Monday, April 26, 2010

Excellent article from Andrew Skolnick's Blog on Wikipedia and the TM Org

An interesting blog entry from veteran TM commentator and investigator, Andrew Skolnick, detailing the funny business going on over at Wikipedia, the perfect Encyclopedia for TM Cult members, as they scam their way into it's entries:

Something Wiki This Way Comes

I recently was prompted to return to the wacky world of Wikipedia to help responsible editors win yet another arbitration dispute against others who are flacking for outside interests. About 4 years ago, I quit contributing to this massive encyclopedia project that allows virtually anyone to be an editor. I came to the conclusion that the endless fights to stop defenders of crooks, cults, cranks, and con artists from rewriting history wasn't worth the enormous effort.

One of the 
Wiki edit wars that drove me away, involved the Transcendental Meditation movement, the myriad-headed hydra of front groups and businesses that follow the teachings of the late-Beatles guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Many people, for good reasons, count the TM movement among the list of destructive cults. The movement has a large number of dedicated monks (Purushas), researchers, lawyers, and writers working hard to scrub the public record clean of damaging information, while placing favorable articles promoting the Maharishi's many products, services, and unique view of reality.

I first began writing about the TM movement in 1991, when I published a lengthy investigative report in the Journal of the American Medical Association, (Skolnick AA. Maharishi Ayur-Veda: guru's marketing scheme promises the world eternal 'perfect health.' JAMA.1991;266:1741-1750.), which won a number of awards, as well as a $194 million SLAPP suit from Deepak Chopra (who was then working for the Maharishi) and two TM groups. Although the suit was quickly dismissed without prejudice, the AMA's publications ceased reporting on TM's alternative health businesses. It didn't stop me.

Although I may come to regret this as a waste of time, I've ended my self-imposed exile to help editors defend against TM editors taking over control of Wikipedia articles on the movement's leaders and many front groups. I've presented evidence of its highly effective campaign to infiltrate and deceive academic and research institutions and publications. Because, I believe this testimony deserves a wider audience, I'm posting it here with links to the ongoing arbitration:Wikipedia:Arbitration/Requests/Case/Transcendental Meditation movement/Evidence

=Evidence Presented by Andrew Skolnick=
I was a 
Wikipedia editor until I was driven away about 4 years ago, frustrated by a similar campaign of outsiders hell bent on controlling articles affecting them (some of whom appear to be involved in this dispute). This current dispute just came to my attention. As a recognized authority on the deceptive practices of Transcendental Meditation researchers and spokespersons, I think it is important that I provide evidence of the TM movement's long-standing and widespread campaign to infiltrate and deceive academic and scientific institutions. For background on my published research on the TM movement’s fraudulent and deceptive practices: of Dishonest Editing by Kbob=
In his effort to defend censoring out information attributed to my 
JAMA article, Kbob strung together a string of blatant falsehoods:
"I also suggest we remove the sentence: [Early promotional posters for program offered TM practitioners powers of Yogic Flying, invisibility, the ability to walk through walls, and have the 'strength of an elephant.'] as the reference source given is a JAMA news article on Maharishi Ayurveda and the TM-Sidhi program is never mentioned in the article. Also 'promotional posters' are never mentioned either." [Emphasis added.]
I discussed the TM-Sidhi program in 5 different places in my article (Skolnick AA. Maharishi Ayur-Veda: guru's marketing scheme promises the world eternal 'perfect health.' JAMA.1991;266:1741-1750.), including a quote from JAMA's editor Dr. George Lundberg explaining how the journal had been deceived by TM authors into publishing a PR piece:
"At that time, we did not know that 'Maharishi AyurVeda, Transcendental Meditation, and the TM-Sidhi programs promoted in the article are brands of health care products and services being marketed by the TM movement."[Emphasis added.]
I also reported how lucrative the TM-Sidhi program has been for the Maharishi:
"One extremely profitable example, reported in The Skeptical Inquirer (1980; 4:7-8), involved the rental of a gymnasium at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst during the summer of 1979 for TM's yogic flying courses. Three thousand students enrolled, one third of whom paid $3000 each to learn the Maharishi's TM-Sidhi program. According topromotional materials, the TM-Sidhi program allows one to master the forces of nature'to become invisible, walk through walls, fly through the air, and have the strength of an elephant.' The Skeptical Inquirer article says that the other students learned more down-to-earth TM skills for $800-$1000 tuition and that the TM movement reaped between $3 million and $5 million, before expenses, from the courses at the University of Massachusetts."[Emphasis added.]
The latter shows Kbob's second blatant falsehood. I clearly discussed TM's "promotional materials" that claim the TM-Sidhi program allows one to master the forces of nature to become invisible, walk through walls, fly through the air, and have "the strength of an elephant."

