Another false quotation found in Jonah Lehrer's 'Imagine'

The Skeptical Libertarian

Teller, of the Penn & Teller magician duo, joins Bob Dylan as a famous person who didn't say what Jonah Lehrer quoted him as saying in his book "Imagine." Here's what Lehrer claimed Teller said in 1981:

“I was definitely on the verge of giving up the dream of becoming a magician ... I was ready to go back home and become a high-school Latin teacher.”

Kevin Breen thought that from Teller sounded suspicious, in part because it contradicted another Teller quotation in a story Lehrer wrote for Wired in 2009. So this week, Breen drove from Los Angeles to Las Vegas to ask Teller about it in person.

I read Teller his quote from the Wired article: “I always assumed I’d spend my life happily performing in artsy-fartsy little theaters,” before asking him about the contradictory quote in Lehrer’s book.

“That’s correct,” Teller confirmed, before pointing to the fabricated quote from Imagine, “This is not.”

There is another similarity between the fake quotations ascribed to Teller and Dylan: Both were discovered by people who are serious fans of the people being quoted.

"I’m something of the Dylan obsessive," wrote Michael Moynihan in his story detailing his quest to substantiate the Dylan quotes.

Likewise, Breen tells me by email:

Yeah, I'm kind of a Penn and Teller nerd. I tend to watch/read/listen to just about everything they put out. I only have one magnet on my refrigerator, and it's an autographed Penn and Teller magnet I bought after one of their shows.

So there's your fabrication detection software: rabid fans.

Related: Time columnist Fareed Zakaria suspended for lifting from New Yorker story

Earlier: Jonah Lehrer’s publisher is reviewing all of his booksPlagiarism, more fake interviews in Jonah Lehrer’s booksWNYC: No reason to believe that Jonah Lehrer’s work for ‘Radiolab’ is compromisedJayson Blair on Jonah Lehrer fabrications: ‘There’s probably more than what we’ve seen so far’

  • Steve Myers

    Steve Myers was the managing editor of until August 2012, when he became the deputy managing editor and senior staff writer for The Lens, a nonprofit investigative news site in New Orleans.


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