Damn Interesting readers, please forgive this unusual departure from our irregularly scheduled programming. Also, please do not view this as an invitation to antagonize anyone involved, we merely want to bring this problem to light and resolve it.
Hello, writers from the popular The Dollop podcast. You may or may not remember me, my name is Alan Bellows, the founder of DamnInteresting.com. If my name tickles your neurons, it is probably because my name has occupied the bylines of multiple articles that you have plagiarized in the past year or so. You are not the first to republish my work without permission—far from it. But you are the first I am aware of who allows your audience to believe that you wrote the material yourself. Even worse, you cobbled together scripts by copying extensive excerpts verbatim from multiple sources, so you cannot reasonably claim you merely shared a thing you found online and failed to name the author—this is classic, flagrant, abusive plagiarism. Then you go one step further and ask for (and receive) thousands of dollars in recurring monthly donations to support your allegedly “endless research,” which seems to consist of stealing substantial content from competing history podcasts.
Dave Anthony and Gareth Reynolds, I have no idea whether you pay someone to produce your show scripts or whether you do so on your own (ed. note: we have since confirmed that episodes are “written” by Dave Anthony). If the former, please be aware that your employee has systematically engaged in unethical and illegal behavior, and that the person in question ought to be ejected from the profession. Specific examples of offenses follow.
In your episode The Three Jesuses (link since removed, updated to archived copy), approximately 65% of the “script” you are reading and commenting upon is a mostly word-for-word reproduction of my article, Three Thrown Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Some Internet searching for specific phrases revealed that about 12% of the script is taken mostly word-for-word from this KnowledgeNuts article written by Lance David LeClaire (which cites our article as a source), and 15% is taken mostly word-for-word from this Slate article written by Vaughan Bell. I was unable to locate the source for the remaining tiny fragments of text, perhaps your alleged writers really did write a few sentences.
The audio file embedded below consists of the plagiarized portions of one episode of the Dollop, and below that is a transcript of the text excerpts from the original writings. We invite you to read along while listening, noting how similar The Dollop's wording is to the original. The text taken from Damn Interesting is highlighted in yellow, the text taken from KnowledgeNuts is blue, and the text from Slate is green.
Social psychologist Milton Rokeach was inspired to conduct the experiment after reading an account in a 1955 issue of Harper’s Magazine that told the story of two women who thought that they were Mary, Mother of God who had come face to face by chance within a mental institution in Maryland.
engaged in conversation. They had been chatting for several minutes when the older woman introduced herself as “Mary, Mother of God.”
“Why you can’t be, my dear,” the other patient replied, unable to conceive of such a notion. “You must be crazy. I am the Mother of God.”
“I’m afraid it’s you who are mixed up,” the first asserted, “I am Mary.”
A hospital staff member eavesdropped as the two Virgin Marys debated their identities. After a while the women paused to quietly regard one another. Finally, the older patient seemed to arrive at a realization. “If you’re Mary,” she said, “I must be Anne, your mother.” That seemed to settle it, and the reconciled patients embraced. In the following weeks the woman who had conceded her delusion was reported to be much more receptive to treatment, and she was soon considered well enough to be discharged from the hospital.
Frustrated by psychology's focus on what he considered to be peripheral beliefs, like political opinions and social attitudes, Rokeach wanted to probe the limits of identity. He had been intrigued by stories of Secret Service agents who felt they had lost contact with their original identities, and wondered if a man's sense of self might be challenged in a controlled setting. Unusually for a psychologist, he found his answer in the Bible. There is only one Son of God, says the good book, so anyone who believed himself to be Jesus would suffer a psychological affront by the very existence of another like him. This was the revelation that led Rokeach to orchestrate his meeting of the Messiahs
Dr. Rokeach sought and secured a research grant to test his hypothesis, and he began canvassing sanitariums for delusional doppelgängers. Soon he found several suitable subjects: three patients, all in state care, each of whom believed himself to be Jesus Christ.
set them up to live together in the Ypsilanti State Hospital in Michigan in 1959.
He instructed the medical superintendent Dr. Yoder to arrange the transfers. Yoder dutifully sent them to Ypsilanti’s Ward D-23, and then washed his hands of the matter. Three days later, when the “Three Christs” arose, they were summoned to a small antechamber adjacent to Ward D-23.