Other editors tried to inform Kbob of his errors with citations from my article, Kbob ignored them and continued to assert his false claim despite documentation to the contrary.

Kbob then topped it off with a final falsehood, implying that I wrote a possibly vindictive article because I had been sued by TM. That statement twists the facts far enough around to be considered libelous:
"Furthermore this article is written by Mr. Andrew Skolnick who was involved in a law suit with Maharishi Ayurveda so he is hardly a nuetral [sic] source for information."
I did not write the JAMA article on the deception of TM researchers because I was sued. I was sued because I wrote an article the TM movement wants badly to discredit. Kbob once again highlights TM's strategy: Sue critical reporters and then claim they had an "axe to grind" because we sued them.

If there is one "superpower" achieved through advanced TM training it is the power to tirelessly lie through one's teeth, as this shameless example demonstrates.
=Evidence of Dishonest Editing by Little Oliveoil=
 trying to delete information sourced to James Randi, a world-renowned authority on paranormal claims, Little Oliveoil deceptively claimed, "Randi is not a reliable source. He has a high school education and was a magician." Kbob followed that by repeating a slur written by mystery novel author Michael Presscott -- hardly an authority on the the physics of "yogic flying" or any other area of science: "From What I can tell Randi really is the Flim Flam man."

What is flim flam are efforts of the TM movement to censor Wikipedia though edit warring and ad hominem and dishonest attacks against TM's critics. For those who may not know why Randi is considered a leading authority on the deception used by paranormal scam artists, here are a few facts: Randi is a recipient of the prestigious and coveted MacArthur ("Genius Award") Fellowship. Among many other honors, he has received the Forum Award from the American Physical Society, the Humanist Distinguished Service Award from the American Humanist Association, honorary degrees from colleges and universities, and countless other awards for his work exposing the criminal acts and wrong doing of con artists who prey on people's ignorance and gullibility. His writings have appeared in major periodicals throughout the world -- 
NatureNew Scientist, the New York TimesEncyclopaedia Britannica Medical & Health Annual, Compton's Encyclopedia, Encyclopedia AmericanaPhysics and Society,Technology ReviewLos Angeles Times, to name a few.

This is the authority two TMers here tried to discredit as "a magician with only a high school education" and a "Flim Flam man." As long as TM's attack dogs are allowed to keep 
rewriting Wikipedia articles, this battle will continue ad nauseum and drive away contributors who decide to spend their time on more constructive projects.
=Rebuttal to Hickorybark=
Hickorybark is now resorting to the worst kind of McCarthyism:
"there is prima facie evidence of collusion between anti-TM editors and this anti-TM blog, funded for the sole purpose of discrediting the TM organization."
Hickorybark provides no evidence that I or any other editor is "colluding" with the author of this blog -- which I never heard of before following the link. Nor that I or any editor here is "funded" for our work on Wikipedia.

