One of my pastimes is writing on Wikipedia. It’s almost unavoidable since I use the encyclopedia daily and keep running into stuff to correct — facts, spelling, stylistic mishaps. In the past, though, I’ve been really discouraged when trying to improve the articles about Falun Gong (a.k.a. Chinese Scientology). They used to be a battleground between Chinese Communist Party loyalists and Falun Gong devotees, both sides trying to cram as much propaganda into the articles as possible. Then the FGers managed to get the CCP guys banned from editing, which was excellent in itself. Unfortunately it led to a prolonged situation where the articles were entirely taken over by cult propagandists, some of whom checked the articles five times a day. And then I got involved. As it turned out, I could do very little on my own.

But back in May, English Wikipedia barred all users on servers belonging to the Church of Scientology from editing the encyclopedia, and two dozen individual user accounts on Wikipedia were zapped too because they had been used extensively to push the Scientology agenda. The crackdown took a lot of work since these decisions aren’t made lightly: you need to document in detail why somebody needs to get kicked out. And now a similar clean-up effort has reached the Falun Gong pages. A swarm of experienced Wikipedians with no pro-FG or pro-CCP agenda has descended on them. Yesterday the nastiest of the FGers (a fellow Scandy, no less) was banned for six months from touching any of the FG articles. And the delicious irony is that this is the very same guy who got the CCP propagandists thrown out!

The reason behind all this clean-up is of course that if a person looks up an organisation on Wikipedia, then the article will be pretty useless if it’s written by people with any sort of passionate relationship to that organisation. If they hate it, if they love it, they’re not the right people to write about it. Myself, I dislike both FG and CCP since I see them as a crazy cult and a totalitarian regime respectively, but I can’t say that I have any strong feelings about either. I just want those articles to be fair, well-sourced and factually correct.

I must admit that I am kind of passionate, though, about those FG propagandists on Wikipedia who kept erasing everything I wrote. So the ongoing change is a double pleasure for me: a set of much-read Wikipedia articles will finally become worth reading, and the doublespeaking cultists I’ve had to deal with get their just deserts.

But on Wikipedia, vigilance must be eternal, because one day new propagandists will appear. They’ll start small just to see if anybody’s paying attention…

[More blog entries about , , ; , , .]

Comments

  1. #1 Pam McLennan
    August 11, 2009

    Your categorization of Falun Gong as a cult is way off base. Although you say you don’t support the CCP, your unsubstantiated claims to know and understand Falun Gong and your incorrect categorization of it lead me to conclude that you are pushing the CCP agenda of vilification in order to justify an irrational persecution and genocide. If we don’t stand up to such tactics we are supporting them. That is what you are doing – supporting a rogue regime that was never voted in by the citizens of China and that will do anything to maintain power including persecute good people (not cultists, BTW even Mary Kay sales schemes are classified as evil cults in China). Who best to explain the teachings of Falun Gong than someone who has studied the teachings for years?
    I hope you will really think about the stand you are taking and the consequences of supporting evil. Instead of crowing with delight at the fact that someone protecting the Falun Gong interests have been barred from editing Wiki I would hope that you would try to have him reinstated as an antidote to the negative, misleading, hate propaganda perpetrated by the CCP.

  2. #2 Martin R
    August 11, 2009

    Do you get some kind of Falun Gong brownie points for writing stuff like that? You don’t seriously believe you’ll convince anyone around here, do you? This is ScienceBlogs. The place is crawling with liberal atheists and skeptics.

  3. #3 Roger Pearse
    August 11, 2009

    I appreciated this article more than I can say. Much as I dislike it Wikipedia is a fact and there needs to be some way to deal with those who use it for propaganda, or to demonise.

    Your view on FG and CCP is mine. Whatever the FG articles say, it must be by third-parties. And there needs to be a mechanism of control, which I had always thought lacking.

    So I don’t want to read a eulogy, when I read Wikipedia. There’s an article about obscure scholar R.J.Hoffmann, for instance, created by himself and his stooges, which tends to erase negatives about him. It’s fairly doubtful he deserves an article at all.

