He’s a Self-Proclaimed Drug Guru, He’s a Serial Plagiarist & He’s Implicated in a Drug Death Too

He’s professional journalism’s success story poster boy

Here’s the scene: famous white male food writer who has never had an original thought reads a woman’s original autobiographical story in Scientific American Mind— about psychedelics as medicine — does a light rewrite — substituting interviews with white males for her personal accounts — and sells rewritten article to The New Yorker. Then he sells the pitch to Penguin, gets a Radcliffe Grant (because he has no access to libraries?) and re-invents himself as the go-to guru on psychedelics. Now he’s a professor a famous west-coast journalism school.

Here’s the link to the original article I wrote about my own experience and the science behind it in 2013:

Hallucinogens Could Ease Existential Terror — Scientific American

Here’s the story of how I found out that he’d had plagiarized my work:

I had travelled from where I live now, in France, to Oakland California in 2017, to attend a big international conference about psychedelic science. The results of the clinical trial I’d taken part in where I’d been given psilocybin to treat my cancer related depression were being presented. It was the first clinical trial of its kind; and it was a big deal for all those involved.

I was in the conference venue lobby when I saw the the UK researcher who was running clinical trials at Imperial College, London. He’d initiated a depression study using psilocybin similar in design to the study I was part of at Johns Hopkins University, in the US.

“Congratulations about the book Erica. Great news!” he said, wrapping me in a bear hug.

“What book, David?” I said. “I haven’t sold the book. I haven’t even finished writing the proposal yet.”

“Random House! I just spoke with [the famous food writer]. He just came over and introduced himself. He said he was working with you. Book’s due out next year, that’s great!”

“Are you kidding me?” I must have gone some shade of yellow or gray. “I haven’t submitted the proposal.”

“Are you okay?” said David.

“I need to sit down,” I said. I thought I was going to throw up, right there in the lobby of the Oakland Marriott City Center.

Then, as they say in the UK: the penny dropped.

“Oh my God,” said David.

“I need to sit down,” I said. We made our way to a sofa in the lobby. We sat down.

“Oh my God,” he repeated. “I said ‘you’re working with Erica,’ and he said yes.” He looked at me.

I’d never met [the famous food writer]. I didn’t know [the famous food writer]. I could have cared less about [the famous food writer].

David and I sat and talked for the better part of an hour. He expressed outrage on my behalf. He said he’d get in touch with his agent and see if she could help me. He said it was a travesty. He said “This is terrible. Taking advantage of someone else’s work who isn’t yet famous because he can get away with it.” He remarked how often he’d seen it happen in academia, too.

Later, I ran into one of the researchers from New York University. He said: “I take it you’ve run into [the famous food writer]?”

I said: “No, but I’m sure I will at some point. I saw David. He told me.”

“Have you read his New Yorker article?”

I hadn’t.

“If you haven’t yet, then you probably shouldn’t,” said the NYU researcher.

I’d spoken with the NYU researcher at length on several occasions. He’d offered to speak with me after my psilocybin sessions when I was in the clinical trial at Johns Hopkins. He said he’d be happy to speak with me when I was on my way back to London, if I liked. I took him up on the offer. I’d finished with my second psilocybin session, and I was having trouble with some aspects of my experience. I called him from the airport waiting for my plane in Baltimore, in 2012. We talked for close to two hours. It was June, and horrifically hot, and my flight’s departure had been delayed.

That afternoon, at the conference, while I was waiting in the main hall for the presentation by the Johns Hopkins researcher who would would present his published paper, the results of the study in which I’d been a participant, I saw [the famous food writer] standing at the back of the auditorium. I walked up and introduced myself. Not recognizing my name, he shook my hand, grinning like a loon.

Then he saw my name tag. The grin vanished. His face went from red to pink to purple, to green, a sequence reminiscent of those colour-changing cephalopods in the Sea of Cortez. He made a kind of strange a quarter turn, like he wanted to get away. I half expected him to start gurgling. But I just stood there and asked him what he was up to now that he appeared no longer to be writing much for the paper I’d written for. I’d heard some gossip about his contract. I asked him about a food blog he wrote for. He got mad.

“I don’t write a blog,” he sneered, looking down his long nose. It doesn’t take a lot for a 6'3 tall guy to look down his nose at me. I’m about 5'2.

“Oh, but I read some of your blog,” I said chattily. I’ve never witnessed anyone trying to remove himself from my presence faster — including a guy I threw a drink at once. I realize now, four years on, I was not brave enough at the time to confront the [the famous food writer] directly. Or you could say: it’s taken a few years for my rage to mature.

Since then, I’ve experienced first hand what it really feels like to have my work co-opted — eighteen rejections later and counting.

I found out it feels a lot like rape (attempted, in my own experience — I was able to extract myself from that particular situation.)The fact that the famous food writer was writing about hallucinogenic drugs at all is a function of the same machine that brought fame to him in the first place.

He was famous, so if he said he was an expert, that made him so — and like all self-styled gurus, people took him at his word. Just as planned.

When it comes to this person’s professional activity, I’m far from special. He’s plagiarized numerous food writers. I’ve spoken to some of them. I’m not naming them here. Most are cowed by this writer’s reputation. Some academics see plagiarism as a kind of twisted compliment. I guess if you think of rape as a compliment, then having your work plagiarized and co-opted is a compliment, too — especially if a famous guy does it to you. Wasn’t that Weinstein’s operational tactic? Until the women spoke up? And Woody Allen’s too — only he finessed the technique by raping one of his own children and marrying another of them.

The same mass media machine that brought you Donald Trump created the famous food writer too.