Voltaire recounted the tale of the "unfortunate madman" Simon Morin who was burnt at the stake in 1663 for claiming to be Jesus. Unfortunate it seems, because Morin was originally committed to a madhouse where he met another who claimed to be God the Father, and "was so struck with the folly of his companion that he acknowledged his own, and appeared, for a time, to have recovered his senses." The lucid period did not last, however, and it seems the authorities lost patience with his blasphemy. Another account of a meeting of the Messiahs comes from Sidney Rosen's book My Voice Will Go With You: The Teaching Tales of Milton H. Erickson. The renowned psychiatrist apparently set two delusional Christs in his ward arguing only for one to gain insight into his madness, miraculously, after seeing something of himself in his companion. ("I'm saying the same things as that crazy fool is saying," said one of the patients. "That must mean I'm crazy too.")
He thought that it might be possible to alter or even eliminate schizophrenic delusions if patients were forced to confront the existential contradiction of others who possessed the same delusions of identity. A sort of mental “shock treatment,” if you will.
These tales are surprising because delusions, in the medical sense, are not simply a case of being mistaken. They are considered to be pathological beliefs, reflecting a warped or broken understanding that is not, by definition, amenable to being reshaped by reality.
It was a plain room with bare walls and deliberately unstimulating furniture. As was always the case when Dr. Rokeach was present, a nebula of tobacco smoke hung in the air. The doctor introduced himself and his three research assistants, and he explained that they would all be spending a lot of time together over the next few months. The patients sat across from the researchers in heavy wooden straight-backed chairs.
Joseph Cassel, a failed writer who was institutionalized after increasingly violent behavior toward his family;
Rokeach asked the third to introduce himself to the group.
“My name is Joseph Cassel,” the man said. Joseph was a 58-year-old patient who at that time had been institutionalized for almost twenty years. He was quite bald, and he grinned often despite missing half of his front teeth. His shirt and trouser pockets were bulging with belongings such as eyeglasses, tobacco, pencils, handkerchiefs, books, and magazines. Joseph tended to inexplicably fling the reading material from the windows when he thought no one was looking. Although he was not from England, nor had he ever even visited the place, he yearned to return there someday. He was the most mild-mannered of the Three Christs.
“Joseph, is there anything else you want to tell us?” Rokeach prompted.
“Yes.” he replied. “I’m God.”
The next to speak was the eldest of the three. “My name is Clyde Benson,” he mumbled in a low voice that characterized most of his speech. “That’s my name straight.” At 70 years old, Clyde suffered from dementia, but in moments of lucidity he tended to reminisce about working on the railroads, and fishing. He was quite tall and almost entirely toothless.
“Do you have any other names?” Rokeach replied.
“Well, I have other names, but that’s my vital side and I made God five and Jesus six,” Clyde replied.
The third Christ to introduce himself was Leon, the youngest at age 38. He had been raised by a single mother, a militant Christian woman who had struggled with her own mental health. Some five years earlier his mother had come home from her daily church session to find Leon in the process of destroying the crucifixes and other Christian ornamentation that covered every wall of the house. Leon then commanded his mother to reject such false images and worship him as Jesus. He had been committed soon thereafter. He was tall, thin, articulate, and he constantly kept with his hands in front of him to keep them in sight.
“Sir,” Leon introduced himself to Rokeach, “it so happens that my birth certificate says that I am Dr. Domino Dominorum et Rex Rexarum, Simplis Christianus Pueris Mentalis Doktor.” This prolonged moniker was Latin for “Lord of Lords, and King of Kings, Simple Christian Boy Psychiatrist”. Leon continued, “It also states on my birth certificate that I am the reincarnation of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.”
Joseph, the one who had first introduced himself, was also the first to protest. “He says he is the reincarnation of Jesus Christ. I can’t get it. I know who I am. I’m God, Christ, the Holy Ghost, and if I wasn’t, by gosh, I wouldn’t lay claim to anything of the sort. I’m Christ. I don’t want to say I’m Christ, God, the Holy Ghost, Spirit. I know this is an insane house and you have to be very careful.”
After allowing Joseph to rant a bit longer, young Leon interjected. “Mr. Cassel, please! I didn’t agree with the fact that you were generalizing and calling all people insane in this place. There are people here who are not insane. Each person is a house. Please remember that.”
Dr. Rokeach allowed them to argue in this way for a few moments before he turned to Clyde, the eldest, and asked his opinion. “I represent the resurrection,” Clyde replied. “Yeh! I’m the same as Jesus. To represent the resurrection…” He trailed off into indistinct mumbling.
Rokeach attempted to clarify, for the record: “Did you say you are God?”
“That’s right. God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit.”
