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August 09, 2007


the see

The plagiarism charges about The History of Electricity are being unfairly applied to her blog which, by design, is under no editorial supervision. Had she received an assignment for pay or for a grade to truthfully blog on the ideas that passed through her head, then the results of Wit if the Staircase would fall under that cloud.

But many forget is that plagiarism is a charge to be leveled only by those who’ve formally invested in getting the truth. She got busted for her Slate article on perfume because the magazine had paid her to write an original article on the subject -- no doubt enchanted by her "original" style which, upon careful reading, was found by many to be cribbed. But like many editors, they neither perused previous samples of her writing nor had an understanding of the subject about which they were paying her to write. Only other perfumers (?) caught her out and the charge of plagiarism was leveled by Slate editors, the only ones who had the right to do this. So caught out and busted, Theresa returned (very grumpily) to her blog, and was then more careful (but not always careful enough) about quotation marks. So those History of Electricity entries point to a previous problem that was only cured by the Slate episode because until then, no one called her on her penchant to copy because her blog readers generally weren't experts on electricity or readers of Wikipedia. Even if someone had noticed, in the Wild West of Blog world, all they could have done is called her on it -- there is no sheriff, and as much as we'd like our favorite bloggers to level with us, they owe us nothing, and we cannot expect anything more.

Theresa's mistake came in the ways she marketed herself to paying venues as an expert instead of an interested party, but reputation and image counts to a degree where an accurate but mundane article on fragrance would have never made it past Slate's editorial intern's desk. And it seems she too became too dependent on media, rather than her own thoughts and reactions, to help generate and process information, and she put herself in the same place as those editors, who wanted an article on perfume but didn't know much about it themselves.

So Theresa was busted, and Theresa was punished, and Theresa never wrote a non-fiction article for pay again. And that is my point -- she'd already paid for her mistakes and flaws by taking huge hits to her reputation and to the writing career she seemed to want to establish. Since, next to bloodline, reputation is the main commodity in media, these hits cannot be taken lightly in terms of the price she’d paid. But neither can they be used to excuse all those who have seemed to appointed themselves the Official Shovel Wielders to Tamp The Dirt on Theresa Duncan’s Grave.

Alison Tuck

Well said and thank you.

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