    Hate-articles are even worse than eulogies. I have in mind the BNP article (about a UK far-right party) has been taken over by people who clearly hate the organisation with a Nazi-style fervour. I don’t share its views myself; but I don’t share the hate either, and I don’t even recognise the organisation in the Wiki article.

    Others will doubtless have examples. But the general point must be, I think, that people with very strong emotional views on a subject, pro- or anti-, need to be restrained somehow.

    So please tell us more. How did it work, to get rid of both sets of propagandists?

  4. #4 abb3w
    August 11, 2009

    Doing a quick scan of Google Scholar, the characterization of FG as “Chinese Scientology” appears inappropriate. Unlike Scientology, there does not appear to be a secretive, authoritarian, litigious, money-obsessed core organization at the heart. As these are the traits that have earned Scientology the deathless enmity of a sizeable chunk of the Internet, and FG seems to be lacking them, the comparison as-is seems seriously unfair. Yes, FG may be a bunch of pseudo-scientific kooks; however, they are relatively open with their beliefs, seem to lack centralized hierarchy, and are no more (and perhaps less) litigious and money-obsessed than the norm for a religious group.

    “Chinese Free-Zone” might be more fair, but less readily recognized; “Chinese Free-Zone Scientology” is longer, but possibly more fair and nuanced.

  5. #5 JoanRC
    August 11, 2009

    They need to do this with the Transcendental meditation clowns, too.

    And abb3w needs to learn how to do a more thorough internet search. Falun Gon is indeed lead by an authoritarian, money grubbing con artist.

    Many of these cults do offer usefull self help advice, mostly of the commonsense variety. That’s how they lure people in. But it’s all about the con, baby, all about the con.

  6. #6 Ishtar
    August 11, 2009

    Getting the small cults off Wiki is just chipping away at the edges. What about the big religions, like Christianity? As you said Martin: ” … the article will be pretty useless if it’s written by people with any sort of passionate relationship to that organisation.” But all the Wiki pages on Christianity are written by Christians. There is no evidence that Jesus ever existed and yet he and the apostles are talked about on Wiki as if they are historical characters and that the Bible is a matter of historical record. However, only Christians believe that, and it is they who write the Wiki pages on Christ, Christianity and all related pages.

  7. #7 Martin R
    August 11, 2009

    Consensus even among non-Christian historians is that Jesus from Nazareth and at least most of his disciples did in fact exist. But consensus among academic historians is also that every supernatural event and many of the non-supernatural ones in the Bible are fiction.

    Jesus was simply this idealistic/psychotic everyday guy. Without Paul and Peter and the evangelists he would have been forgotten just a few years after he was executed, poor bastard.

  8. #8 Art
    August 11, 2009

    Mary Kay is a dangerous cult. Most cliques and organizations that focus on appearance, fashion and style are. The differences between them are a matter of degree, not kind.

  9. #9 Sam
    August 12, 2009

    No Martin, consensus among non-Christians, especially non-christian academic historians, is that Jesus probably didn’t exist. The lack of historical documentation of this fact is proof enough for me. There is only a single second hand reference to his existence, and that was written years after his supposed life, well after Christians had established themselves in ancient society. There is practically zero evidence of his existence beyond the bible.

  10. #10 Martin R
    August 12, 2009

    The important thing is whether the Biblical character existed just as he’s described by the evangelists, with his water walking and resurrection of dead people and personal post-mortem reappearances. And if you put it that way then no, of course Jesus didn’t exist.

  11. #11 samarkeolog
    August 12, 2009

    Roger, people should hate the BNP, and it is truly unjust (and simply inappropriate) to accuse those who do of a ‘Nazi-style fervour’.

    The BNP is a neo-Nazi party. The Standards Board for England accepts the description of the BNP as ‘Nazi’.

