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October 31, 2012 1:50 PM   Subscribe

We only wanted one thing from Jonah Lehrer: a story. He told it so well that we forgave him almost ­everything.
posted by facehugger (62 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
Didn’t he realize, Lehrer pleaded, that if Moynihan went forward, he would never write again—would end up nothing more than a schoolteacher?

This is my pitying face.
posted by Egg Shen at 2:03 PM on October 31, 2012 [10 favorites]


from article: “Lehrer’s biggest defenders today tend to be veterans of traditional journalism. NPR’s longtime correspondent Robert Krulwich has known Lehrer for almost a decade and used him many times on the science program ‘Radiolab.’ ‘I find myself uncomfortable with how he’s been judged,’ Krulwich wrote in an e-mail, weeks after ‘Radiolab’ ran six corrections online. ‘If in a next round, he produces work that’s better, more careful, I hope his editors and his readers will welcome him back.’ Malcolm Gladwell wrote me, ‘[Lehrer] didn’t twist anyone’s meaning or libel anyone or manufacture some malicious fiction … Surely only the most hardhearted person wouldn’t want to give him a chance to make things right.”

This paragraph made me do a double take. And isn't it interesting? All this time, we've been talking about the big changes in "new media" – but looking at it now, the current "veterans of traditional journalism" sure seem to be a heck of a lot different from "traditional journalists" even ten years ago.
posted by koeselitz at 2:08 PM on October 31, 2012 [3 favorites]


I have to admit that I'm deeply uncertain about the idea of "self-plagiarism". Somebody rewriting what they themselves wrote earlier seems like a very... odd thing to get worked up about. It's not like they're taking credit for somebody else's work.

Utterly unsurprised, though, to find old-school journalists lining up to defend one of their own. Throwing your credibility away like that is really the right thing to do; you weren't using it for anything important anyway.
posted by mhoye at 2:11 PM on October 31, 2012 [9 favorites]


Toward the end of the article, it talks about how "science is in trouble" due to inaccurate and dubious popularizations - studies get blown out of proportion, stupid truisms get passed off as science and as a result, many people don't trust research.

I'd argue that this isn't precisely what happens. What happens is that power, in its various forms, needs to legitimate itself - not in a pure, state-bureau-of-propaganda way, that's been discredited. But systems of power - patriarchy, whiteness, rich people, capitalism, the stock market, etcetera ad nauseum, all have to produce justifications for themselves in response to challenges. And we're at a cultural moment where you can't usually point to God, it's difficult to point to 'national values', there's no more cold war and it's considered in poor taste to say "because we have the army, the police and the money". Thus, science as a source of legitimacy is needed.

I mean, I've never noticed any of these really big pop science books that come to actual novel conclusions - they seem to revolve around the same old "men are horndogs and women don't want to accept that, back on the veldt men wanted to have careers and women wanted to have babies, it's glorious to get rich, capitalism is the only solution, marketing is awesome, you can't change anything because people are hardwired for things to be the way they are, except when change means more capitalism". They all rely on potted history and just-so stories that are transparent oversimplifications at best and false at worst to anyone who reads science or history.

There are some semi-big books that come to novel conclusions, but most of those are pretty depressing, partly because even though they often oversimplify in places (Debt, for example, a book with a lot of good history, some that seems to be confused and a couple of legendary problematic sentences) the research is better - Graeber, for example, may be a popularizer but he really truly is an anthropologist.

But yeah, any time I see a pop science/pop econ book by a youngish white dude, I assume that book is mostly a gussied up justification for injustice and greed.
posted by Frowner at 2:14 PM on October 31, 2012 [59 favorites]


Re: mhoye

The article argues that Lehrer's self-plagiarism is just the tip of the iceberg. He was found to fabricate quotes, facts, plagiarize others' works, and use all his "evidence" to make facile conclusions.

What I found really interesting was this:

"What none of them really asked, and what Houghton Mifflin’s fact-check won’t answer, is what Imagine would look like if it really were scrubbed of every slippery shortcut and distortion. In truth, it might not exist at all."

The plagiarizing and lies are just window-dressing to the fundamental emptiness of his arguments.
posted by facehugger at 2:22 PM on October 31, 2012 [10 favorites]


We only wanted one thing from Jonah Lehrer: a story. He told it so well that we forgave him almost ­everything.