The decorum disintegrated as Clyde and Joseph, the two older patients, began to bellow at one another. “Don’t try to pull that on me because I will prove it to you! I’m telling you I’m God!” … “You’re not!” … “I’m God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost! I know what I am and I’m going to be what I am!” And so on. They argued thus for the remainder of the session as Leon watched in attentive silence. When they adjourned for the day Leon denounced the sessions as “mental torture.”
The early meetings were stormy. "You oughta worship me, I'll tell you that!" one of the Christs yelled. "I will not worship you! You're a creature! You better live your own life and wake up to the facts!" another snapped back. "No two men are Jesus Christs. … I am the Good Lord!" the third interjected, barely concealing his anger.
Rokeach attempted to maximize inter-Christ contact by assigning the three men to adjacent beds in Ward D-23, assigning them adjacent seats in the dining area, and arranging for them to work side-by-side in the laundry. His research assistants were instructed to conduct a daily group session, and to follow the Christs and inventory their activities during the rest of the day. Once per week Dr. Rokeach himself would descend upon the facility to personally prod at the patients’ psyches.
On one occasion, Rokeach asked the group, “Why are you in this hospital?”
Clyde, the oldest, mumbled that he owned the building and adjacent lands and that he stayed on as caretaker. Joseph proudly explained that the hospital was an English stronghold, and that he was there to defend it. Leon, the youngest and least institutionalized, was the only one to acknowledge that he himself was a mental patient, but he stopped short of admitting to delusion. He blamed some ambiguous, jealous persecutors for unjustly subjecting him to the torment of a mental ward.
Weeks of such discussions ensued. As the novelty of the sessions wore off the tension began to rise. Debates became passionate as each Christ attempted to disabuse the others of their misguided beliefs. In the meantime the researchers’ questions became more confrontational. Each patient strained to maintain a rational demeanor, nevertheless outbursts, obscenities, and threats became increasingly commonplace both inside and outside of the daily sessions. On one occasion, as Leon waited in the supper line, a bothersome patient approached him and asked, “Do you still think you’re Jesus Christ?”
“Sir, I most certainly am Jesus Christ,” Leon replied.
The agitator turned to another man waiting in line and said, “This guy thinks he’s Christ. He’s nuts, isn’t he?”
“He’s not Christ, I am!” the man replied angrily. It happened to be Joseph.
Old Man Clyde was not far away, and was heard to bellow, “No, he’s not! I am!”
During the daily group session, Leon contended that Adam of the Bible was a “colored man.” Clyde confronted him angrily, to which Leon replied, “I believe in truthful bullshit but I don’t care for your bullshit.” The old man struck him on the cheek with a solid right smite. Leon sat with his hands folded and made no effort to retaliate or defend himself. Dr. Rokeach and his assistant wrestled Clyde away, allowed him to compose himself, and before long the conversation continued as though nothing had happened.
This was not the only time the self-styled Christs came to fisticuffs over philosophical differences, but gradually the spirited discourse gave way to a shaky, mutually patronizing peace. The men sometimes humored one another’s delusions, and other times they tap-danced around them. Over time, each Christ cultivated new delusions to retain his claim to godliness. Clyde squared his reality with the others’ by concluding that the other men were actually dead—in his mind they were absurd corpse puppets whose limbs and faces were controlled by machines hidden inside of them. Leon explained away the others’ assertions as lies from attention-seeking imposters, or the result of technical-sounding nonsense terms such as “duping”, “interferences”, or “electronic imposition”. As for Joseph, he sagely observed that the other Christ claimants were, in fact, patients in a mental hospital, which proved that they were quite insane.
As weeks turned into months, pedestrian subjects such as favorite foods and personal anecdotes began to dominate the sessions. Even outside of meetings the three men frequently sat together quietly despite being free to roam and mingle with others. They shared tobacco and stuck up for one another against interlopers. Each continued to believe that he was the embodiment of the Holy Trinity, with the power to perform miracles, but all three had learned that discussing religion was not conducive to peaceful co-existence.
During one session Dr. Rokeach produced a newspaper clipping he had brought with him and handed it around. Old Man Clyde and Almost-As-Old-Man Joseph had trouble reading the small text, so Leon volunteered to read it aloud for the others. It was a local reporter’s summary of a lecture recently given by one “Dr. Rokeach.” Evidently this lecturer was conducting an odd psychological experiment at Ypsilanti State Hospital with three men who all believed they were Jesus Christ.
