The rise and fall of Jonah Lehrer

Jonah Lehrer , staff writer for the New Yorker and a best selling science author, resigned in disgrace today.  He admitted to fabricating quotes from Bob Dylan in his most recent book:

New York Times: An article in Tablet magazine revealed that in his best-selling book, “Imagine: How Creativity Works,” Mr. Lehrer had fabricated quotes from Bob Dylan, one of the most closely studied musicians alive. Only last month, Mr. Lehrer had publicly apologized for taking some of his previous work from The Wall Street Journal, Wired and other publications and recycling it in blog posts for The New Yorker, acts of recycling that his editor called “a mistake.”

…Mr. Lehrer might have kept his job at The New Yorker if not for the Tablet article, by Michael C. Moynihan, a journalist who is something of an authority on Mr. Dylan.

Reading “Imagine,” Mr. Moynihan was stopped by a quote cited by Mr. Lehrer in the first chapter. “It’s a hard thing to describe,” Mr. Dylan said. “It’s just this sense that you got something to say.”

Lehrer was a regular on Radiolab and he seemed to always really know his science. I have linked to his articles in the past (see here). His publisher is withdrawing his book and giving refunds to anyone returning it. I haven’t read the book, but from the excerpts and his interviews on it, I think the science is probably accurate. I don’t really know what he was thinking but my guess was that he was just trying to spice up the book and imagined a quote that Dylan might say. The fabricated quote above is pretty innocuous. He probably didn’t think anyone would notice. Maybe he felt pressure to write a best seller. Maybe he was overconfident. In any case, he definitely shouldn’t have done it. It is unfortunate because he was a gifted writer and boon to neuroscience and science in general.


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