Fuck you. Just because I wanted to learn something from one of his books doesn't make me complicit in his deceit. Jesus H. Christ.
posted by chasing at 2:25 PM on October 31, 2012 [12 favorites]


(Derp. Not calling out facehugger! I'm speaking to whomever wrote the last couple of sentences of that article.)
posted by chasing at 2:26 PM on October 31, 2012


It's not like they're taking credit for somebody else's work.

The past is another countryperson.
posted by DU at 2:32 PM on October 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've read a couple of Gladwell's books and though I am not a scientist, I knew there was something just "off" about them, that they tended to oversimplify.

Of course, I was aware he was trying to sell books. I just always figured guys like Lehrer were in the same category, so I avoided their writings.

Personally, I think consumers of information just need to be more discerning, after all, those who would distort or outright lie are less successful when no one is listening. Be more skeptical.
posted by IvoShandor at 2:32 PM on October 31, 2012


> The New Yorker’s biggest brand, The Tipping Point author Malcolm Gladwell

Not John McPhee? They have teleported me to the wrong Earth.
posted by jfuller at 2:32 PM on October 31, 2012 [10 favorites]


Gladwell is a bullshit artist too so it makes sense he would defend Lehrer.
posted by ReeMonster at 2:33 PM on October 31, 2012 [15 favorites]


Surely only the most hardhearted person wouldn’t want to give him a chance to make things right.

I have two problems with this. First, it rests on a false premise. There isn't anything hanging in the air that Lehrer needs to make "right"—and if there were, it would be refunding money to people who paid for his work. He screwed up, and he was fired. The end. I do not see what "wrong" is left stinging the world that needs to be corrected by allowing Jonah Lehrer to publish again.

And second, this sentiment (second chances, etc.) asks a person to have complete tunnel vision when looking at Jonah Lehrer, ignoring the context of his former profession. You are not entitled to a second chance at sitting in a seat that many, many, many people are vying for their first chance with. You had the opportunity to publish prose and be read by millions, and then you screwed that up and now it's somebody else's turn. Go to the back of the line.

I wish Lehrer a happy, healthy life with a family who loves him and a rewarding profession in something. But I think it's shameful to advocate giving a second chance to somebody who did what he did, in a profession where so many talented people are working hard (and honestly) to earn their first chance.
posted by cribcage at 2:36 PM on October 31, 2012 [21 favorites]


Personally, I think consumers of information just need to be more discerning

Not to mention editors. Sheesh.
posted by junco at 2:41 PM on October 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


ReeMonster: “Gladwell is a bullshit artist too so it makes sense he would defend Lehrer.”

I kind of said this above, but isn't it really, really weird to see Malcolm Gladwell held up as an example of "traditional journalism?" I mean, exceedingly weird? Or is that just me?
posted by koeselitz at 2:48 PM on October 31, 2012 [9 favorites]


I mean – the article calls Malcolm Gladwell a veteran of traditional journalism, no less.
posted by koeselitz at 2:49 PM on October 31, 2012


isn't it really, really weird to see Malcolm Gladwell held up as an example of "traditional journalism?

Yep. Totally weird. I used to see people deeply engrossed in "Blink" on the subway and wish I could shake them by the shoulders; this pseudo-science made-for-the-masses intellectualism-lite is barely one notch above "self-help" books.
posted by ReeMonster at 2:55 PM on October 31, 2012 [4 favorites]


Self-plagiarism sucks if you're a publisher paying for original work. Not as significant as other kinds of plagiarism, sure, but sucky nonetheless.

But since google punishes sites that run duplicate content, that little bit of suck can end up costing the publisher even more.
posted by notyou at 2:57 PM on October 31, 2012


"Weird" isn't the word I'd use. "Sad", maybe; possibly "pitiful" or "disingenuous".

Or "a disgustingly inappropriate non sequitur".
posted by Pinback at 2:58 PM on October 31, 2012


isn't it really, really weird to see Malcolm Gladwell held up as an example of "traditional journalism?

I don't know, I think the fact that people feel this way says a lot about the difference between the idea people have of "traditional journalism" and the real thing. Gladwell worked at the Washington Post from 1987-1996. From 1996 through today he has been at the New Yorker. It's hard to think of many more-traditional journalistic enterprises than those two. It's fashionable to blame all of the problems with journalism on blogs and new media but it's not like nobody in the business was full of shit when it was all print.
posted by enn at 3:03 PM on October 31, 2012 [13 favorites]


I don't care if he plagiarized. He annoyed the hell out of me because every single thing he wrote was a second year social psychology paper on taking something from the textbook and and applying it to the real world. Over and over like he had a teaching assistant feeding him ideas based on student's writing. I figure his success is the same as K-Mart's. There are people who prefer crap. It just seems tragic that he soared so high while the Carl Zimmers and Ed Yongs, who do a good job of communicating science, don't fly nearly so high.
posted by srboisvert at 3:04 PM on October 31, 2012 [4 favorites]


Theirs is a mixed legacy, bringing new esoteric research to a lay audience but sacrificing a great deal of thorny complexity in the process. [...] every popularizer must be, almost by definition, a huckster. When science doesn’t give us the answers we want, we find someone who will.

