The Truth About the NLP Wikipedia Page

Full disclosure: This site sells NLP training. Our potential bias is in the open, unlike that of the notorious editor of the NLP Wikipedia page. May you judge the content here upon its own merit.

If you’ve read the Wikipedia page for NLP or Neuro-Linguistic Programming, then you’ve very likely been exposed to shenanigans.

Shenanigans on Wikipedia? Isn’t Wikipedia an “open source” collection of knowledge, shared freely by non-biased subject matter experts?

Not exactly.

In fact, you could go so far as to claim that Wikipedia, certainly in the case of the NLP Wikipedia page, is a steaming cauldron of misinformation. I am going to expose the falsehood in this very post, with evidence to support.

The NLP Wikipedia page is found here:

(I will not place a live link to it on principle).

The NLP Wikipedia page appears to be written and guarded by an editor on a mission to discredit NLP. He has labeled NLP as “pseudoscience” while conveniently ignoring well over 200 scientific studies that suggest NLP has something valuable to offer and warrants further inquiry.

This editor seems to be operating in open violation of Wikipedia’s editorial policy. Because Wikipedia has serious leadership issues, nobody has been available to correct the inaccuracies. Due of his status on Wikipedia, the current NLP page editor systematically rejects any attempts to correct the mistakes, so that the errors continue to come across as encyclopedic.

The editor in question is Dave Snowden. I do not know Mr. Snowden, although I have attempted to interview him.

I’ll break down the rest of this analysis into sections. First, let’s discuss Wikipedia, then onto the NLP page on Wikipedia.

Is Wikipedia really open collaboration of non-biased researchers who operate on an egalitarian, volunteer basis?

Not so much. The truth is far more interesting than that. Surely there are well-intended and neutral volunteers who write for Wikipedia. And there also exists a darker web of editorial trolls.

Authoritative editors get paid to post slanted information in favor of corporate interests.

Editors with an agenda seek revenge by posting outrageous, slanderous lies about people and disciplines they don’t like.

Hackers go wild on Wikipedia for SEO purposes and the pure joy of vandalism.

So, no, Wikipedia is not necessarily non-biased and egalitarian. It is a proven breeding ground for trolls and their shenanigans. Additionally, six in ten articles on Wikipedia are said to contain factual errors.

Wikipedia is also losing editors and new contributors en masse, toward it’s own extinction.

Are Wikipedia writers and editors non-biased?

Wikipedia’s policy states that editors must be neutral. But Wikipedia apparently cannot or will not enforce its own policy, turning itself into a sham.

In the case of the NLP page and our venerable Mr. Snowden, the apparent violation of Wikipedia’s editorial mission is well advertised.

Wikipedia’s editorial policy states that:

Maintaining a neutral point of view (NPOV) is one of the five pillars and founding principles of Wikipedia. This policy says that we accept all the significant viewpoints on an issue. Instead of simply stating one perspective, we try to present all relevant viewpoints without judging them.

Is Mr. Snowden a reflection of the above? You be the judge.

He claims on his personal website that NLP is a pseudo-scientific cult. To quote Mr. Snowden:

I’m never sure if I dislike pseudo-science more than crypto-religious movements.  In practice they both tend to end up as cults in order to maintain a false belief system. The exemplar of the former, although it is now on the wane, is Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) with its various promises of personal mastery and manipulation. Check out the Wikipedia entry (in which I am an active editor) if you want to see the evidence for its lack of scientific authenticity. I’ve never understood why the University of Surrey allows a group of NLP consultants a home….

For a screenshot of the actual page on Mr. Snowden’s website, click here.

This is his personal belief. Mr. Snowden proudly highlights the fact that he is an active editor of the NLP page, which just might be part of his mission to rid the world of cults.

Regardless, this man seems to be anything but neutral and accepting of other points of view when it comes to NLP. He also appears to operate in bold violation of Wikipedia’s stated editorial principles.

Is the information on the NLP Wikipedia page accurate?

No. There are errors, omissions, slants, and intellectual fraud present on that page. Here is a 25-point commentary on the errors:

1. The NLP Wikipedia page says: The balance of scientific evidence reveals NLP to be a largely discredited pseudoscience. Scientific reviews show it contains numerous factual errors, and fails to produce the results asserted by proponents.

2. This is perhaps the most damaging example of fraud on the page. What is the basis for this assertion? And does it represent the balance of scientific evidence? Or, is it a malicious slant made by someone with an agenda?

3. There are four sources cited to back the pseudoscience claim. Let’s a closer look at three of them.

4. Source #1: Druckman, Daniel (1 November 2004). “Be All That You Can Be: Enhancing Human Performance”. Journal of Applied Social Psychology 34 (11): 2234–2260.