Here’s how it goes in publishing: the moment a topic becomes cool,white men own it.

Here is a recent rejection my agent received from an imprint of the publishing house that published the famous food writer’s last book:

Thank you so much for sending me Erica Rex’s proposal. This is a fascinating, emerging area of study, and I know there’s growing interest in this topic. But one of the big US books on this topic (HOW TO CHANGE YOUR MIND) was published by a sister imprint here at Penguin (Penguin Press), and I think it would be difficult for our same sales force to sell another book about this after that one. I’m sorry I can’t take the next steps here, but I appreciate the submission — thank you!

Here are a few sentences I wrote to my agent just now:

I’m attaching here the proposal as it stands now with the new outline.
If they’re not buying it like this, then it’s unsellable. It’s unsellable because I’m an older white woman writing about psychedelics.

I have no doubt X’s next book will disinfect the field from anything serious. Men own this topic now because it’s ‘cool’. Women are not going to be central. Have you seen a serious book by a woman about psychedelics? Not on your life. Just have a look at Goop’s redoubtable list:

https://goop.com/wellness/health/books-on-psychedelics-and-consciousness/

Nothing I will add and no number of cycles spent trying to please a
machine I’m not part of does me any good. I’m not part of it; and no
amount of rewriting is going to change anything.

What I’ve done in the past doesn’t matter. What awards I’ve won, or paper-of-record I’ve written for, or prestige I’ve earned in my own right none of these matter.

What I am not is a white man who has never had an original idea in his life, who has to plagiarize someone else’s work to be successful, who went out and used a bunch of drugs illegally and now has resurrected his career by bragging about it.

White men using drugs and bragging about it appeals to publishers —using drugs, using alcohol, using women sexually. Any exploitable object will do, it seems. Their escapades are especially appealing when they can declare themselves shamans thereafter.

But wait…there’s a new development: the famous food writer has been implicated in the death of an older person with an underlying heart condition. They obtained and ingested a dose of an illegal drug on the famous food writer’s advice and died during the psychedelic session.

Even though my writing was the basis of the famous food writer’s new-found career path, I have to date been unable to place my book with a publisher. I’m not a man who has gone out and used a bunch of drugs illegally and now is bragging about it. I write about how psychedelics will change mental health. Here’s a link to another article I wrote about it:

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-power-of-psychedelics/

and another:

I write about how psychiatry has to change; and how it has ruined women’s lives for 150 years and psychedelics stand to be a game changer for mental health that will benefit not only women, but everyone.

The story I tell is a story that has as yet gone unread because publishing is Monsanto. Eat, assimilate and destroy anything that is original and thought-provoking. Turn it chemically into something that benefits and is profitable for white males. Make sure you kill the weeds it sprang from (oh, some people are calling those endangered native plants now, are they? Pull’em out! Extract any usable DNA, volatile oils, functional hormones, the Krebs cycle, aromatase — then spray ’em with that special industrial Round-Up, and voila! Only Round Up-Ready books will survive!)

The famous food writer is a famous writer because he’s Round-Up ready for publishing. Spent the first part of his career pretending to be an advocate for real food — by plagiarizing actual real food writers. Then he emerged: “Me-eat-real-food-me-big-man-important-writer.

I guess four years ago I still thought I’d be able to sell my original, scientifically informed, evidenced-based memoir-braided-with-science book. About my life, my experience in a ground-breaking clinical medicine trial, about mental health, about how psychedelic medicine was poised to bring about the end of gaslighting, toxically masculine, self-serving psychoanalytically-based mental health treatment and behavioral psychology, and pharmaceutical-based non-cures for ordinary feelings; and about the theft of indigenous community based medicine; and women’s rights and being able to say what we’ve been trying to say all these years when we talk about trauma.

I guess I was kidding myself.

What publishing will do is what they have done since they’ve become Monsanto: they’ll throw in a woman of colour now and then, and a few Asian woman so they can claim they’re being inclusive. And if you’re not one of the lucky .001% who is part of their miniscule gesture?

Forget it.

You will be squashed, your ideas will be co-opted, and ground under the same cleated jackboot that annihilates rainforests, the indigenous, and women’s souls. It won’t stop any time soon. The guys who built the machine aren’t going to stop driving it as long as it makes them money.

Psiloybin mushrooms are referred to as ‘the teacher’ by psychedelic practioners in several cultures. Hallucinogens are really really good at teaching people to accept their impermanence, and their limitations. Especially big egos: lots of big egos are humbled by psychedelic experiences. Kind of like having cancer.

[The famous food writer] missed a lesson or two in his Dionysian dalliances with all the mushrooms and ayahuasca and psychedelic drugs a gourmand food writer could possibly devour. He was too busy gorging, evidently. All that privilege does give a guy an appetite, I guess, for more of the same. Looks like for the time being, the publishing industry will keep feeding him. They’re a perfect folie à deux, the self-licking ice cream cone, the capitalist dream that just keeps on dripping until all the ice cream is gone. He’ll keep licking til the day he dies.

This does not change one very important fact: writers like him —with their wide, voracious maws and grasping vacuous minds — will never be sated because he’ll never have anything to say. Talent and insight have eluded him. Others have something he envies, and he can’t seem to get his hands on it.

No matter whom he plagiarizes, no matter whom he pretends to be, he’s stuck with what he’s got: a teeny tiny skill at producing the long-form version of cereal box copy.

If he’d learned anything from his romp through the psychedelic landscape, I’d think he’d have at least learned that.

Writer for NYT, Sci Am Nat‘l Mag Award. Climate, mental health, wild things. erica.rex@gmail.com. Newsletter https://psychedelicrenaissance.substack.com/