This really is completely disingenuous. There's a difference between being a popular science writer and being a glib ideologue or a motivational speaker, and the fact that glib ideologues like to pretend they're popular science writers doesn't change that. It's ridiculous to ascribe guilt to the audience of a deception, even if it's also a self-deception. This piece is all too unconsciously self-reflexive — an attempt to write a Lehreresque, glibly oversimplifying, moralistic fable about Lehrer himself.
posted by RogerB at 3:05 PM on October 31, 2012 [4 favorites]


I mean, I've never noticed any of these really big pop science books that come to actual novel conclusions

Pink Brain, Blue Brain - the conclusions were novel to me and I think would be novel to the "white patriarchy" you describe.
posted by mrgrimm at 3:23 PM on October 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


“I can’t stop talking about Pink Brain, Blue Brain. Every time I see a toddler on a playground, or walk into a toy store, I remember some remarkable new fact I learned from Lise Eliot. This book will change the way you think about boys, girls, and how we come to be who we are.”
—Jonah Lehrer, author of How We Decide and Proust Was a Neuroscientist


;)
posted by mrgrimm at 3:24 PM on October 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


I was very disappointed with the whole Lehrer debacle; having always been quite enchanted with this new wave science reportage, it felt like I lost something when he was torn down. Like I was made a fool of, too.

The article, however, is solidly on the sneering end of the spectrum.
posted by flippant at 3:37 PM on October 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


Not John McPhee?

While you were distracted, the world moved, quickly, to a cheaper, flimsier, place. You are now faced with two equally sad options: dwell in a beautiful past, or swallow hard and take what joy you can from a degraded present.
posted by benito.strauss at 3:37 PM on October 31, 2012 [11 favorites]


You are now faced with two equally sad options: dwell in a beautiful past, or swallow hard and take what joy you can from a degraded present.

If you need me, I'll be in the attic, wearing my wedding dress.
posted by asperity at 3:46 PM on October 31, 2012 [24 favorites]


enn: “I don't know, I think the fact that people feel this way says a lot about the difference between the idea people have of 'traditional journalism' and the real thing. Gladwell worked at the Washington Post from 1987-1996. From 1996 through today he has been at the New Yorker. It's hard to think of many more-traditional journalistic enterprises than those two.”

That's the thing – I realized that as I was posting it, which is why I used the term "weird." I also find weird the labeling of Robert Krulwich, the new-media darling running Radiolab, as a "veteran of traditional journalism" – but that's equally a realistic thing to call him in a sense; I'm aware that he got his start in straight-up journalism and old newspaper reportage. While I wasn't aware of Gladwell's background, I suspected it was similar.

Maybe what I find interesting in this is that all the "veterans of traditional journalism" that are still around to be held up as examples have basically morphed themselves into things that are palatable to new media, to the point where it's easy to forget their roots. And I think it's easy for them to forget their roots. One can say "veteran of traditional journalism," and it's true of Gladwell and Krulwich (however weird I may find it) but that doesn't necessarily confer journalistic excellence upon them. In fact, I think both have serious problems when it comes to accuracy and the standards they apply to their work.
posted by koeselitz at 3:52 PM on October 31, 2012 [4 favorites]


Even though this topic is getting worked to death on the blue, I can't get enough of it because it's been my pet peeve for so long.

Nobody gives a damn about actual scientific truth. Frankly, most of it isn't relevant for day-to-day life. We just want to know, "Who am I? What am I? What ought I do? Where do I belong?" -- i.e., everything which was once answered by religion and philosophy. Religion is no longer acceptable as a source of answers for educated people; philosophy is now considered to be too academic and too subjective to have the aura of Objective Truth. But I think philosophy is really the only path which will yield anything, because it's the only place left which tolerates metaphysics.