"Collusion" is defined as "a secret agreement between two or more parties for a fraudulent, illegal, or deceitful purpose." This defamation alone should be reason enough to suspend or revoke Hickorybark's editing privileges.
=Classic Example of TM spokespersons Lying About their Conflict of Interest=
It seems highly relevant to this debate to cite the case involving one of TM's leading researchers, Dr. Hari Sharma, who -- despite an admonishment from Ohio State University not to conceal his financial ties to TM -- kept lying to editors and reporters that he had no such conflicts of interest. After a particularly embarrassing case I reported, Ohio State University asked Sharma to take an early retirement. As reported in my article,
 A Study in Alternative TruthSharma repeatedly tried to deceive editors, reporters, and the scientific community about his financial ties to the TM movement:
Like many TM promoters, Hari Sharma, MD, practices what (in the interest of avoiding another frivolous SLAPP suit) I'll call "alternative truth." Here's a good example of what I mean:

On May 22, 1995, just weeks before taking early retirement from Ohio State University, where he was professor of pathology, Sharma chaired a session on Maharishi Ayur-Veda at the First International Congress on Alternative & Complementary Medicine, in Arlington, Va. During his presentation, Sharma described the many health benefits of TM, and Maharishi Ayur-Veda products and services. At the end of the session, Ridgley Ochs, a science reporter for 
Newsday, went up to the podium to speak with Sharma. As any good journalist would, she asked him if he had received funding from the company that sells the products described in his report.

"No," said Sharma.

"Then who funded your research?" Ochs asked. "I receive funding from the Maharishi Ayur-Veda Foundation," he replied. Outraged by this obfuscation, I jumped in: "Yes, and Maharishi Ayur-Veda Foundation owns MAPI [Maharishi Ayur-Veda Products International], Inc, which is the company that sells the products described in your report."

"I do not know about that," Sharma said. "You certainly do know about that," I said. "You have a million dollar grant from the Maharishi Ayur-Veda Foundation, which owns the marketing company MAPI."

How do I know he "knows about that"? Because I have a copy of the results of Ohio State University's investigation of conflict of interest charges that were brought against Sharma in 1991. In the report, a university's Committee of Inquiry admonished Sharma for not disclosing a major grant from the foundation that owns the company that markets the products he studies.

Sharma looked surprised. He took a step forward to read my press badge, which read: "Andrew Skolnick, 
The Skeptical Inquirer" -- the publication for which I was covering the conference. Turning to his followers, he said, "Oh, this is that journalist who thinks there is something wrong in taking money for research."

"No, I do not think it is wrong for a researcher to take money," I said. "I think it is wrong for a researcher to take money and then to lie to journalists that they don't."
Followers of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi never see themselves as having a conflict of interest because their interest is the only True interest. Those who oppose the Maharishi's will are the ones who have conflicting interests. The followers of their late guru have a truly interesting way of looking at the world upside down.

=About My Published Research on the TM Movement’s Fraudulent and Deceptive Practices=
In 1991, as an associate news editor of the 
Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), I published a lengthy investigative report on the deceptive tactics the TM movement uses to promote its high-priced and unproven nostrums. I was given the assignment after JAMA's editors learned they had been tricked into publishing a deceptive TM promotional article written by Deepak Chopra (who was then the chief promoter of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's remedies) and two TM co-authors, Dr. Hari Sharma and B.D. Triguna (Skolnick, Andrew, "Maharishi Ayur-Veda: Guru's Marketing Scheme Promises World Eternal `Perfect Health," October 2, 1991, JAMA. 266 [13]: 1769–74). (Here's another report on Sharma's continued use of deception regarding his research.)

Shortly after, the editor of ScienceWriters: The Newsletter of the National Association of Science Writersasked me to write an article on how the TM movement was able to infiltrate and bamboozle scientific institutions and publications to provide its pseudoscientific and occult claims the appearance of scientific credibility. (Skolnick, Andrew, Fall 1991, "The Maharhishi Caper: Or How to Hoodwink Top Medical Journals". 'ScienceWriters.)