  12. #12 Martin R
    August 12, 2009

    Roger, I didn’t see your comment until now. You asked how we’re getting rid of both sets of propagandists.

    1. The FG propagandists ganged up on the CCP propagandists and put a well-documented case against them to Wikipedia’s Arbitration Committee.

    2. A group of FG-neutral contributors ganged up on the FG propagandists and are doing the same to them.

    Mind you, two years passed between 1 and 2 because not enough FG-neutral contributors showed up. So if you find an article that’s been taken over by propagandists, you first need to attract a bunch of preferably experienced and respected Wikipedians to it. This can be done by looking at similar articles and identifying good contributors. Unfortunately, the same basic method is used by the propagandists.

  13. #13 Erik Carlgren
    August 12, 2009

    Martin, I do not see why you edited articles about Falun Gong when you dont practise it your self.

    I should nevre get the idea to edit articles about astronomy if I dont know shat I’m talking about.

    Falun Gong practitioners is of course the right peolpe to edit texts about Falun Gong, the crackdown, etc.

    You wrote:

    “…both sides trying to cram as much propaganda into the articles as possible.”

    Thats not true! Falun Gong practitioners are not in those things you have fantasies about, like “propaganda”. Give me just one example off what you thought was “propaganda”, thank you.

    You know that the practitioners follow truth, compassion, forbearance.

  14. #14 Martin R
    August 12, 2009

    There’s a Wikipedia policy against conflicts of interest. If you are party to a controversy, then you are not allowed to edit articles about the issue. Most issues in astronomy are uncontroversial in that sense. But Falun Gong practicioners and people who sympathise with the Chinese Communist Party are not allowed to edit the articles about Falun Gong.

  15. #15 abb3w
    August 12, 2009

    JoanRC: And abb3w needs to learn how to do a more thorough internet search. Falun Gon is indeed lead by an authoritarian, money grubbing con artist.

    As I noted, it was a quick search. Details to support “authoritarian” and “money grubbing”? (Also consider the baseline of “money grubbing” for any religious leader, versus the epic reputation that the the Church of Scientology has in this arena.)

    Additionally, anything on “secretive” or “litigious”? (I did note a few international lawsuits against various Chinese leaders for alleged human rights violations; however, this is nothing compared to the again epic propensity of Scientology for litigation.)

    My core point remains: I don’t think the term “Chinese Scientology” fair, given the immense disreputability associated with the Co$ on the Internet.

  16. #16 cap1
    August 12, 2009

    is speaking out for the protection of human rights propaganda?

  17. #17 DianaGainer
    August 12, 2009

    Congratulations to those who helped improve Wikipedia, since so many people use it. I have to admit I’ve given up on it, for the most part. I started looking things up, started amending things that I found errors in, adding references from my library, but found that my emendations were immediately erased in almost every case and replaced by misspelled, unreferenced, personal opinions. I got tired and now go to other sources. Kudos to those with more stamina!

  18. #18 Chris
    August 12, 2009

    FG is a cult. Just like the Unification Church, or the Church of Scientology. Were they inhumanely repressed in China? Yes. That doesn’t make them not-a-cult

  19. #19 cyrus
    August 13, 2009

    What about atiests? It seems you have a negative view on Falun Gong and Christianity because they can’t prove the supernormal, God, etc, and they strongly believe what they believe. You have a vested interest in negating things that can’t be proven. However, at the same time they can’t be disproven. You can’t disprove that Christ did not exist, or that there is no God, Heaven, or other dimensions as Falun Gong and Christianity may suggest. Therefore, you do not have a bi-partison view on the matter, let alone are detached from any pre-concieved notions.

    Regarding Falun Gong, they have a right to believe what they believe, just as you do. Their only agenda is to stop the brutal persecution, the concentration camps, labor camps, torture, murder, rape, and the millions who have lost their jobs, life or have been beaten. Watching the Communist Party’s history, they have been brutal to any form of thought that gains popularity.

