I looked forward to his articles in Wired. I recommended his two latest books: How We Decide (Amazon) and Imagine: How Creativity Works (withdrawn from circulation).
Jonah’s move to sister magazine, The New Yorker, in June was impressive. His plagiarism wasn’t. He resigned (or got fired) on July 30th for lying.
PlagiarismJonah is only 31 and had a bright future … until … he was found guilty of self-plagiarism. What's that? Normal plagiarism means passing off someone else's work as your own. That means self-plagiarism is passing off your work as your work.
What's wrong with that?
I'm also guilty of self-plagiarism since my ideas build upon themselves. Creativity is iterative. When I speak, there’s often overlap with content I've used before. Springsteen performs songs over and over but audiences love that.
Professional writing is different. When a publication pays a writer, they expect an original article. That's fair. As an interviewee, you can keep saying the same or similar things. As a paid writer, you can't. Understood.
Even so, there were no sanctions against Jonah. The New Yorker added a disclaimer to the less-than-original articles to say that some content was recycled.
LIESJonah concocted Bob Dylan quotes for Imagine. That’s bizarre because Bob isn’t core to the book. That’s also risky because Bob has devoted fans. Michael Moynihan investigated. Jonah finally admitted his lies. Hero to zero.
SanctionsJonah’s gone from The New Yorker. Let’s call that his decision. Imagine has been withdrawn and you can return your copy for a refund. Over 200,000 copies were sold. That’s many readers fooled.
However, the Lavin speaker’s bureau hasn’t made any corrections or withdrawn his page. What Jonah did may not matter to them but his speaking engagements are getting cancelled. For example, he won’t be talking to students about ethics at Earlham College next week (Forbes, Aug 1, 2012).
SincerityStrangest of all, Jonah makes no apologies on his own website.
Jonah still says he’s a writer for The New Yorker. He’s not.
He still says his book is available for sale. It’s not.
You won’t find any apologies on Twitter either. Why not?
HowWhy wasn’t Jonah caught earlier?
He has written for well-known publications with journalists who know how to investigate. He has lots of content that’s available online for easy review.
Maybe there was scrutiny in his early days and less as he established himself. Bad habits can develop …
The ConsequenceWe trust less when we see mainstream examples of deception. That’s a huge and unwelcome tax.
What will be uncovered next?
As Warren Buffett says (or is said to have said), “There’s never just one cockroach in the kitchen”.
- Jonah Lehrer: jonahlehrer.com, Wikipedia
- Jonah Lehrer’s publisher is reviewing all of his books (Poynter, Aug 7, 2012)
- Examples of Jonah Lehrer’s deception keep comi ng (NY Mag, Aug 3, 2012)
- Jonah Lehrer’s missing compass (PLOS, Aug 3, 2012)
- Jonah Lehrer resigned from The New Yorker after making up Dylan quotes for his book (The New York Times, Jul 30, 2012)
- How Jonah Lehrer recycled his own material for Imagine (Reluctant Habits, Jun 20, 2012) [very detailed]
- Five famous plagiarists: where are they now? (Plagiarism Today, Aug 21, 2012)
- Jonah Lehrer's journalistic misdeeds at wired.com (Slate, Aug 31, 2012)
- Journalism's problem is a failure of originality (The Globe and Mail, Sep 28, 2012)
- Columnist Margaret Wente defends herself [but doesn't really apologize] (The Globe and Mail, Sep 25, 2012)
- 8 key questions and answers about the Margaret Wente plagiarism scandal (Poynter, Sep 25, 2012)
- Jonah Lehrer: I 'Plagiarized,' 'Lied,' 'Caused Deep Pain' (Huffington Post, Feb 12, 2013) (new)
- How to respond to bad news
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PS There are lots of kitchens to inspect.