Unfortunately, it takes guts to simply own your philosophy without feeling the need to "scientize" it. Existential freedom is a real bitch.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 3:54 PM on October 31, 2012 [13 favorites]


I mean, I've never noticed any of these really big pop science books that come to actual novel conclusions

Gary Taubes?

Brian Greene?
posted by mrgrimm at 3:58 PM on October 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


Gary Taubes' conclusions weren't really very novel - it was just paleo. And it wasn't very scientific, either. The best part of Gary Taubes was the debunking; it was disappointing that he decided he had to turn around and offer a "correct diet plan" of his own.

I don't know who Brian Greene is, though.
posted by koeselitz at 4:05 PM on October 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


We only wanted one thing from Jonah Lehrer: a story.

I'm not certain who is included in this "we" you are delineating is, but I was never a part of it.
posted by belarius at 4:11 PM on October 31, 2012



Unfortunately, it takes guts to simply own your philosophy without feeling the need to "scientize" it. Existential freedom is a real bitch.


Existentialists are the embarrassing dilletente trucker hatted hipsters of philosophy.
posted by srboisvert at 4:28 PM on October 31, 2012 [3 favorites]


New York Magazine hates the New Yorker magazine. This is my surprised face.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:34 PM on October 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


Great article though.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:40 PM on October 31, 2012


every popularizer must be, almost by definition, a huckster

Yeah, that's awful and completely untrue. See the work of physicist Brian Greene, just for one contrary example off the top of my head.

It's utterly, completely possible to explain things both with rigor, and in terms laymen can understand. It's just difficult, and many, like Lehrer, are simply too lazy or dishonest.
posted by drjimmy11 at 4:49 PM on October 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


Lehrer and Gladwell and the like just struck me as the consultants of literature; they come in with the idea that they will somehow look at a field with a different perspective and then enlighten the masses. The problem with this is that they were constantly looking for some contrarian spin to justify writing about the subject, when, if they set their egos aside, the subject was good enough to stand on its own. I think maybe Gladwell has become more self-aware about this recently; his piece on Alberto Salazar is one of the best things he has written in a while, and I think it is because it feels like he is not just using Salazar to advance some pseudo-scientific notion of his, but rather he (for the most part) just accepts that Salazar is a great subject, no dressing-up is needed.
posted by roquetuen at 4:54 PM on October 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


I had to read and discuss How We Decide for a course in Advanced Legal Writing. My professor chided me for disparaging the book, over and over again, rather than "attempting to connect with the material".

I feel vindicated.
posted by PJLandis at 4:54 PM on October 31, 2012 [3 favorites]


So I'm the kind of person who loves these kinds of -- what Merlin Mann would call "turns out" books -- but I know that they're largely bs. If I want to read this kind of stuff, but not become more ignorant in the process, whom should I be reading?
posted by modernserf at 5:40 PM on October 31, 2012 [3 favorites]


Jonah Lehrer, Proust, And The Tyranny Of Salami
posted by homunculus at 5:54 PM on October 31, 2012 [3 favorites]


If I want to read this kind of stuff, but not become more ignorant in the process, whom should I be reading?

May I suggest:

- Philip Ball, especially the Nature's Patterns books. These books and their predecessor changed the way I look and think about everything. His other books look good too.
- Kip Thorne's Black Holes and Time Warps: Einstein's Outrageous Legacy. This is a great book about Einstein, his theories, how they helped us begin to understand the universe, and what we've made from them. The parts about the development of nuclear weapons and science during the cold war are, in their own way, as amazing as anything about black holes and time warps.
- Evelyn Fox Keller's The Century of the Gene. Ok, I haven't read this yet, but it's on my list. Review in Nature

I have some more, but I'll have to get at them later. Probably others will chime with more suggestions.
posted by wobh at 6:07 PM on October 31, 2012 [16 favorites]


- Philip Ball

I like the cut of his jib.
posted by homunculus at 6:22 PM on October 31, 2012 [4 favorites]


The NYMag piece should have included neuroscientist Daniel Bor's discussion of his experiences with Lehrer from last August (linked in the Lehrer resignation thread). It's really damning, on basic science *and* basic honesty grounds.
posted by mediareport at 6:30 PM on October 31, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think the observation this writer makes that the New Yorker has employed these sorts of "big idea" pseudo-science writers to build its brand over the past ten years under Remnick's leadership, and connect with advertisers, is really accurate.

