Jonah Lehrer Breaks Silence, Hints at New Book

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Sept. 25 2012 2:24 PM

Is Jonah Lehrer Angling For a New Book Deal? It Sure Sounds Like It.

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Jonah Lehrer attends the 'You and Your Irrational Brain' panel discussion at Water Taxi Beach in Long Island City in conjunction with the World Science Festival in May 2008

Photo by Thos Robinson/Getty Images.

Jonah Lehrer is ready to talk about the journalistic misdeeds that cost him his place at the table of Big Thinkers. Well, almost.

Josh Voorhees Josh Voorhees

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. 

Turns out, the 31-year-old science journalist and best-selling author says he plans to address the affair that cost him his job at The New Yorker on his own terms, with a written investigation into the entire matter. While Lehrer isn't going into detail about his writing (and/or potential publishing) plans, from the sounds of it, his return to the world of words will be as much a defense of his past work as it will be an investigation into the ethical missteps that derailed his career.

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Those are the newsy nuggets in a new piece on the former Wired writer that Los Angeles Magazine published this afternoon. Here's the relevant passage from Amy Wallace's interesting essay on Lehrer and the scandal (emphasis ours):

When I e-mailed Lehrer to ask him, he responded right away. Despite the avalanche of coverage, he said, I was only the third person to contact him for comment. (Apparently Lehrer wasn’t the only person guilty of laziness. Or was it that a potential response from Lehrer might not jibe with what the commentariat wanted to say?) "I’m extremely tempted to correct many of the false accusations that have been made about my work in recent weeks," he wrote before declining to answer my questions. "I’m writing something about the mistake and affair myself, if only so I can learn from the failing, and I’d prefer not to talk until my writing is done."

You can read Wallace's full piece here. Lehrer's comments, as brief as they were, appear to be the first he has made publicly since his resignation.

A quick refresher for those who need it: Lehrer first ran into trouble in mid-June when he was caught recycling some of his previous writing—sometimes nearly verbatim—in other articles and blog posts. He largely survived what was seen as a minor infraction of the journalism industry's unwritten rules but, from there, things only got worse.

The following month he was discovered to have made up quotes he attributed to Bob Dylan in his latest nonfiction book, Imagine. As Wallace mentions, if his recycling was a journalistic misdemeanor, then his quote fabrication was a felony. The Dylan discovery forced him to resign from The New Yorker, and quickly launched near countless attacks on his career and journalism in general.

A subsequent internal investigation at Wired conducted by New York University journalism professor Charles Seife found further evidence of plagiarism, dodgy quotes, and factual inaccuracies in his reporting. As you may remember from Seife's Slate piece recounting his investigation, Lehrer was unwilling to go on the record at that time about the incident. Seifer summed up his impression of Lehrer like so:

In short, I am convinced that Lehrer has a cavalier attitude about truth and falsehood. This shows not only in his attitude toward quotations but in some of the other details of his writing. And a journalist who repeatedly fails to correct errors when they're pointed out is, in my opinion, exhibiting reckless disregard for the truth.