In response, the TM movement filed a $194 million SLAPP suit against me and JAMA's editor, Dr. George Lundberg. Although the suit failed to identify a single defamatory statement in my report and was quickly dismissed without prejudice, it achieved its desired effect: The AMA ceased reporting on TM affairs and it put heavy pressure on me to stop writing about TM.

The frivolous suit also gave TM spinmeisters the argument that I was NOT an objective reporter because I was a litigant "with an axe to grind." They further deceived the public by telling Newsweek and other news media that they had prevailed in their libel suit, falsely claiming we had "settled for an undisclosed amount" of moneyThere was no such settlement. Indeed, TM's threat of refiling that suit hung over the AMA's head as a means to keep the AMA and me quiet.

More recently, I had to go after TM's Ayurvedic operations in Germany after they published a counterfeit letter it claimed was sent by Ohio State University which they said showed I had lied about Dr. Hari Sharma. They removed the fraudulent letter from their web site after I obtained a statement from Ohio State University's Assistant Vice President for Research Communications that the university never wrote such a letter.

I continue to watch in dismay as TM researchers and publicists mislead and deceive editors, other researchers, and the public. In my opinion, the dispute being arbitrated here results from the ongoing efforts of the TM movement to infiltrate and deceive scientific and academic institutions.

I don't know which editors involved in this arbitration dispute are legitimate and which are not, but I do know that the TM movement has many writers, editors, and PR people working hard at their guru's plan to bring "Heaven on Earth." I am not surprised some have dedicated themselves to removing anything from Wikipedia they think might hinder that plan.

To give an example of the absurd lengths the Transcendental Meditation's PR machine will go to promote Maharishi's world plan, here is one of my favorite news releases written by Dean Draznin, a tireless TM Purusha (monk) who was and may still be a chief PR person for the TM organization (he now has a
 PR firmin Fairfield, Iowa). In this news release, he claims a group of TM "Yogic Fliers" saved Texas from the terrible wrath of Hurricane Gilbert by bouncing on their butts to "enliven the unified field" and "increase coherence" throughout society and nature. I'm still looking for the news release reporting how a bunch of TM Yogic Fliers saved New Orleans from Hurricane Katrina. What Maharishi's army of "researchers" and flacks mostly do is look for "arrows" they can "draw bulls-eyes around," and then find a publication gullible or careless enough to publish their "scientific evidence."

There is an elephant in the room that some in this dispute don't want others to notice: Fairfield, Iowa is a company town and that company is the Transcendental Meditation movement, which owns and controls the university and scores of TM businesses and front groups in Fairfield. Hundreds of people in the that community are dedicated to convincing the world to buy TM services, products, and its dubious and often deceitful "scientific research." It is no surprise that nearly all the attempts to turn Wikipedia into a promotional guide to the World of Transcendental Mediation is coming from ISPs in or around Fairfield, Iowa.

JAMA article concludes with a quote from Curtis Mailloux describing the "SIMS shuffle," a skill he said he learned while a member of the Student International Meditation Society, one of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's many front groups.

"I was taught to lie and to get around the pretty rules of the 'unenlightened' in order to get favorable reports into the media," says Mailloux, a former TM teacher and chair of the TM center in Washington, DC. "We were taught how to exploit the reporters' gullibility and fascination with the exotic, especially what comes from the East. We thought we weren't doing anything wrong, because we were told it was often necessary to deceive the unenlightened to advance our guru's plan to save the world."

The question for this arbitration group is whether Wikipedia should be open to editors who dance the SIMS shuffle.

=Rebuttal to Kevin Carmody=
Kevin Carmody
 states"Peer review often significantly delays publication, but it removes much of the doubt about author bias."