The magazine has changed a lot (obviously) since Remnick took over, but it seems pretty light-weight these days compared to the late '90s at the beginning of his era. These days I really only look forward to something new from Alex Ross...
posted by KokuRyu at 6:33 PM on October 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


SOP
posted by flabdablet at 6:51 PM on October 31, 2012


I really enjoy reading the works of authors who write about the interaction between science and culture, descriptions of science experienced in a personal way, about the impact of science on comprehending aspects of the mind. I do like the writers to be truthful and well researched.

It's a pity when a likable author becomes arrogant and deceitful, which seems what happened with Lehrer.
posted by nickyskye at 7:16 PM on October 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


;)

this doesn't look like an elaborated opinion
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 11:23 PM on October 31, 2012


I have to admit that I'm deeply uncertain about the idea of "self-plagiarism". Somebody rewriting what they themselves wrote earlier seems like a very... odd thing to get worked up about. It's not like they're taking credit for somebody else's work.

Agreed. Not to excuse the fabrications and what must have been conscious deception, but the charge of reusing your own words? At most, it's a case for whoever commissioned the given pieces, i.e. asking whether he delivered them an essay that may have been substantially published before. But if reusing your own work is a crime, there will be a lot of academic authors in court.

I've read a couple of Gladwell's books and though I am not a scientist, I knew there was something just "off" about them, that they tended to oversimplify ... Of course, I was aware he was trying to sell books.

There is a quote from someone along the lines that they don't trust Gladwell because he writes so well, so entertainingly, that whether what he writes is true may not not be clear to readers.
posted by outlier at 1:45 AM on November 1, 2012


Robert Krulwich, the new-media darling running Radiolab

1. Jad runs Radiolab. Krulwich just shows up and barks things into a microphone.

2. You thing radio is new media?
posted by to sir with millipedes at 2:32 AM on November 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


If I want to read this kind of stuff, but not become more ignorant in the process, whom should I be reading?

Dan Ariely, mentioned in the article, has written some good books about decision-making for a general audience based on his own (decades-long) research and that of colleagues such as Daniel Kahneman. They don't read as just-so stories.
posted by rory at 3:09 AM on November 1, 2012


And second, this sentiment (second chances, etc.) asks a person to have complete tunnel vision when looking at Jonah Lehrer, ignoring the context of his former profession. You are not entitled to a second chance at sitting in a seat that many, many, many people are vying for their first chance with. You had the opportunity to publish prose and be read by millions, and then you screwed that up and now it's somebody else's turn. Go to the back of the line.

Exactly. Lehrer shouldn't be disqualified from a second chance, but he certainly shouldn't be entitled to one either. He needs to earn it. An apology and a reckoning itself does not earn one a second chance.

It's the body of work that you did before the lying, that's what earns you a second chance. If you take away the pseudoscience and fabrications, do you have actual scientific work or journalism? Or was it all just fiction?

We shouldn't have a system where a journalist can gain fame through dishonesty, get caught, apologize, and end up after it all better off than where he started.
posted by cotterpin at 5:19 AM on November 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


> the difference between the idea people have of "traditional journalism" and the real thing.

Traditional journalism uses Speed Graphics and flashbulbs. Traditional journalism wears fedoras. Traditional journalism is in black and white.
posted by jfuller at 7:07 AM on November 1, 2012


My friend just pointed out that it's hilarious that the dude was brought down by misquoting Dylan. It's like you can misinterpret science data as much as you want but DYLANS WORDS ARE CARVED IN STONE.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:19 AM on November 1, 2012 [11 favorites]


"We are all bad apples."

There's another famous work full of dubious goings-on presented as complete honesty that starts out this exact same way; funny, it mentions bad fruit too.

It's hard to continue reading about someone's wrongdoing when they start out with everyone's a crook like I'm supposed to faithfully refrain so you cannot be judged by us. Makes it hard to go on.
posted by Appropriate Username at 8:22 AM on November 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


There's another famous work full of dubious goings-on presented as complete honesty that starts out this exact same way; funny, it mentions bad fruit too.

Well there's his problem! If only Jonah Leher were writing 4000 years ago, none of this would have been an issue.
posted by modernserf at 9:00 AM on November 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm sorry, I fully admit I couldn't make it through this entire article. Maybe I missed some great, intriguing reveal, but I'm just tired of these kinds of assholes, and even further tired of the short memory of errant compassion which always seems to read as "Well, he did shitty, dishonest things for personal gain, but gosh I really LIKE him, so let's pretend like actions don't have consequences just this once, pretty please?"
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 10:19 AM on November 1, 2012


My friend the economist remains stoically quiet as people discuss Freakonomics.

