Jonah Lehrer

Jonah Lehrer’s “Mystery”

An unexpected benefit of mask-wearing is being able to say things without being heard. That came in handy a few weeks ago at my local public library, when I uttered “what in the actual f***?” at the completely unexpected sight of a new Jonah Lehrer book.

As you might remember, Lehrer’s writing career derailed nearly 10 years ago when numerous instances of plagiarism and inaccuracy were uncovered in his books and magazine articles. Two of his books were withdrawn from sale by their publishers, and most of the publications he wrote for dropped him as a contributor and removed his discredited articles from their websites. Lehrer gave a controversial speech of apology and co-operated with author Jon Ronson for a chapter in Ronson’s book on public shaming, but since then his writing has mostly been seen on his own blog and in two books that slipped by without much notice.

Mystery, the new book, is indeed mysterious in that it seems to have sprung out of nowhere. I couldn’t find any online news about a new Lehrer book on the way, and there doesn’t seem to have been much advance promotion for the book. So, being intrigued by that additional layer of mystery, of course I read it.

I posted about Lehrer’s previous problems several times on this blog, including an analysis of his now-withdrawn book Imagine which became a featured post on WordPress and attracted thousands of readers. I don’t say this to be boastful, but to be forthright about the reality that I’m familiar with the controversial history of Lehrer’s writing – and that inevitably colours how I look at his current work. I didn’t deliberately go through Mystery looking for things to pick on, but I have to be truthful and say that there were several places where information in the book just didn’t read or feel right. When I encountered those places, I did additional research on the information that Lehrer presented.

The book (more…)

The Return of Jonah Lehrer

When we last heard about writer Jonah Lehrer – whose career self-destructed after his writing was found to have numerous instances of plagiarism and factual inaccuracies – he had been paid $20,000 to give a much-criticized speech about journalistic ethics. A few months after that, he was reported to be circulating a book proposal – which also allegedly included plagiarized content. Then….nothing.

And now, very quietly, he’s back.

At the end of March, (more…)

The Uncomfortable Truth: The Lack of Creativity in Discussions of Creativity

Earlier this week, I saw a online mention of an article by Thomas Frank in the June 2013  issue of Harper’s Magazine, with the mention indicating that the article took some pretty harsh potshots at the literature on creativity. After my own reading of some of the popular press books about the creative process – including Jonah Lehrer’s now-withdrawn Imagine, one of the biggest sellers on that topic – the idea of a critical look at this literature intrigued me, especially a critical look by someone whose main job isn’t writing about or researching business.

I managed to find a copy of that issue of Harper’s, and when I read Frank’s article, I wasn’t disappointed. (more…)

The Problems with Jonah Lehrer’s “Proust Was a Neuroscientist”

A few weeks ago, I wrote about Jonah Lehrer’s book How We Decide being removed from sale because some of its contents were plagiarized. This occurred just after Lehrer had made his first public appearance in several months, giving a speech apologizing for his previous journalistic misdeeds, including self-plagiarism and fabricated quotes.

In his story on How We Decide being pulled off the market, journalist Michael Moynihan – who uncovered the fabricated quotes which led to Lehrer’s book Imagine also being removed from sale – reports that How We Decide‘s publishers also reviewed 2007’s Proust Was a Neuroscientist, the first of Lehrer’s three books. The review “did not uncover any problems and…[the book] ‘will remain in print’ “.

After examining some parts of Proust Was a Neuroscientist more closely, I think that the book does have “problems”. (more…)

All About Work’s First Birthday

(credit: own photo)

(credit: own photo)

Today marks the first birthday of All About Work. In one year, it’s received over 10,000 hits, and working on it has been a lot of fun for me.

The five posts that received the most hits during the year are: (more…)

Jonah Lehrer’s 2nd Book Pulled by Publisher

Despite Jonah Lehrer’s very public and very lucrative apology last week for his plagiarism problems, those problems don’t seem to be going away.

Michael Moynihan, the journalist who uncovered Lehrer’s fabricated Bob Dylan quotes, has posted a story today that Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Lehrer’s book publisher, has removed How We Decide from sale. How We Decide was Lehrer’s second book, published before the (in)famous Imagine; I’ve written about some of the other problems with that book here.

The reason given for taking the book off the market was an “internal review” that uncovered “significant problems”. The “problems” weren’t specified by the publisher, but Moynihan points to a set of quotes in How We Decide allegedly from an interview conducted by Lehrer specifically for the book, but which bear a remarkable similarity to 20-year-old quotes on Wikipedia about the same issue.

The Knight Foundation, which hired Lehrer for the $20,000 speech, later apologized for the decision to pay him that much (although they didn’t ask him to return his speaking fee, at least not publicly). I’m thinking that right about now they’re probably really sorry…..

Jonah Lehrer Apologizes (And Gets $20,000)

Jonah Lehrer – the author whose misadventures in plagiarism I’ve written about in several previous posts – is back.

On Feb. 12, Lehrer gave a speech on “bad decision-making” at an event sponsored by the Knight Foundation. According to this story, for appearing at the event – his first major public appearance since last July – Lehrer received a fee of $20,000. The reaction to this news has not been positive. In fact, not very positive at all.

Following up on suggestions like this one, a writer for Forbes magazine phoned Lehrer to ask if he would consider donating the $20,000 fee to charity. Lehrer hung up on him.

You can read the transcript of Lehrer’s speech here. At least this time he gave full references for his sources.

UPDATE: The Knight Foundation has apologized for paying Lehrer $20,000 for his speech. However, it is not clear whether the foundation is actually cancelling the payment or asking for it to be repaid.

Jonah Lehrer’s ‘Imagine’: How Did This Happen?

This past week, I had the opportunity to read Jonah Lehrer’s Imagine –  the book that’s part of the controversy about plagiarism and fabrication in Lehrer’s writing. Imagine has been pulled by its publisher as a result of that controversy, so pointing out additional problems with it may now be somewhat redundant. (The copy I read came from my public library.) Nevertheless, after reading it, I want to outline the problems I found with the referencing in the book – an area which other commentators have also raised concerns about. (more…)