Anyone knowledgeable about the peer review process of scientific publications knows this is naive, wishful thinking. In my 
ScienceWriters article, I quote a noted authority on the peer review process, Dr. Drummond Rennie:
"There seems to be no study too fragmented, no hypothesis too trivial, no literature too biased or too egotistical, no design too warped, no methodology too bungled, no presentation of results too inaccurate, too obscure, and too contradictory, no analysis too self-serving, no argument too circular, no conclusions too trifling or too unjustified, and no grammar and syntax too offensive for a paper to end up in print."
Indeed, it took the Hagelin six years to find a journal willing to publish its much-ridiculed Washington, DC crime study. It's not impossible to get flawed and bogus science published in a research journal, it just takes longer. ("Effects of Group Practice of the Transcendental Meditation Program on Preventing Violent Crime in Washington, D.C.: Results of the National Demonstration Project, June-July 1993" was published June 1999.)

Recent scandals involving major scientific publications show that researchers continue to deceive journal editors and readers about their financial conflicts of interest and often fudge their data or completely make them up. The most recent example finally led the prestigious journal Lancet this month to retract a 12-year-old fraudulent study that supposedly linked the rising incidence of autism to the the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine. It turned out the lead author Dr. Andrew Wakefield, who made many false statements in his Lancet study, received financial support from lawyers representing parents suing the vaccine companies. In addition, he owned a patent on a different measles vaccine that could have made him extremely rich if the current vaccine were withdrawn or discredited. So much for the power of peer review to remove "doubt about author bias." It took 12 years for the fraudulent article to be retracted. Meanwhile many hundreds of children were hospitalized and some died from these infectious diseases because their parents were scared away from vaccinating them.

Wikipedia not to become a joke, it is imperative that its administrators make sure parties with serious financial interests are NOT allowed to control the editing process for any article.
=Rebuttal to Hickorybark=
Hickorybark says that I agree "the TM organization has acquired 'the appearance of scientific credibility' in the mainstream scientific establishment." Here is what I believe is an example of a TM spinmeister at work. I never said this because it's simply not true.

Infiltrating publications and bamboozling some naive and gullible editors is not the same as "acquiring the appearance of scientific credibility in mainstream scientific establishment."

Indeed, most scientists familiar with TM's brand of religious-based pseudoscience are not the least impressed with the movement's efforts to repeal the law of gravity or replace the scientific method with magical thinking. John Hagelin, TM's physicist-turned-perennial-TM-candidate-for-President-of-the-United-States, inspires mostly head shaking and tittering among the world's leading cosmologists and physicists. Indeed, Hagelin suffered the indignity of winning an Ig Nobel Prize in 1994 for his study that claimed TM butt bouncers lowered the crime rate in Washington, DC. In his book 
Voodoo Science, physicist Robert Park called the TM study "a clinic in data manipulation," noting that during the TM yogic flying experiment, Washington, DC's murder count "hit the highest level ever recorded." (Hagelin's rebuttal -- no pun intended -- was that the murder rate would have been even higher if the TMers weren't in Washington bouncing on their butts.)

MIT and Harvard biologists -- who witnessed Tony Nader start his rise through the ranks of TM science to wear a heavy, solid gold crown as he struts around TM circles as
 "His Majesty Raja Nader Raam" and "The the First Sovereign Ruler of the Global Country of World Peace -- are no more impressed with the credibility of TM science then they were when Nader misused his connections to those institutions to help deceptively sell Maharishi's herbal remedies.

The scientific community overwhelmingly either ignores or rejects the bulk of TM's religious beliefs that have been deceptively repackaged as Maharishi's new age science of cosmic consciousness. If you have any doubt of this, go ask your nearest climatologist or astrophysicist whether TMers are able to chase killer hurricanes away by flying through the air yogically with legs crossed in the "lotus position," as TM "scientists" claime(ed).

So I could not disagree more with Hickorybark that TM "science" has acquired the appearance of scientific credibility in the mainstream scientific establishment.

What I did write, here and in a number of respected publications, is that members of the TM movement have been able to infiltrate many publications and educational institutions to help conduct a PR campaign aimed at selling TM's trademarked programs and products. And that's exactly what they appear to be doing with Wikipedia'.

