Jonah Lehrer’s publisher is reviewing all of his books

All three of Jonah Lehrer’s bestselling books are under review by publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, according to Lori Glazer, the company’s vice president and executive director of publicity. The publisher pulled copies of “Imagine” and halted e-book sales last week, after journalist Michael Moynihan revealed that Lehrer had made up and mangled some Bob Dylan quotations.

Moynihan went on to look at “How We Decide,” published in 2009, to see if there were suspicious passages in it, too. With “no more than a few hours of checking and a few emails [to] people mentioned by Lehrer … I found fake interviews, quotes that can’t be located, and plagiarism,” he wrote Friday. One example: Lehrer claimed to have interviewed the pilot of a commercial airliner that crashed in 1989, but the quotation is remarkably similar to a speech the pilot gave in 1991.

“All of Jonah’s books are under review,” Glazer told me.

The publisher has told booksellers to send copies of “Imagine” back for a refund. Consumers can get refunds, too.

Related: Lehrer wasn’t just sloppy, he was arrogant (Seth Mnookin) | Jonah Lehrer exemplifies everything wrong with TED culture, even though he’s never done a TED talk (Reuters) | Karl Taro Greenfeld says journalism is policing itself better, but the field isn’t getting better (GalleyCat)

Earlier: Jayson Blair on Jonah Lehrer fabrications: ‘There’s probably more than what we’ve seen so far’Former fans, loyalists respond to Jonah Lehrer’s fall‘It’s hard to start at the top,’ says Sharon Waxman of Jonah Lehrer

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  • New Citizen

    Well, a library has a policy of returning the book. I wonder if this will be nationally adopted.

  • carpa

    >Evidence of his “scientific carelessness” is seriously hard to find. 
    Really? Several expert reviewers have noted *many* serious scientific issues with his books. Of course he prefers other pop sci writers as reviews, duh. But as his little reply demonstrates scientific issues are more difficult to prove than the systematic fabrications he built his Dylan chapter around.
    >He was a scientist in a noble prize winners lab and doesn’t lack knowledge.

    And that’s an argument for you even if it were true? Turns out he washed dishes in the Kandel lab as an undergrad and doesn’t have a post-graduate degree. 

  • Ali Eorse

    This is a good development, of course thanks to Poynter. Will his academic writing at Columbia and Oxford be examined? His procedure was to combine academia-journalism. Should not both worlds be examined?

  • Anonymous

    The authors of this article don’t seem to care about any journalistic standards because they are citing TWEETS! The tweets are unsubstantiated and based on Moynihan’s “cursory” research. The tweets and this article sound more like libel from someone (and Poynter) who wants to hold onto their page views, retweets and 15 minutes of witch hunt fame.

    Poynter, if you were worth a read you’d report on how all the magazines, news papers and radio shows Jonah has worked for have already fact checked and cleared his work.

    Carpa – Evidence of his “scientific carelessness” is seriously hard to find. He was a scientist in a noble prize winners lab and doesn’t lack knowledge.
    There are two negative reviews of Imagine to point to (out of many), one of which Jonah responded to here:

  • carpa

    It would be nice if they checked the science as well. He not only fabricated quotes but handled scientific evidence with the same carelessness. As pointed out by several expert reviewers for each of his three books his claims are often fundamentally and incorrigibly wrong (that is without rewriting the books). I wish publishers did some scientific fact checking before publishing misleading fiction as popular science.

  • Anonymous

    There are two aspects of the Lehrer case that should be sorted out.

    One is the relationship between Lehrer and Eric R. Kandel.

    The other is the issue of language. Perhaps the wisest comment I heard in university was from a linguistics professor saying that we always assume the language.

    How could Lehrer have gotten through his university programs without forceful interventions (it seems) in his writing pathologies?

    I think that Bill Marvel’s superb response to my e-mail gives us evidence of a life in the media well-lived, and a meditative attitude to language that would help Lehrer (I do not assume that he is a lost cause):

    –Though i’m not exactly sure why you sent it to me, and whether you regard ‘”Islands” an example to follow or avoid.

    Writing — or ghost-writing — that book was the most difficult technical challenge I’ve ever faced as a writer. My foremost aim was to capture the quality of Burgin’s voice without transcribing or even quoting more than a phrase here and there. Burgin, as you’ve probably read, grew up on a dirt farm in south-central Texas, and while he finished high school, he is not natural story-teller. His narration comes in bits and pieces with lots of digressions, doubling back, infll and so fourth.

    It took me a long time to get it right — Burgin was my severest critic — and when i did, it was only after listening to the interview tapes over and over to the point I began to dream in Burgin’s voice. Then I could begin to write the book. The result, while not always strictly grammatical, is not, I hope, illiterate nor false to the original.

    After almost six decades writing narration, you’d think matters of tense would sort themselves out. They don’t. It’s not the declension of verbs that throws me, but the complex layering of past and present (and somtimes future) in the flow of story. My first question is always, Does the reader know where we are in this particular clause or sentence or paragraph? My next question is, Do I know?

    My ultimate authority in settlng these questions is the argument of the ear, honed on many decades of reading the best I could get my hands on, and of listening.

    Anyway, thanks for your note.I hope you are enjoying Burgin’s story, and I hope I did it justice.

    Bill M.

  • Rachael Ludwick

    Doesn’t it seem a bit unfair or beating him while he’s down? It’s not like there aren’t hundreds (thousands?) of books every year published that are inaccurate. A good number are going to have incorrect information because the author deliberately ignores contradictory evidence (or just outright lies because it’s convenient). And largely no one checks (

    If this after-the-fact-check of Lehrer’s books is going to lead to better review by major publishers for many high-profile non-fiction books, then that would be great. But I suspect it won’t because that would cost a lot of money and in this case they are doing it to save themselves embarassment.

  • spragued

    Wow, it only took an epic scandal for their editors, fact checkers and legal to, you know, do what they’re supposed to do. Excellent!