As Leon read aloud, Clyde withdrew into a unresponsive “stupor.” Leon himself grew increasingly visibly upset. He was wholly aware of the article’s substance. After he finished reading he protested the incomplete picture offered by the report. “When psychology is used to agitate, it’s not sound psychology any more,” he told Dr. Rokeach. “You’re not helping the person. You’re agitating. When you agitate you belittle your intelligence.” With that, Leon left.
the doctor was manipulating the men’s lives, especially Leon. Once it became clear that direct confrontation had little effect, he would show them fake newspaper clippings designed to elicit a response, send fake letters from Dr. Yodar (the hospital’s superintendent) to Joseph (in an attempt to see what effect a higher authority figure might have on Joseph’s beliefs)
Rokeach acknowledged the “serious ethical issues” involved, and his research assistants voiced concerns regarding the methodology, but Dr. Rokeach emphasized his intent to employ caution, adding, “we hoped there might be, therapeutically, little to lose and, hopefully, a good deal to gain.”
Dr. Rokeach finally brought the Three Christs experiment to an end on 15 August 1961, just over two years since the first meeting of Clyde, Joseph, and Leon. None of the patients had measurably improved, although by the time Rokeach departed Leon had indeed renounced his claim to being Jesus Christ. Instead he insisted upon being referred to as “Dr. Righteous Idealized Dung.” He had also come to believe that he was one of the Yeti people.
The experimenters abandoned their control group when it became inconvenient, they meddled endlessly, and they had a laughably small sample size of Jesuses.
The patients never did seem interested in resolving the question of “who was the real Jesus among them?” and showed clear signs that they only wanted to live in peace together.
Dr. Rokeach wrote a book on the subject entitled The Three Christs of Ypsilanti, where he concluded (rather weakly) with the Freudian idea that the delusions suffered by the three men were the result of confusion over sexual identity and noting that we all, “seek ways to live with one another in peace.”
Later advances in neuroscience revealed that schizophrenia is disorder of thought processes rather than of thought content, associated with subtle differences in brain structures and in brain chemistry, consequently no amount of psychotherapy can “cure” schizophrenic delusions.
The doctor acknowledges his ethical lapses in the afterword to the 1981 paperback edition of his book, where he writes, “While I had failed to cure the three Christs of their delusions, they had succeeded in curing me of mine—of my God-like delusion that I could change them by omnipotently and omnisciently arranging and rearranging their daily lives within the framework of a ‘total institution.’ ”
For several more examples of Dollop episodes that are almost verbatim ripoffs of Damn Interesting articles, see our exhibits page.
Note: Your most recent episode as of this writing—The Business Plot—also lifts a paragraph or two from my Revenge of the Fighting Quaker, but it is not as egregious as the others, so for now I will be content to merely be annoyed about that one. But it’s still plagiarism.
In closing, I reiterate that we have not and will not grant you permission to use any of our material. So stop it. To all other would-be copyright infringers and plagiarists: if you want to make a profit on someone else’s writing, kindly ensure that you gain permission. Your discovery and slight repurposing of an article on the Internet does not constitute research. I am aware that it is unfashionable in certain circles to opt for © All Rights Reserved, and those people are entitled to their philosophy, and it is their privilege to give up control of their own work. The rest of us are trying to make a living.
Update: The Dollop have posted a response claiming, incorrectly, that their republishing of our material is Fair Use. They must be quite the mental gymnasts given that Dave is a professional writer claiming that it is Fair Use to repurpose other authors’ work, verbatim, without permission or attribution. They did not apologize for the plagiarism, but they did remove the offending episodes from their catalog, and they claim they will not use our content without permission in the future.
In Anthony’s response he claimed “historical facts are not copyrightable,” which is true, but totally irrelevant to this discussion. That is a straw man argument, one meant to resemble our objections while being more easily defeated. No one is claiming ownership of facts here, we are claiming ownership of our words, our lengthy writings.
Amid discussions involving this post on social media, I have seen a number of commenters assert that the Fair Use exception in US copyright law protects podcasters who wish to use another’s writings—even at great length—without permission or attribution. Fair Use is intended to allow teachers, critics, journalists, and researchers to quote copyrighted material without fear of litigation, provided they cite the source. It does not protect a history podcast that is stealing content from a competing history podcast. Fair Use is a complex and nuanced exception to copyright, but according to our legal advisors, The Dollop’s usage was entirely incompatible with Fair Use, especially without attribution. Let us hope we need never test our view in court.
I hope this post didn’t cause anyone undeserved consternation, but I feel it’s an important conversation to have. Thanks to all who provided thoughtful input.