August 31, 2012

Slate | Wired asked NYU journalism professor Charles Seife to investigate Jonah Lehrer’s work for the website after it was revealed that the writer had recycled some of his own material for New Yorker posts and had fabricated quotes in one of his books. For reasons that are unclear, did not publish the results of Seife’s investigation, but Slate did.

Seife reviewed 18 posts and found 14 instances in which Lehrer recycled his own work, five posts that included material directly from press releases, three posts that plagiarized from other writers, four posts with problematic quotations and four that had problematic facts. Here’s a table summarizing his findings: has issued a statement from Editor-in-Chief Evan Hansen. The statement does not explain why the website didn’t publish the investigation results itself. It reads, in part:

The review uncovered examples of work that do not meet WIRED editorial standards. (List of posts with confirmed issues to date below.) Although Frontal Cortex posts were not edited or fact checked, we expect those whose work appears on our site to follow basic good journalism practices. Lehrer’s failure to meet WIRED editorial standards leaves us no choice but to sever the relationship.

As we’ve said previously, we have found no issues to date with Lehrer’s magazine articles, which were subject to the usual thorough fact-checking process.

We will annotate the affected posts on In addition, all Frontal Cortex articles will carry a notice indicating some work by this author has been found to fall outside our editorial standards, along with a custom feedback link for suggestions, comments or further questions. We will try to follow up as appropriate on new information. Also, going forward, we will spot check random articles for similarities with previously published material before posting them.

Seife told me in a message on Twitter that he didn’t know why Wired chose not to run his story. In a phone interview, he explained how the story ended up at Slate and why he thinks editors share some of the responsibility for Lehrer’s shortcuts.

Earlier this month, Wired spokesman Jon Hammond told BuzzFeed that Lehrer was still on contract with the magazine and working on assignments. The following day, Wired clarified that he was not working on new assignments for them. Around the same time, two more sources indicated Lehrer fabricated quotes from them that appeared in “Imagine.”

Last month, journalist Michael Moynihan discovered fabricated Bob Dylan quotes in “Imagine.” Moynihan later found problems in Lehrer’s “How We Decide.” Publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt pulled “Imagine” from bookstores and e-sales, and said it was reviewing all of his books.

In a tweet July 30 about Moynihan’s discoveries, Seife said:

Seife told me on Twitter that his first contact with Wired about this investigation was August 16.

In his Slate piece published Friday, Seife concludes:

I interviewed Lehrer for an hour and a half to get his reaction, but I am unable to publish his comments. Unfortunately, in the setup to the interview,, which set the ground rules for the interview, didn’t make sufficiently clear that the discussion was not solely part of an internal investigation and that it could be made public. As a result, I can’t quote Lehrer or even paraphrase what he told me. But what I can say is that 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.

Seife does not blame Lehrer exclusively though. “Lehrer’s transgressions are inexcusable—but I can’t help but think that the industry he (and I) work for share a some of the blame for his failure,” he writes. “He rose to the very top in a flash, and despite having his work published by major media companies, he was operating, most of the time, without a safety net. Nobody noticed that something was amiss until it was too late to save him.”

Timeline of events

June 19: Jim Romenesko reported that Jonah Lehrer recycled material for a New Yorker story
June 19: Joe Coscarelli published additional examples of Lehrer recycling material in New Yorker blog posts
June 19: Jacob Silverman found examples of Lehrer recycling in stories for The New York Times
June 20: Edward Champion published a comprehensive catalog of Lehrer’s recycling
June 20: Lehrer apologized for recycling his own material
June 21: New Yorker editor David Remnick said, “…if he were making things up or appropriating other people’s work that’s one level of crime.”
July 30: Michael Moynihan revealed fabricated Bob Dylan quotes in Lehrer’s “Imagine”
July 30: Lehrer resigned from The New Yorker
August 3: Moynihan revealed plagiarism in “How We Decide”
August 7: Lehrer’s publisher said it was reviewing all of his books
August 10: Magician Teller said he didn’t say what was attributed to him in “Imagine”
August 15: Wired said Lehrer remained under contract
August 16: Wired said Lehrer had no current assignments
August 17: Milton Glaser said he didn’t say what was attributed to him in “Imagine”
August 31: Wired severed ties with Lehrer

Related: How Edward Champion catalogued Jonah Lehrer’s sins | Lehrer on creativity: ‘You fall in love with something and then you steal it’ | Jayson Blair on Jonah Lehrer fabrications: ‘There’s probably more than what we’ve seen so far’ | WNYC: No reason to believe that Jonah Lehrer’s work for ‘Radiolab’ is compromised | Science writers: Jonah Lehrer’s scientific errors worse than fabricated quotes | Complete coverage of Jonah Lehrer

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Julie Moos ( has been Director of Poynter Online and Poynter Publications since 2009. Previously, she was Editor of Poynter Online (2007-2009) and Poynter Publications…
Julie Moos

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