Jonah Lehrer is back, though you’d barely realize it by his new book.
The author of three bestsellers — “Proust Was a Neuroscientist” (2007), “How We Decide” (2009) and “Imagine: How Creativity Works” (2012) — Lehrer saw his reputation as a wunderkind science popularizer destroyed in 2012 when journalist Michael Moynihan revealed that Lehrer had manufactured quotes by Bob Dylan in “Imagine.”
Lehrer resigned as a New Yorker staff writer, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt stopped selling two of his books. “I’m just drenched in shame and regret,” he told writer Jon Ronson. “The shaming process is f—ing brutal.”
Which brings us to his latest work. “The Smarter Screen: Surprising Ways to Influence and Improve Online Behavior,” published this month by Portfolio/Penguin, is written by UCLA behavioral economist Shlomo Benartzi. The book is written with Lehrer. It’s not Benartzi “and” Lehrer, which would imply a partnership of equals, but Benartzi “with” Lehrer. The “with” is usually an awkward publishing compromise designating the lesser-known scribbler who helped the big-name author with the heavy lifting of actually writing a book. (For instance, most of Donald Trump’s books are written “with” someone.)
Of course, Lehrer is far better known than Benartzi, but when fame turns to infamy, this is what you get. Jonah Lehrer has been reduced to a “with” — a prepositional demotion. His name appears on the cover, though in far smaller type size than Benartzi’s name.
Equally telling is Lehrer’s author bio, as appearing on the dust jacket and in the publisher’s promotional materials for the book. By contrast, here is how the publisher described Lehrer on the occasion of his first three books:
Lehrer’s bio for “Proust Was a Neuroscientist”
Jonah Lehrer, age twenty-five, is editor at large for Seed magazine. A graduate of Columbia University and a Rhodes scholar, Lehrer has worked in the lab of Nobel Prize-winning neuroscientist Eric Kandel and studied with Hermione Lee at Oxford. He has coauthored a peer-reviewed paper in Genetics and worked as a line cook at Melisse (in Los Angeles) and at Le Cirque 2000, and as a prep cook at Le Bernardin. As a journalist he has profiled Brian Greene and Elizabeth Gould, spent several days in the kitchen of the Fat Duck, and recorded bird songs and ruminated on Stravinsky for National Public Radio. He has written for Nature, NPR, NOVA, ScienceNow, and the MIT Technology Review, and writes a highly regarded blog known as the Frontal Cortex.
Lehrer’s bio for “How We Decide”
Jonah Lehrer is editor at large for Seed magazine and the author of Proust Was a Neuroscientist (2007) and How We Decide (February 2009). A graduate of Columbia University and a Rhodes Scholar, Lehrer has worked in the lab of Nobel Prize–winning neuroscientist Eric Kandel and has written for the New Yorker, Wired, Boston Globe, Washington Post, and Nature, and writes a highly regarded blog, The Frontal Cortex. Lehrer also commentates for NPR’s Radio Lab.
Lehrer’s bio for “Imagine: How Creativity Works”
Jonah Lehrer is a Contributing Editor at Wired and a frequent contributor to The New Yorker. He writes the Head Case column for The Wall Street Journal and regularly appears on WNYC’s Radiolab. His writing has also appeared in Nature, The New York Times Magazine, Scientific American and Outside. He’s the author of two previous books, Proust Was A Neuroscientist and How We Decide. He graduated from Columbia University and attended Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar.
Author bios for “The Smarter Screen”
Shlomo Benartzi is a professor and cochair of the Behavioral Decision-Making Group at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management. He is the author of Save More Tomorrow and Thinking Smarter. He has extensive experience applying behavioral economic insights to the real world, having increased the savings rates of millions of Americans through his work with Richard Thaler on Save More Tomorrow, and has advised many government agencies and businesses.
Jonah Lehrer is a science writer living in Los Angeles.
That’s all — what Lehrer writes about, where he lives — as though everything else has been erased. Certainly, an author bio that reads “Jonah Lehrer is the author of three bestselling books, two of which were pulled due to the author’s journalistic misdeeds” would be less elegant, though more honest. The jacket for “The Smarter Screen” features a photograph only of Benartzi, who does give his underling a shout-out in the acknowledgments: “I want to thank my collaborator, Jonah Lehrer, an amazing friend and brilliant writer. We had a great time working on this book together. It could never have been written without him.”
Of course not. It was written “with” him.
Lehrer is luckier than most journalists who commit their profession’s most egregious sin. In addition to collaborating on “The Smarter Screen,” Lehrer has signed a deal with Simon & Schuster for a book on love, billed as a “meditation on and exploration of love through different prisms — psychological, scientific, historical, literary.” I look forward to reading that author bio.
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