Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Scientology vs. Wikipedia

Over the weekend, I was discussing a certain celebrity's history and mental state and how information about them seemed to be removed from Wikipedia, and it made me think about a particular article in Wired Magazine I had read in 2007 about a tool called WikiScanner that could identify where edits were coming from. I decided to put a particular organization in just to see what they may or may not have been doing to the largest editable online encyclopedia in existence.

I am of course talking about the Church of Scientology.

Of course their various organizations have had a hand in reshaping the entries for the Church, L. Ron Hubbard, prominent members like Tom Cruise and David Miscavige and the like, which, while unethical, is likely common practice for many corporations and groups.

But there was something a little darker and low key in some of their edit attempts.

I had noticed there were the names of various celebrities and people of notoriety on that list... and there was a common thread... they had all committed suicide or due to mental illness had killed or been killed.

Someone at the Church of Scientology had at some time added links to the bottom of the entries for Kurt Cobain, Elliott Smith, Phil Hartman, Michael Hutchence and the Columbine Shooters to poorly written short articles at the domain cchr.org.

What is the CCHR? It is the Citizens Commission for Human Rights, which is a Church of Scientology non-profit (and admittedly so) which is a group dedicated to fighting the abuses of psychiatric medicine, which sounds like a noble cause.

But if you have seen Tom Cruise on the Today Show discussing psychiatry, you know that the Church publicly goes far beyond that CCHR mission statement.

Of course, the CCHR goes beyond that statement too. Don't believe me? Watch this video of Dr. Jeffery Schaler of American University giving an acceptance speech for winning an award from the group. I am not saying he is a Scientologist... but his speech and the reception it received demonstrate the true intentions of the CCHR.

In looking at the list of topics someone at the Church of Scientology had edited, I noticed that in many cases, they were topics on psychology and learning as well.

They dropped in links on depression, general anxiety disorder, active learning, parenting, postnatal depression, schizophrenia, school violence, ADHD, dyslexia, the American Psychiatric Association, bipolar disorder and anti-psychiatry (which whoever did that one did quite a bit of editing). It is sort of creepy when you think about it.

Luckily, given the nature of the community, most if not all of these attempts to hijack discussion in those subjects were quickly removed by other users. But after seeing the hundreds of entries listed from that search, it makes me really question the overall integrity of Wikipedia, so if it is a controversial subject, I will likely take a trip to WikiScanner to make sure certain organizations didn't totally co-op an entry. I can't be completely assured of that, but I can at least make the effort.


Arjan said...

that's some decent checking you did there! I only use wiki for very very basic info and won't use it as a 'realiable source' for any scientific stuff. Mainly because 9 times out of 10 you don't know where the information is based upon let alone who wrote it.

TJ from Keene said...

The Church of Scientology has always been very pro-active in asserting their beliefs and in going after those who have criticized them. It doesn't surprise me that they have someone (or a team of someones) whose job it is to prowl the web and offer changes, comments, or law-suits wherever they feel it is appropriate.

MC said...

Arjan: The wikiscanner does most of the work for you ;)

TJ: Lawsuits especially. They are very litigious.

Megan said...

Creepy. Very creepy.

My parents used to live close to a scientology 'center' or whatever they call it. I drove by that place a billion times and I'll tell you something...nobody ever went in. And nobody ever came out...

TJ from Keene said...

Megan: OMG! The Church of Scientology is just a cover for Willy Wonka's chocolate factory!

MC said...

Megan: I've seen videos of people just filming a Scientologist structure, and someone seems to come out of them really fast to deal with that... usually with a camera themselves.

TJ; Very droll.