Jonah Lehrer. Photo by Lori Duff
I closely followed the revelations last month that Jonah Lehrer, the wonder boy pop-neuroscience writer who had just landed at the New Yorker, had a habit of being a bit repetitive. On several occasions, it was discovered that Lehrer had almost verbatim copied from himself.
I thought that the reaction was overblown. I found it to be a bit of schadenfreude (as did my blogging colleague Danielle Berrin).
Still Lehrer’s act wasn’t “self-plagiarism”—it was, as Jack Schafer termed it, “onanism.” It was dishonest with readers, but it didn’t violate a cardinal rule of journalism.
I regularly recite my own work on this blog. The difference is just that I identify and cite to the original publication. (Example.)
I also didn’t want to believe that someone whom I had come to respect since interviewing him for The Jewish Journal before the release of his first of three books had questionable journalism ethics. After all, he hadn’t lifted someone else’s work or fabricated any information.
But then today came this news:
Jonah Lehrer has reportedly resigned from The New Yorker on the same day Michael Moynihan makes pretty convincing case in Tablet Magazine that Lehrer invented, deceptively patched together, or at best could not provide documentation for several quotes he attributed to Bob Dylan in his book Imagine: How Creativity Works. Lehrer already found himself in a bit of a journalism scandal last month when he got caught copying his own work from earlier publications and using it for posts on his newly created Frontal Cortex blog on The New Yorker’s website, but Moynihan’s accounts of quote fabrication and lying about one’s sources points to a journo-crime of an entirely different degree. The New York Times’s Julie Bosman reports that according to his publisher, he’s resigned, and they will stop shipping his book.
An archived version of the Tablet story is here (there website is down, presumably from traffic). And here is a statement from Lehrer:
Three weeks ago, I received an email from journalist Michael Moynihan asking about Bob Dylan quotes in my book Imagine,” Mr. Lehrer said in a statement. “The quotes in question either did not exist, were unintentional misquotations, or represented improper combinations of previously existing quotes. But I told Mr. Moynihan that they were from archival interview footage provided to me by Dylan’s representatives. This was a lie spoken in a moment of panic. When Mr. Moynihan followed up, I continued to lie, and say things I should not have said.