I also dispute Hickorybark's argument that I have a "conflict of interest" because TM hit me with a SLAPP suit in an effort to stop me from reporting on its dishonest researchers. That argument has the cruel irony of the joke about the sociopathic teenager who killed his mother and father and then pleaded for mercy because he is an orphan.

A key defense strategy the TM movement uses against critical reporting is to sue or threaten to sue editors and reporters who don't backoff -- and then to attack the journalists as having a "conflict of interest" because they were sued.

A few months after hitting 
JAMA's editor and me with its $194 million SLAPP suit, the TM movement threatened the editor of Oncology Times with similar treatment unless she published a 3000-word-minimum article written by TM researchers. The attempt at extortion was reported by science writer Keay Davidson ("A New Tactic: Print Our Data or We'll Sue," San Francisco Examiner, April 16, 1993):

"What does concern me," Davidson wrote, "is a much larger issue -- one posed by the last paragraph of [Maharishi University of Management (MUM)'s General Counsel William] Goldstein's letter to 
Oncology Times:"
"To mitigate the damage caused by your October article, we further require the printing of a response piece to be written by leading researchers and/or clinicians in the field of Maharishi Ayur-Veda, which will provide an overview of the work being done in this field and its relevance to medical practice. This article should be a minimum of 3000 words in length."
Davidson points out the horror if TM's strategy spreads: "Scientific journals might be forced to publish articles on every idea under the sun by any pseudoscientific movement with substantial financial and legal clout."

The publisher and editor of 
Oncology Times stood up to attorney William Goldstein's threat, but not all publishers have the integrity and the bank account to withstand an expensive SLAPP suit. Some simply retract the story and some may publish articles touting TM "science."

JAMA's case, the TM movement withdrew its libel suit to allow the journal to consider publishing a "science article" written by TM researchers. The article TM submitted was rejected twice following recommendations of outside reviewers. The TM movement did not refile its suit. They instead let it hang over the AMA's head to keep us quiet, while publicly making false claims that we had "settled for an undisclosed amount."

The record on this matter is clear: TM's suit was dismissed without prejudice in just 8 months. It resulted in 
no payment of any damages, in no apology, and in no retraction of anything I reported in either JAMAor ScienceWriters. What I reported in JAMA nearly 20 years ago remains one of the most cited records of the deceptive practices of TM scientists and promoters in the peer-review literature. What that suit did accomplish, however, was to stop the AMA's publications from ever again reporting critically on TM's deceptive research.

The TM movement's campaign to stifle criticism with threats of SLAPP suits continues -- as is clear from this blog a few weeks ago reporting how MUM's General Counsel William Goldstein's threats of legal action led to's removal of Doug Mesner's critical article of TM's claims and research. Mesner has republished the 
article and is daring TM's lawyer to sue.

This record shows a nearly two-decades long policy of suing or threatening to sue its critics, so that its spinmeisters can dismiss the criticism as having come from "biased" sources who have an "axe to grind." It reminds me of the ploy Charley Manson pulled during his trial for the murder of Sharon Tate, the Biancas, and others. Manson held up the ''L.A. Times'' with its 4-inch banner headline saying "Manson Guilty, [President] Nixon Declares," and then asked for a mistrial because the jury were biased by the president's comment. Judge Charles Older, who had kept the jury sequestered so that they would not be influenced by news reports, refused Mason's request, citing the long-held principle in law that wrong-doers are not to be rewarded for their wrong doing.

I believe my record of achievements and awards for investigative reporting from journalism and humanitarian groups show the only bias I'm guilty of having is a bias against falsehoods, fraud, and the abuse of the powerless by the powerful. That's the bias I was ''taught'' at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism by some great journalists and mentors, like Fred Friendly, who with Edward R. Murrow, stood up to the intimidation and threats of Sen. Joseph McCarthy -- the evil scoundrel who gave his name to this kind of smear by baseless insinuations.

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