5. Interestingly, Druckman does not actually discredit NLP as Snowden would have you believe. He merely suggests that research and evidence is lacking to his knowledge (p. 2245).

To quote Druckman:

Our experiences with NLP led to two different conclusions. On the one hand, we found little if any evidence to support NLP’s assumptions or to indicate that it is effective as a strategy for social influence…..On the other hand, we were impressed with the modeling approach used to develop the technique. The technique was developed from careful observation of the way three master psychotherapists conducted their sessions, emphasizing imitation of verbal and non-verbal behaviors (Druckman and Swets, 1988, Chapter 8). This then lead the committee to take up the topic of expert modeling in the second phase of its work.

6. Does it sound like Druckman is discrediting NLP as a body of work? No. He sounds like a man that was not impressed with the evidence available for one aspect of NLP. Yet, he was indeed impressed with a different aspect of NLP.

7. Further, Druckman (in the book-length version of the study) states that NLP warrants further investigation and comparison to other models. To quote Druckman:

There are no existing evaluations of NLP as a model of expert performance. We conclude that further investigation of such models may be worthwhile and suggest that NLP be examined in comparison with several other techniques.

8. This statement does not exactly peg NLP as discredited or as pseudoscience, does it? Yet, Wikipedia has used Druckman to back its claim that NLP is a discredited pseudoscience. Why?

9. Source #2: Witkowski, Tomasz (1 January 2010). “Thirty-Five Years of Research on Neuro-Linguistic Programming. NLP Research Data Base. State of the Art or Pseudoscientific Decoration?”. Polish Psychological Bulletin

10. The Witkowski case is interesting. Here we have a rigorous researcher. The fatal flaw in his valiant effort is that he is framing his reference to NLP on an unfortunate misunderstanding of NLP. In other words, Witkowski is disproving a claim that NLP does not make. The result is meaningless.

11. Dr. Richard Gray treats the Witkowski case extensively in his review of the literature.

12. Source #3: Sharpley, Christopher F. (1 January 1987). “Research findings on neurolinguistic programming: Nonsupportive data or an untestable theory?”. Journal of Counseling Psychology 34 (1): 103–107

Sharpley’s research suffers from the same fatal flaw – a misunderstanding – or false idea of NLP principles. Sharpley mistakenly believed that NLP claims everyone encounters the world mainly through one preferred representational system (PRS). While this may have been an early belief in NLP, this position was officially abandoned decades ago. Grinder, Bandler and Andreas had abandoned it by 1990. See: Druckman, D. Swets, J. A. (Eds.). (1988). Enhancing human performance: Issues, theories, and techniques. Washington, DC: National Academy Press. Also see: Grinder, J. & Pucelik, Eds. (2012). The Origins of Neuro Linguistic Programming.Carmarthen, Wales: Crown House Publishing Ltd.

13. Dr. Gray summarized the Sharpley research as follows:

Sharpley concluded, accurately – and in harmony with the main point made by NLP regarding eye accessing cues – that matching the dynamic range of predicate responses in a clinical conversation is valuable for enhancing client empathy. Because, however, he had gone in search of a non-existent assumption that he believed to be foundational to NLP, he rejected (correctly) the dynamic use of eye accessing cues as not relevant.

Because Sharpley was out to test the claim that that eye accessing cues could accurately reveal the PRS, his accurate observations regarding their utility in a clinical setting can only be regarded as suggestive, if not irrelevant.

14. We could sum up the entirety of the situation with the following analogy:

A food critic is trying to prove that the sugar in your brand of salt makes it a ridiculous pseudo-salt. There is, in fact, zero sugar in your salt. You can prove this fact by inviting the critic to test your actual salt; not a knock-off, not a sample that has been tampered with, but your actual salt. The food critic isn’t interested. He’d prefer to stand by his assertions even though they make him look like a fool to anyone who has tasted your salt.

15. It should be clear by now that the Wikipedia editors don’t understand NLP.  And they have been impressively uninterested in a neutral discussion or a balanced presentation. The general public, however, is very likely to glance at the multiple levels of misrepresentation and just believe the fraud.

16. Interestingly, the blockbuster pseudoscience claim was originally backed by a poll of psychologists. (Norcross,J.C., Koocher,G.P., Garofalo,A. (2006) Discredited Psychological Treatments and Tests: A Delphi Poll Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, Vol 37(5), Oct 2006, 515-522.

17. The psychologists polled largely stated the opinion that NLP was not valid. While we can certainly appreciate opinion polls, they probably should be used to represent opinions only.

