Jonah Lehrer’s Plagiarism Scandal: But Wait, There’s More!

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Photo: Lynn Goldsmith/Corbis

Pulling on the thread of pop-science wunderkind Jonah Lehrer's self-plagiarism unraveled much of the very expensive knit sweater that was his career when it was revealed that he also fabricated Bob Dylan quotes. After Lehrer lost his job at The New Yorker and had his book recalled, additional examples of journalistic malfeasance continued to surface, while Wired, where Lehrer made his name as a prolific blogger, kept him on as a contracted features writer. But that relationship, too, came to an inglorious end over the holiday weekend, when still more of Lehrer's "misdeeds" were chronicled and dissected.

Wired enlisted the help of NYU professor and science journalist Charles Seife to comb Lehrer's Frontal Cortex blog for ethical breaches. Although Wired opted not to run Seife's complete findings, Slate stepped in to fill the role and even provided an illustrative chart for breaking down Lehrer's offenses: "Recycling," "Press Release Plagiarism," "Plagiarism, "Quotation Issues," and "Factual Issues."

Of the 18 blog posts (out of 252 total) examined by Seife, he found at least one violation in 17. With varying degrees of blatant dishonesty, Lehrer copied himself, press releases, and other science writers, while also altering quotations in seemingly arbitrary ways.

Seife, who interviewed Lehrer off the record, concludes:

[...] a number of his responses to my questions made me suspect that Lehrer's journalistic moral compass is badly broken.

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.

It is thus my opinion that Lehrer plagiarized others' work, published inaccurate quotations, printed narrative details that were factually incorrect, and failed to address errors when they were pointed out.

As a result, Wired.com editor-in-chief Evan Hansen announced, "Lehrer's failure to meet Wired editorial standards leaves us no choice but to sever the relationship." Lehrer is pretty much on his own now, although for completists, there are many thousands of more words to pore over across numerous publications, bound to turn up something.