Sheldrake if he wants any credibility. Further, look at the excerpt on “quantum healing” above and tell me if you think there’s any “abuse and outright vitreol” in it. He also implies that Guerilla Skeptics on Wikipedia, a group designed to prevent unsubstantiated science from looking respectable, is tampering with his article; and they simply haven’t.
And then Chopra’s Big Kvetch: he has to actually deal with this skepticism, which takes valuable time away from his mission of pushing woo and selling his products and courses:
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.
But Deepak wants to control the narrative about him, and so he’s got a new group to bring “neutrality” (i.e., adulation of Chopra) onto his page:
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.
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.
Chopra then winds up with a faux plea for reasonableness:
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!
Is anybody fooled by this? Chopra doesn’t want cooperation, and he doesn’t want objective evaluation of his “scientific” claims. He wants to be in charge of his public image.
Now I’m not sure if Chopra is a “very dangerous man”, but he is dangerous in some ways, insofar as his lucubrations and products prevent people from getting sound medical attention. And to me he’s dangerous to the integrity of the scientific enterprise, for he not only makes unsubstantiated claims, like saying we can change our genes by changing our behaviors, but also confuses people by making spouting obfuscating babble that sounds like science but isn’t.
So, Dr. Chopra (and I know you’re reading this), you’re not going to succeed in controlling your public image. Read about the Streisand Effect: the more you beef about the critics, the more critics you’ll get. For there are smart people out there who aren’t going to be taken in by your “quantum consciousness” psychobabble. And there are scientists like me who know that your claim about epigenetically modifying our genes via changing our thoughts and behaviors is bunk—pure, unadulterated hokum. There are scientist/physicians like Orac who will continue to examine your claims from a medical perspective. And we’ll all continue to hold your feet to the fire so long as you pretend that your unsubstantiated woo is real science.
You aren’t going to win this one, Chopra. You will continue to gull many Americans and enrich yourself, but, if you continue on your present course—and you surely will—you will never gain respectability in the scientific community. It’s your choice: your money or good science.