I have two posts in the queue which quote passages from Jonah Lehrer’s book, “Imagine: How Creativity Works.” A book I’ve read and enjoyed. In fact, I’ve been recommending it to people who want to improve their creative game.
So woe was little old me when I read a tweet from a friend about Lehrer and his book.
The message pointed me in the general direction of a post detailing Lehrer’s fabrications. If you do a quick Google search you’ll find a multitude of posts and discussions on his transgressions.
Lehrer, a 31-year-old science writer, was on the rise. A gifted author often compared to Malcolm Gladwell, he appeared to be a guy with the chops, brains and creativity to make it all work. An extremely smart guy with a knack for explaining fairly complex thoughts to a layman like me. But the problems lie in the details.
So, what did he do?
Back in June he was dealing with allegations of “self-plagiarizing.” Basically “repurposing” earlier material and posting it on his New Yorker blog, passing if off as new writing. A short fire-storm ensued and he survived.
But more recently, journalist Michael Moynihan exposed that Lehrer had fabricated some Bob Dylan quotes In his best-selling book, “Imagine.”
And he’s been accused of being misleading, with details often cryptic enough to fool an audience (read: me) with little true understanding of the subject matter. Um, it’s cognitive neuroscience folks, so I hope you’ll cut me a break on this one.
Lehrer has resigned from The New Yorker.
Is now and ex-Wired science writer.
And his publisher has asked bookstores to remove “Imagine” from their shelves.
And the inquiry has only just begun.
So, I’ll be 100% honest.
I’m flummoxed and pissed at the same time. I feel the fool because I bought into the hype and most of what he wrote.
“Repurposing” content is one thing, but falsifying quotes from an American deity like Dylan? He didn’t think someone would notice? Now you can’t help but question every blog post, every book, and every article from the man.
Intellectually lazy? Too much on his plate? Not wanting his meteoric rise to stop? I don’t know, but it certainly raises some interesting questions for bloggers, huh?
So, the topics I would like to address today are:
1. Self plagiarism
2. Making shit up
1. Self plagiarism:
His case involves some big players, like The Wall Street Journal and The New Yorker, but what about our small sphere? Don’t we ALL do this to some extent? Cut and paste our own stuff? But what about when you’re selling books or making big money on the speaking circuit?
2. Making shit up:
To me, it’s kinda crazy to misquote a cultural icon, but what about us? Really. When is it okay to make stuff up? And is something like this any different for a little old blogger like me? Like you? What about the big boys and girls of the blogosphere? You already know how I feel about so-called “gurus.”
As bloggers, we repeat ourselves all the time, yes?
Do we need to reference every little link? Cite every word that kinda, sorta originated somewhere else? If we put our own spin on it doesn’t that make it right?
There really is nothing new under the sun, right?
Me? The main reason I’m a wee bit rankled is because I feel duped. Tricked by a supposedly trusted expert. A tad bit ironic after I wrote this post, huh?
This piece is a bit off topic, but I would like to know what you think. So, please enlighten this rube with your wisdom below.
How often do you cut and paste your own material? “Repurpose?” And what is ethical here?
When (if ever) is it okay for a non-fiction writer or “guru” to make shit up?