August 18, 2012


"We regret the duplication of material"I'm very disappointed by Jonah Lehrer. He was called the next Malcolm Gladwell (though not by me).

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 I recommended his two latest books: How We Decide (Amazon) and Imagine: How Creativity Works (withdrawn from circulation).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.


Jonah 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.


Jonah 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.


Lavin continues promoting JonahJonah’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 Imagine has been withdrawn and you can return your copy for a refund.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However, the Lavin speaker’s bureau hasn’t made any corrections or withdrawn his page.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).


misleading websiteStrangest 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?

Book still shown on Jonah's website


Why 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 …
No apology on Twitter

The Consequence

We 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”.


Podcast 182

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PS There are lots of kitchens to inspect.


Lori said...

Interesting observation. The website seems like a pathetic attempt to retain something of his past. Or perhaps he is going through the natural stages of plagiarism and this is the "denial" phase?

Of course I have no way to prove this, but I would not be surprised if his cheating and unethical behavior extends throughout his life and time at college. I don't buy the argument of being under pressure leading to unethical behavior. I don't know of many people who become liars and cheats due to success, but I know of plenty who have gained success via lying and cheating.

Promod Sharma said...

Thanks for your comments, Lori. I wouldn't be surprised by more evidence of wrongdoing ... if anyone bothers investigating further.