Friday, June 3, 2011

Is the Pen Mightier than a Double-Edged Sword? I Wrote and JKP-Barsana Dham Listened.

On May 23rd, 2008, I started my first blog called “My Life in a Cult” using the nom de plume, Freedom Writer. It was my first time being completely free to speak out about my years inside the cult. After making 13 posts, I decided to block the blog until after the criminal trial of Prakashanand Saraswati. I will repost all of the blog posts here as an archive. The following was my sixth blog post on “My Life in a Cult.”

Last week, I learned that pointing out the possible fallacies in JKP-Barsana Dham’s self-promotion is a double-edged sword.

On one hand, the information helps give unsuspecting spiritual seekers a reality check regarding the organization’s excessively hyped image: But on the other hand, my thoughts give Barsana Dham information it can use to clean up its act — which is exactly what the organization did last week almost the minute I published my post about the Barsana Dham Wikipedia page’s multiple problems with content being “factual, notable, verifiable with external sources, and neutrally presented, with external sources cited.”

Actually, to be completely accurate, I should say, Barsana Dham almost cleaned up the Wikipedia article. While it did make some changes based on the specific information I wrote about and it did get Wikipedia to remove the disclaimer at the top of the page, which stated that the page may not meet the online encyclopedia’s content guidelines, I’m still not convinced that the Barsana Dham page meets the encyclopedia’s high standards.

What I find particularly unsettling is how Barsana Dham may still be stretching the verifiability of many of its citations. Wikipedia demands citations to help ensure that the content on its pages is not merely just published by some self-aggrandizing organization or person using the open medium for its own self-promotion.

While many of the citations on the Barsana Dham page appear to be generated either directly or indirectly via self-promotional materials and information taken out of context, here are a few of the more questionable citations in my opinion:

  • Citation #2 — Barsana Dham added a new line of text related to this citation: “According to an article in the ‘International Journal of Humanities and Peace,’ Barsana Dham is one of the largest Hindu Temple complexes in North America.” It seems highly suspicious to me that this journal would make this claim. I will be contacting the publication to see if this is true. What’s more, as I mentioned last week, this citation is from the review of a book written by Prakashanand Saraswati, and as such is most likely indirectly from Barsana Dham’s own promotional material.

  • Citation #3 — As hard as I searched, I could not find this article cited on the Internet.

  • Citation #11 — Barsana Dham pulled one line out of context from a rather negative article published in the Austin American-Statesman in 1992, entitled “Swami’s planned Hindu temple is center of speculation.” Among other things, the article cited comments by ex-members who’d had negative experiences with Prakashanand and his organization.

  • Citation #13 — Barsana Dham cites a book written by Prakashanand Saraswati.

  • Citation #19 — This citation is questionable, because Barsana Dham makes this claim in the body of the Wikipedia article: “Barsana Dham opened its doors to Hurricane Katrina evacuees, and executed a fundraising drive in its wake.” Not only could I not find the India Abroad article cited on the Internet, but also the article’s title infers that it’s about Hurricane Rita victims (“Community rallies to help Rita victims,” October 7, 2005). What’s more, I for one would like proof that Barsana Dham actually did open its doors to Hurricane Katrina victims and that it did actually raise any money at all for them.

Now let’s watch and see if JKP-Barsana Dham starts slicing and dicing the Wikipedia page again based on my efforts to shine the light of truth on information that I feel might be skewed. If you are interested, you can track edits made on the Barsana Dham Wikipedia article on this Web page:

Let’s be clear about one thing — this is not JKP-Barsana Dham’s own personal Wikipedia page. Wikipedia is open for anyone to write and edit any page on its encyclopedia. This means that anyone with knowledge of the organization has every right to contribute factual content on this page according to the content guidelines, which include being able to back up what you say with verifiable citations — hopefully citations less debatable than several of the ones currently posted there.

And you can quote me on that.

Best to all lovers of truth,

UPDATE — June 23, 2008, 10 AM — A few hours after I published this post, the edits had begun. Already Citation #11 listed above has been removed. Darn that double-edged sword! Note that Citation #13 is now #12 and Citation #19 is now #18 on the current Wikipedia page. Stand by for more changes.

UPDATE 2 — That Wikipedia page was eventually removed completely.

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