Last month, I reported that Jonah Lehrer, a noted young writer who covers neuroscience, had recycled material from other stories in his new blog for The New Yorker. Lehrer admitted wrongdoing and briefly appeared able to weather the storm. He was not immediately dropped by The New Yorker, which promised that this sort of thing would not happen again.
Now Lehrer is in ashes, after admitting making up quotes from Bob Dylan, and insisting to a reporter that the quotes were not made up. The fabricated quotes appear in his new book, "Imagine: How Creativity Works," which has sold 200,000 copies, an achievement most authors can only dream of. The sad tale is recounted in this story in The New York Times.
We have no way of knowing what else Lehrer might have fabricated, and I, for one, don't care to spend 10 minutes searching his books or posts to find out. But what are we to make of the offense? Fabricating Dylan quotes? Dylan has surely said enough for anyone to find support for almost anything in real Dylan quotes. Or if that doesn't work, try Springsteen. Or Eddie Vedder. Ozzy Osbourne?
Lehrer's sin is roughly equivalent to a bank robber breaking into a parking meter. If you're going to fabricate, go for it, man. A new theory of consciousness! Alien abductions! Make it count.
Lehrer will now have time, presumably, to contemplate those four words that almost all of us must face now and again: "What was I thinking?"
He can console himself with the tidy sum he's made from his book and his apparently lucrative speaking engagements. Despite the fabrications, I'm betting he won't give the money back.
- Paul Raeburn