Most places on Internet, Jonah Lehrer is a liar and fabricator, thanks to the breathtaking journalistic malpractice that folks have been documenting in recent weeks.
Yet there’s still one spot where Lehrer is “America’s most popular chronicler of neuroscience.” Where Lehrer is “[c]aptivating, accesible [sic] and never dull.” Where Lehrer “cracks open the black box of the mind to reveal how we think and how we can make better decisions.” Where Lehrer’s book Imagine: How Creativity Works is groundbreaking work, not a generator of refunds. Where Lehrer is a New Yorker staff writer, not a former New Yorker staff writer.
That place is Lehrer’s page on the Web site of the Lavin Agency, the outfit that promotes him as a speaker who in his pre-fab prime could reportedly command around $20,000 per appearance. Forbes has documented how Lehrer lost various gigs that he’d lined up before his scandal set in; among them were an address at Earlham College in Indiana and at Iowa State University.
Those institutions of higher learning are among the Lehrer Inc. entities that have had to make a call on association with this guy. After Lehrer was caught by Tablet magazine fabricating quotes by Bob Dylan for Imagine, he resigned forthwith from the New Yorker. But Wired magazine, which has a contract with Lehrer, appeared to flip-flop this week on the question, first stating support for him but later saying it’d have to think about whether it would ever publish him again. Prediction: Lehrer will never again weasel his way into a Wired byline.
And then there’s the Lavin Agency, which appears to like Lehrer and his genius from the podium. Back when Lehrer was drawing attention for the quasi-offense of republishing prior work on his Frontal Cortex blog at NewYorker.com, Lavin’s Gordon Mazur launched into minimization mode: “Self-plagiarization is…I don’t even know what it is. Where does that fall in the level of crimes?” Mazur said to Erik Maza of Women’s Wear Daily.
When I asked Mazur today whether the time warp on Lehrer’s Web page was an indication that the agency was still promoting the author, he responded: “He’s definitely still on our site.” But Mazur wasn’t in the mood to chat about Lehrer’s transgressions and their implications for Lavin. “We don’t comment on our speakers.”
End of discussion. Pity, too, because I’d wanted to ask Mazur how Lehrer’s page on the Lavin site could be updated while still presenting the guy as an excellent speaker choice. One possibility would be to change this passage:
A Rhodes Scholar, Jonah Lehrer broke onto the scene by advocating for a fourth culture, where art and science merge to create a new understanding of the human condition. Now, his focus has shifted slightly to our perception of creativity: the creative mind, he insists, is not a gift that only a lucky few possess — it’s in all of us.
To read this way:
A Rhodes Scholar, Jonah Lehrer broke onto the scene by advocating for a fourth culture, where art and science merge to create a new understanding of the human condition. Now, his focus has shifted slightly to our perception of creativity: the creative mind, he insists, is not a gift that only a lucky few possess — it’s in all of us, and can be harnessed to propagate monstrous lies.