    From a humanitarian point of view, you are not doing the people justice by defaming or negating a group that is trying with all their heart to expose a Hitler style persecution, that involves even organ harvesting of the adherents of Falun Gong.

    If you look at their philosophy, they are the opposite of scientology. They do not accept donations, the teachings are always free, there is no membership, and every effort at mobilization is simply a humanatarian mission by volunteers to stop the killings in Communist China. Furthermore, they seek no power, they simply want the killings to stop. If you have a problem with their beliefs in Heaven, God, Spirit, diffirent dimensions, pre-historic civilization, or the belief that we did not tranfomrm from monkeys or animals in general, that is your progative. However, you may not be on the right track when you bad mouth someone else because they believe something different. If fact, the evolution from ape to man, is not a confirmed theory, for the middle periods of transformation are missing in almost every animal. So the theory is not 100 percent proven. However, I would be wrong to negate you and attack you as a cult of science because you have an agenda. Etc. Because you believe in something, fact or not. It’s a matter of having the right to believe in what makes you happy, as long as you are not harming others.

    In terms of Falun Gong, there is no conflict of interest, it is just that they are persecuted. In regards to your science wiki’s, well would it be correct for die-hard christians to come write about you or your science sections, when you know full well they don’t believe in the science that you believe? Well how can you write about Falun Gong, when you don’t believe in their way, and have a preconcieved notion based on your own beliefs? At best, you can believe in their principles of Truthfulness, Compassion, and Tolerance, which are fairly universal amongst mosts divides. And you may agree that their exercises calm the mind, reduce stress, and promote a health body and mind. But getting into spiritual englightment and ascending to heaven when you become a pure, kind and wise person, is probably something difficult for you to believe. So as a someone who has benifited from Falun Gongs teachings and exercises, and has been following the persecution from a scholarly point of view, I ask you to be a bit kinder to this group that is suffering the persecution and in many ways, the Holoucust of the Century.

    I apologise if my writing fell short in any way, or seemed combative. Your thoughts are respected, we just ask you to understand the human rights elements, and allow the people to be free in believing what they believe.

  20. #20 Martin R
    August 14, 2009

    You can’t disprove that Christ did not exist, or that there is no God, Heaven, or other dimensions as Falun Gong and Christianity may suggest.

    Wikipedia is founded on references to scientific publications, and science starts from the basic assumption that there is no such thing as the supernatural. Science has been working steadily for almost 350 years, and so far no supernatural claims have stood up to scrutiny.

    Regarding Falun Gong, they have a right to believe what they believe

    Indeed. But not the right to mess up Wikipedia with propaganda.

    defaming or negating a group that is trying with all their heart to expose a Hitler style persecution

    Wikipedians want the information about FG to be accurate, dispassionate and well-sourced. Cf. the Encyclopedia Britannica, which is not primarily about “exposing” persecution either.

    how can you write about Falun Gong, when you don’t believe in their way

    I don’t think like a squirrel either, but I can still help improve the article about squirrels.

  21. #21 arby
    August 14, 2009

    “Brainless, evil-eyed wolf traitor.” Er, squirrel traitor.
    Seriously, thanks to you and the others who take the time to try to keep wikipedia on the up and up. Those who only read appreciate it. rb

  22. #22 John Carter
    August 17, 2009

    Hi. I’m one of the other editors involved in the discussion on wikipedia. I came here through a search looking for any evidence that wikipedia’s content on Falun Gong received similar criticism to that of its content on Scientology, which had in the past been observed by several sites as being too disproportionately edited by Scientologists. But my comment here is in response to the comments about whether or not Jesus ever existed, and specifically the idea that the scientific consensus is that he did not. I am a practicing Christian, but I also try to be as objective about the information as possible. I have found that possibly the most widely respected popular writer on that era, the late lamented Michael Grant, had no doubt about the existence of Jesus. This is not to say that the information about him contained in the New Testament is necessarily reliable. A very good case could be made that it isn’t. Please read Bart Ehrman’s ”Misquoting Jesus” for information on just how often and seriously the information we have on the subject has been altered. ~~~~

