Jonah Lehrer Lied

Dear Mr. Lehrer,
As anyone who reads this blog or listens to my podcast knows, I loved Imagine: How Creativity Works, by Jonah Lehrer. You knew this because I told you when I invited you on my podcast. I thought you were brilliant.
When I read your quote from Galleycat’s article here, tears actually filled my eyes. I feel betrayed. I don’t get it. You explained why you included fabricated Dylan quotes in the book by saying, “The quotes in question either did not exist, were unintentional misquotations, or represented improper combinations of previously existing quotes. But I told Mr. Moynihan that they were from archival interview footage provided to me by Dylan’s representatives. This was a lie spoken in a moment of panic. When Mr. Moynihan followed up, I continued to lie, and say things I should not have said.”
My question to you, Mr. Lehrer, is why lie in the first place? I assume you couldn’t get Dylan’s people to get back to you. But the Dylan story was great only if it were true.
What baffles me is how did you think you’d get away with it? It’s not like Dylan wouldn’t find out. It’s a NYT bestseller for crying out loud. I’m angry because you took my trust in your science, you took my time and you took my money.
How can I ever believe anything you write now?
Katie Davis

Recent Comments

  • Julie Falatko
    July 31, 2012 - 6:30 am · Reply

    When I heard about this, a big part of me immediately understood. Don’t we all feel like shams, like we’re not actually qualified to be doing what we’re doing, and that someone is going to eventually find out and expose us? The difference, of course, is that most of us who work really hard just need to work on our confidence. We’re not actually shams.
    It’s all just very sad. I just finished IMAGINE, and I thought it was so inspiring. And it still is. I’m glad I didn’t know about this before I read this, because the Bob Dylan parts were some of the most inspiring, and I’d rather just flat-out be inspired than be distracted by wondering what’s true and what’s not.
    But I will admit that mostly I’m thinking about Jonah Lehrer, and thinking he must be having the shittiest week ever.

    • Lain
      July 31, 2012 - 8:01 am · Reply

      Seriously? You’d rather be inspired than have the truth?? Go watch The Matrix and continue to live your pleasant life.
      Give me my truth straight up. It’s all we have. And as a writer and jounalist for over a decade, I have this to say to Lehrer: y blew it. Big time. In over 1000 articles written, I never once fabricated a quote or source. Am I some kind of saint? No. I just live and work with integrity. My reputation is more important than any story, and most writers I know feel the same.
      I would rather know what’s real and have to work a little harder than live in a world where people lie just because it makes a better story.

  • katie
    July 31, 2012 - 6:56 am · Reply

    It IS very sad. And I’m sure you’re right, Julie, that he is having the worst week of his life. But he didn’t have to have this week. He brought it on himself through a very bad decision. You know how long it takes to write a book like that – and you know how long he had to choose the path he took. Even if you believe him when he says “unintentional” (but since his credibility is in the can, how could you?) in his statement he admits “improper combinations”. That would take deliberation. This guy is no high school kid. He’s a genius. He’s a scientist.
    You are kinder than I am. But I feel like he lied to my face. This post was way harsher the first time around – I toned it down TRYING to be nicer. But still, I have so little patience for lies. Pretty much none.

  • Brenda
    July 31, 2012 - 8:40 am · Reply

    I bought Imagine after hearing him on the podcast and I am reading it now. I was planning on incorporating parts of it in my class for future teachers. I wanted to inspire them to be creative and bring out the creativity in their teaching. Can’t do that now. There must be a lesson in here for those students. I will have to try and dig it out.
    Sad story for all of us.

    • katie
      July 31, 2012 - 8:45 am · Reply

      That is another reason I’m so angry. I recommended this book. I trusted and told people to go spend their money on it, and I feel duped for that, too. I’d have to say that the lesson would be never lie because you will most probably get caught. Or at the very, very least, don’t misquote someone who is alive…DUH.

