It's come to our attention that the Times' story today about the "miracle fruit" that makes everything taste sweet is—to use a technical journalism term—a big ripoff of a Wall Street Journal story from a year ago. A Page One WSJ story, at that. And it's not just that the Times wrote a piece on the same topic, which is common enough; they used a bunch of the same sources, and made the many of the same points in the same way. With not even a nod to the original! This is a semi-gotcha—it could have been solved by simply giving a little credit. It's not plagiarism, but it is enough to mightily piss off a fellow reporter. Check out the similarities:
ARLINGTON, Va. — At a party here one recent Friday, Jacob Grier stood on a chair, pulled out a plastic bag full of small berries, and invited everyone to eat one apiece. "Make sure it coats your tongue," he said.
Mr. Grier's guests were about to go under the influence of miracle fruit, a slightly tart West African berry with a strange property: For about an hour after you eat it, everything sour tastes sweet.
Within minutes of consuming the berries, guests were devouring lime wedges as if they were candy. Straight lemon juice went down like lemonade, and goat cheese tasted as if it was "covered in powdered sugar," said one astonished partygoer. A rich stout beer seemed "like a milkshake," said another.
"The Miracle Fruit, a Tease for the Taste Buds," NYT, 5/28/08:
CARRIE DASHOW dropped a large dollop of lemon sorbet into a glass of Guinness, stirred, drank and proclaimed that it tasted like a "chocolate shake."
Nearby, Yuka Yoneda tilted her head back as her boyfriend, Albert Yuen, drizzled Tabasco sauce onto her tongue. She swallowed and considered the flavor: "Doughnut glaze, hot doughnut glaze!"
They were among 40 or so people who were tasting under the influence of a small red berry called miracle fruit at a rooftop party in Long Island City, Queens, last Friday night. The berry rewires the way the palate perceives sour flavors for an hour or so, rendering lemons as sweet as candy.
Scientists say a protein in the fruit works by binding to taste buds and altering the tongue's so-called sweet receptors to activate when sour foods are eaten. A French explorer known as the Chevalier des Marchais first encountered the effects in 1725 somewhere in West Africa, says Adam Gollner, who is writing a book about miracle fruit. The chevalier saw villagers eat the berry before consuming gruel and palm wine, so he gave it a try himself.
In 1852, a British surgeon described the fruit in a pharmaceutical journal as a "miraculous" berry. In the early 20th century, a renowned botanist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, David Fairchild, was the first person to bring miracle fruit from Africa to the U.S., says Linda Bartoshuk, a professor at the Center for Smell and Taste at the University of Florida.
The miracle fruit, Synsepalum dulcificum, is native to West Africa and has been known to Westerners since the 18th century. The cause of the reaction is a protein called miraculin, which binds with the taste buds and acts as a sweetness inducer when it comes in contact with acids, according to a scientist who has studied the fruit, Linda Bartoshuk at the University of Florida's Center for Smell and Taste. Dr. Bartoshuk said she did not know of any dangers associated with eating miracle fruit.
During the 1970s, a ruling by the Food and Drug Administration dashed hopes that an extract of miraculin could be sold as a sugar substitute. In the absence of any plausible commercial application, the miracle fruit has acquired a bit of a cult following.
Sina Najafi, editor in chief of the art magazine Cabinet, has featured miracle fruits at some of the publication's events. At a party in London last October, the fruit, he said, "had people testifying like some baptismal thing."
The berries were passed out last week at a reading of "The Fruit Hunters," a new book by Adam Leith Gollner with a chapter about miracle fruit.
(PS: The Times linked to three different websites in its online story, so they can't argue that they couldn't even give a link to the WSJ.)