  23. #23 Nomen Nescio
    August 17, 2009

    if the main — arguably the most important — source of information about person Y must be admitted to be unreliable, by what standard can we claim that person existed?

    the Epic of Gilgamesh must be considered unreliable; it contains a number of claims that are, frankly, unbelievable. in what sense might we say Gilgamesh was ever a real person? after all, somebody must have been king of the cities described in the epic at that time; maybe one of those ancient kings was named Gilgamesh. does that mean he was the same Gilgamesh, or not?

    indubitably there were a good number of itinerant preachers roaming Galilee around the first half of the first century C.E. one or more of them may have been named some variant of Yeshua; i understand that name was common at the time. but if that’s the main point of similarity between any human being who ever actually lived, and the jesus described in the new testament, by what definition of “sameness” can we claim the two to have been the “same” man?

    (that’s not just sophistry, in my opinion, either. or maybe it’s that being a computer programmer has taught me to think that “what does `the same as’ really mean?” is a more useful and meaningful question than most folks would accept it for being.)

  24. #24 John Carter
    August 17, 2009

    Good question really. I was more pointing to the very dubious accuracy of the statements contained in the current “versions” of the Bible, specifically whether they could reasonably be held to be what they generally claim to be, the statements of Jesus and the other people in the book, or even whether they were written in the original versions of the documents in question. But, again, at least some of the best and most trusted people involved in the field of early Roman era studies have no real doubt of his existence, in some form or other, although not necessarily as he was portrayed in the books in question. Maybe what I should have said was that there doesn’t seem to be much any doubt that the books written about the subject were at least initially more or less what the people writing them either personally remembered of their contact with Jesus or what the authors cobbled together from various documents and testimonies of others. The wikipedia article on the Historicity of Jesus, which can be found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historicity_of_Jesus, probably covers that subject better than I could, and, before you ask, I don’t think I’ve had much particular input to date in either that article or that subject in general.

  25. #25 Szabó Richárd
    August 25, 2009

    I write to you about your ScienceBlogs article “Wikipedia Cracks Down On Cult Propagandists” (http://scienceblogs.com/aardvarchaeology/2009/08/wikipedia_cracks_down_on_cult.php) and wished to express my sincere regret that your article has brought you quite a lot of scornful comments from both Falun Gong practitioners, and non-practicing Falun Gong sympathisers. I also wanted to express my sympathy for the constant censorship of your views on Wikipedia regarding the practice of Falun Gong, and perhaps Communist China’s brutal persecution of it.

    I thought that as an educated person, you might value the concept of always going to the original source when you make analogies about something. In the case of Falun Gong the original source would not necessarily be a political authority, such as the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) since the CCP would be a biased source, given that they are athiests to begin with and regard anything beyond the scope of science or their Marxist idealogy, including prophecies, religions that do not have a CCP-appointed leader, minority groups that do not declare themselves to be Chinese, people who align themselves with foreign democratic systems, or those who advocate free thought/speech, to be “superstition” and a “cult”. At the same time, you might also say Falun Gong people are a biased source, because they practice it and will only say good things.

    Whether we like it or not, the only real original source one can use, is the original Falun Gong books themselves: Zhuan Falun (Turning the Law Wheel) and China Falun Gong (the beginner text). There were more texts, but they are not considered the teachings, but rather supplementary materials. In these free-to-download books (www.falundafa.org) they say that Falun Gong is a self-perfection practice of mind, body and spirit that include four standing exercises that resemble taichi and one sitting exercise resembling Indian yoga. They also include many concepts and references to buddhist and taoist concepts, and use modern-day scientific examples to explain the human body, life in the universe and how one can live in greater harmony with truth, compassion and tolerance – the three principles of the universe.