Other interesting facts about the NLP Wikipedia page citations:

18. Many of the references cited are based on outdated research, at the expense of more current studies, little of which treats PRS.

19. The NLP Wikipedia page attempts to hurt the credibility of NLP by suggesting (in a backhanded way) that the developers of NLP were name dropping by claiming they collaborated with Noam Chomsky.

20. Important: No NLP developer has ever claimed a collaboration with Chomsky. John Grinder said he was inspired by Chomsky and that some of the linguistic categories used in the Meta-Model were standard linguistic patterns. This is very different. Where does any NLP developer claim to have collaborated with Noam Chomsky to create NLP?

21. Wikipedia is suggesting that NLP is fraudulent by attacking a presupposed claim that was never made.

22. Many citations are made to quote supposed authorities who suggest that NLP is bogus. In other words, so much of that page is based on conjecture and opinion.

23. Thus is the nature of the NLP Wikipedia page – irrelevant conclusions glossed over and presented as fact. Numerous authoritative sounding references to individuals who happen to have negative opinions and false information about NLP.

24. The scientific studies cited may be valid as studies. However, they are just not studying actual NLP principles.

25. As mentioned, there exist numerous studies that treat NLP with objectivity. And there are many, many avenues into NLP that warrant further investigation. A neutral editor should be willing to consider all evidence, in favor of a balanced perspective.

Why hasn’t the NLP Wikipedia page been corrected?

All efforts to update the page with factual information have been rejected by editors with higher authority on Wikipedia. Many, many attempts have been made to provide scientifically validated evidence for the efficacy of NLP, and to correct the misinterpretations. These edits have been rejected in wholesale fashion.

How can this happen?

Wikipedia offers editorial privileges, not based on real qualifications, but based on your status in the Wikipedia system. The more time you have spent; the more edits you have made, the more authority you have. Unethical editors with higher authority can simply delete edits by people with fewer posts. That’s it.

Polish academic Dariusz Jemielniak spent seven years probing the dark corners of Wikipedia. He wrote a book about his experience, in which he stated:

Status, power and hierarchy do matter in Wikipedia, even though the community officially has no hierarchy. There’s cachet in building up an impressive user profile, as measured by the number of editing changes or the presence of “barnstars” and other cyber-certificates of achievement.

What’s more, experienced editors have mastered a vast and ever-growing number of rules about what’s allowed on Wikipedia. Their superior rule-knowledge allows them to rebuke or overrule less experienced editors. In fact, the old guard’s elitist ways may be discouraging newer participants from becoming active in the site.

The editorial overruling process has nothing to do with the quality or veracity of an edit. Nothing whatsoever. It’s more like a turf war. This is why well over 200 NLP-related scientific studies have never seen the light of day on the NLP Wikipedia page.

What can be done to correct the NLP Wikipedia page?

Not much. In order for a non-biased editor to make changes to the NLP page that stick, he or she would have to rack up thousands of hours in editing time to gain the required status. This is not likely to happen.

Until wholesale changes are made to the Wikipedia publishing model, also not likely, the NLP Wikipedia page will remain the same twisted array of non-truth that it is today.

What can you do?

• Ignore the NLP Wikipedia page.
• Do not assume Wikipedia in general is a real encyclopedia.
• Do your own research elsewhere to determine if NLP is right for you.
• Do not link to the NLP Wikipedia page on your website if you don’t want to support corruption.
• If you are currently linking to the NLP Wikipedia page from your website, link instead to NLPWiki.

Yes, I once contacted Dave Snowden and offered to interview him about his views on NLP. I also mentioned that I would invite an NLP trainer whom I respect to the interview. Mr. Snowden entertained the invitation, but ultimately declined. He said, “It would be two against one.”

To me this says that Mr. Snowden may indeed see this as a turf war. He certainly wasn’t interested in debate or sharing new evidence that might balance the perception of NLP.

I wouldn’t have believed that the Wikipedia organization could be so tolerant of misinformation and violation of it’s own editorial policy. In fact, I have donated to Wikipedia in the past. My naivete is now gone.

So, if you’ve read the NLP Wikipedia page, you should at least question what’s behind it. Then, turn to legitimate organizations who present scientific evidence based on actual NLP principles.

Again, for a detailed review of NLP research over 35 years, please review Dr. Richard Gray’s paper.

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About Mike Bundrant

Mike Bundrant is a retired psychotherapist, Master NLP trainer, and practicing life coach. He and his wife, Hope, founded iNLP Center in 2011. For information on coaching with Mike, please visit his coaching website AHA System.

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