  • Julie Falatko
    July 31, 2012 - 8:52 am · Reply

    Yeah, Katie, I had a “duh!” feeling about this, too. Not only is Bob Dylan alive, but he’s, you know, a brilliant genius, and certainly aware of what’s being written about him, especially when it’s an entire chapter of a best-selling book. To fabricate quotes from a movie that a lot of people have seen is just stupid.
    Yeah, I feel bad for Jonah Lehrer, but he totally brought it on himself. I guess the other thing that makes me sad and angry is that he seemed like our friend, you know? He was helping us to be more creative, was this brilliant guy who did all this research to try to make the world a better (more inspired) place. Really, just: why? Why bother fabricating quotes? I have to believe there are scores upon scores of relevant Bob Dylan quotes.

  • Kirsten Larson
    July 31, 2012 - 9:20 am · Reply

    Katie, I just finished “Imagine” this summer and have been recommending it to EVERYONE I know. I was just getting ready to do a blog post about travel and the outsider perspective. Now I’m embarrassed. As a nonfiction writer, I know how hard it is to verify facts and sources. I could understand if an unverified or substantiated fact or two made its way in to a 200-page book. That’s sloppy journalism, but it happens. But to make up quotes and cover it up is lying.

    • katie
      July 31, 2012 - 9:29 am · Reply

      It’s hard to have sympathy, isn’t it, when it’s so deliberate? How can someone make up for that? Am I too hardhearted about this? It’s just how I feel – lying isn’t allowed.

    • Michelle Cusolito
      July 31, 2012 - 9:24 pm · Reply

      Oh, me too, Kirsten. I returned from Italy on 11 July. I finished reading this book last week and LOVED it. The section on the outsiders perspective and travel really spoke to me, too. I started drafting a blog post about it, too.
      And Katie, I was already pulling quotations from Imagine to use in the NE-SCBWI workshop my friend and I are proposing. This really bums me out.

  • Carol Munro
    July 31, 2012 - 10:35 am · Reply

    A friend once told me, “If you want to …” Oh, wait. She said no such thing.
    See, Jonah, how easy that is?

  • Veronica Bartles
    July 31, 2012 - 11:43 am · Reply

    I’m so disappointed! I don’t often read non-fiction, but this was so highly recommended, I finally broke down and bought the audiobook. Now, I don’t want to finish listening to it, and I want my money back. How can I trust that any other parts of the book are true??

  • Darshana
    July 31, 2012 - 1:31 pm · Reply

    I haven’t read the book yet. If the Bob Dylan section was a highlight of the book, then my question is do you think the editor knew about the fabrication?

  • Elizabeth Stevens Omlor
    July 31, 2012 - 5:19 pm · Reply

    I am so sorry to hear about this scandal. I understand how upset you must feel. I am right in the middle of reading it now. I am kind of at a stand-still. Do I continue to read it? I have been hyping this book to everyone I know, especially to my husband. He is a musician so naturally I quoted all of the Bob Dylan info to him. Argh! I fear that the rest of the read will be tainted by this awful news!

  • Douglas Florian
    July 31, 2012 - 6:04 pm · Reply

    As Picasso once said, “Art is the lie that tells the truth.”
    Or did he? This oft-quoted quote was never actually uttered by Picasso, as Austin Kleon relates in his blog:
    Here is what Picasso actually said (translated) to an American critic named Marius de Zayas:
    “We all know that Art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realize truth, at least the truth that is given us to understand.”

  • Damon Dean
    August 20, 2012 - 11:42 pm · Reply

    Wow…as I was ‘behind’ listening to your podcasts, I just listened to this a week ago. (Road trip catch-up time.) The episode was so inspiring, I was ready to buy the book and really enthused and inspired by the interview.
    Now I’m glad I never got around to it.
    It would have been difficult to digitally cut out lying lines, much less lying pages.
    And it would have tainted the whole work. Wow. Can’t believe this.
    Paste my disappointment to all the others expressed above.

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