    Falun Gong does not have a Darwinist view on the world, as Scientology does – in fact, it rejects the claims that Charles Darwin made and said that Mr Darwin himself admitted there were flaws in his theory. There is also no solid or structured heirarchial system in Falun Gong. It is a loose network of people with volunteers who organise group exercise or study activities, and there is no mention of paying tuition fees, making donations, or doing things in return for the practice. In fact, the book prohibits the collection of fees and goes so far as to state that anyone who collects money for Falun Gong activities are no longer considered disciples.

    Then why are the Falun Gong so passionate about trying to show people the positive propaganda about the practice and practitioners? Falun Gong is mostly practiced by people of Chinese origin. The CCP has persecuted Falun Gong for more than 10 years, and the starting point for the whole persecution was to spread negative news about Falun Gong through China’s state-owned media. The first thing somebody does, when they are targeted by the media is either to go into hiding, or speak up and let all the people around them know what their true story is. The more and more the Chinese state-owned media says slanderous things, the more and more Falun Gong people have told others what’s going on. The result is, that the vast majority of Mainland Chinese people have had the chance to learn the truth about Falun Gong, and see through the CCP’s politically motivated lies. But there are still many more people who haven’t learnt the truth within China and abroad. The CCP’s negative news has also spread to Western countries, including Sweden, so Falun Gong practitioners have taken the initiative to get into the community, log onto websites and blogs, and tell people what’s going on. The motivation is quite different from Scientologists.

    If I may, I sense that you have fallen into the trap of generalising, which has made a good few of your analogies rather inaccurate and misleading. I would like you to truly be the well-informed academic who you want people to perceive you as, and study the following third-party information sources in addition to the original Falun Gong books.

    1) Award winning Nine Commentaries on the Communist Party is an exposition of the dark and sinister past of the CCP. It details how the dictatorship destroyed one of the world’s countries with the richest heritage and tradition; manipulated and terrorised the population; and reduced once prosperous people to hunger, famine and disease within less than a couple of decades.
    http://www.ninecommentaries.com/

    2) A Decade of Courage by global independent satellite Television broadcaster New Tang Dynasty Television, is a four-part video documentary series that explores all the known, and previously unknown, facts about Falun Gong’s rising popularity, the CCP’s attempts to ban the practice, and Falun Gong’s peaceful response to a most horrific and morally disturbing persecution in China
    http://english.ntdtv.com/ntdtv_en/special/ADecadeOfCourage/index.html

    3) Falun Gong’s Main Teachings Zhuan Falun (http://www.falundafa.org/Swedish/files/ZF03.HTM) and beginner text China Falun Gong (http://www.falundafa.org/Swedish/files/KFG99.htm)

  26. #26 Matthew Morrison
    November 3, 2009

    Setting aside one’s opinion regarding Falun Gong or the Chinese Communist Party; I commend you for attempting to provide accurate information to the public. Preventing censorship by those who choose to rewrite unfavorable information is necessary in all forms of digital media, yet is rarely achieved.

  27. #27 Dain Whitelaw
    December 9, 2010

    “So I don’t want to read a eulogy, when I read Wikipedia. There’s an article about obscure scholar R.J.Hoffmann, for instance, created by himself and his stooges, which tends to erase negatives about him. It’s fairly doubtful he deserves an article at all.”

    And this isn’t a biased agenda piece by yourself Mr Pearse? Hoffman has an extensive background in religious studies, including heading university departments, and has been the editor of several journals and has published several books on religious studies. And he is notable enough to have ‘stooges’ as you call it. Hardly obscure. I know why you don’t like him, because his restorations of Celsus and Porphyry offend your Christian apologetic mission. Who is using the internet for their own agenda here?

  28. #28 Ti Ti Man
    December 3, 2011

    Dr. Martin Rundkvist , being an atheist, is already siding with CCP, which are also atheists. Can your opinion be unbiased?

  29. #29 Martin R
    December 3, 2011

    Haha, you think lefty liberals like myself are big fans of the Chinese Communist Party? Buddy, I dislike your cult and the Chinese dictatorship. Your comment is an unusually feeble argumentum ad hominem.