I asked why, and he said "life's too fucking short to correct our friends moronic beliefs when we could be drinking beer and having fun, and they don't give a shit about the truth anyway".

I smiled, and we all drank beer, and had fun anyway.
posted by dglynn at 10:53 AM on November 1, 2012 [7 favorites]


People seem to have a craving for systems of thought that are easy to understand. I don't think it's just out of laziness ("easier is better than harder!") but because we want answers to appear at the moment we need them. That lures us into a love of grand explanations that can be applied anywhere on the spot.

I suppose that sounds a bit like laziness, after all, but it's more a matter of timing than effort. Some of us are willing to work hard at thinking but still wish we could do it faster. That makes us long for a nice, reductive frame of reference, which means invoking the same principles again and again rather looking for new ones -- which not only leads to self-plagiarism, but practically demands it.
posted by robtish at 11:43 AM on November 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


Is there some solid picking apart of what is wrong with Gladwell and Freakonomics? All I'm getting here is that it's foolish and wrong, but nothing backing that up. Not because I'm trying to defend them, I just want in on this secret club of People Who Know Better.

I asked an archaeologist about Jared Diamond once and was told in to uncertain terms he was crap, but when pressed further the guy had never read the books and had nothing but huffing and snorts to offer me.
posted by Dynex at 2:57 PM on November 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Dynex, there are a *ton* of Gladwell and Freakonomics threads on the blue, almost all of which include links to detailed dissections of errors and misstatements from both camps; do a search and dive in.
posted by mediareport at 8:39 PM on November 1, 2012


Frowner: But yeah, any time I see a pop science/pop econ book by a youngish white dude, I assume that book is mostly a gussied up justification for injustice and greed.

Frowner, I think the commenting tool may have cut off your following paragraph in which you lay out how you tested your assumption with data and your conclusions.

It's ironic to see so many comments in this thread repeat the gesture for which Lehrer and others are criticized: "could it be that [my belief goes here]? here are some anecdata to prove my point."

I found the New York Magazine piece (TFA) to be similarly disingenuous: clamoring for a truer (more ambivalent and ambiguous) representation of reality while nonetheless skewing its findings as a black/white, good/bad morality tale to whet the appetite of readers. To whit, it ends with an observation from a scientist, Daniel Kahneman:

“There’s no way to write a science book well. If you write it for a general audience and you are successful, your academic colleagues will hate you, and if you write it for academics, nobody would want to read it.”

I suspect Boris Kachka knows this is the messy reality. But instead of writing a piece that begins from this point of view, he indulges with such observations as:

He was on a conveyor belt of blog posts, features, lectures, and inspirational books, serving an entrepreneurial public hungry for futurist fables, easy fixes, and scientific marvels in a world that often feels tangled, stagnant, and frustratingly familiar.

A "conveyor belt" – as in, I suppose, lacking agency. An "entrepreneurial public" meaning, what exactly? Plebs who should know better? I give up.

Lehrer and others who attempt (and, yes, fail) to make the esoteric accessible are easy targets. But what they attempt is important work that others should rightfully critique and, more importantly, improve upon. To say that it can't be done is to say that translation / interpretation is impossible. That's lazy and deadly for all that is important to our civilization.
posted by noway at 7:13 AM on November 2, 2012


"Conveyor belt" would definitely imply lack of agency.

It's also a good metaphor for our information and entertainment industries, cranking out page after page, post after post and the pressure producers feel to keep pace. The audience is never sated, the belt never stops, and there's never a time to pause and catch our thoughts.
posted by notyou at 9:02 AM on November 2, 2012


Not to excuse the fabrications and what must have been conscious deception, but the charge of reusing your own words? At most, it's a case for whoever commissioned the given pieces, i.e. asking whether he delivered them an essay that may have been substantially published before. But if reusing your own work is a crime, there will be a lot of academic authors in court.

Agreed. However, I think the bigger issues is that when someone does this, in an environment that has an expectation that you don't, it is often indicative of a tendency to take shortcuts. It was the smoking gun, I think, that lead to the realization that he had made other, more serious shortcuts. It's not really about whether or not using your own stuff is inherently wrong. It's about if it is not encouraged in a journalistic medium, and you blatantly do so anyway, what does it say about your other journalistic tendencies? I don't think it was too crazy a coincidence that after the self-plagiarism examples people went looking for and actually found more egregious issues.
posted by SpacemanStix at 4:49 PM on November 2, 2012


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