Everybody’s piling on Jonah Lehrer right now. The thrice-published boy wonder first faced scrutiny for his rather unethical habit of self-plagiarism. And yesterday he pooped his pants on the national stage, copping to some using some combination of “unintentional misquotations, or represented improper combinations of previously existing quotes” attributed to part-time homeless man Bob Dylan in the first chapter of his latest, Imagine: How Creativity Works.
The piling on is totally appropriate, and really should have happened weeks ago when he was first found out for recycling so much content. Some defended him then, blaming the fact that the current journalistic world favors quantity over quality. I agree that this shift in priority is ultimately harmful and results in a lot of shoddy pieces, but disagree that this had much or anything to do with Lehrer. I don’t view him as a journalist—though he did write some not-that-bad pieces for The New Yorker earlier this year—so much as someone who poses (or posed, now that his career is effectively over) counter-intuitive questions, half-answered them, asked some more questions, cited someone from Princeton, and cashed a decent-sized check. (I’m kicking myself over failing to remember who had a great line—Josh Levin at Slate?—about the fact that Lehrer’s fall from grace is welcome to many because, well, he’s kind of a hack, and the comparisons to Malcom Gladwell were decidedly not flattering.) Continue reading