The Observatory

Lehrer resigns from The New Yorker

Science writer Jonah Lehrer has resigned as a staff writer for The New Yorker following revelations that he made up quotes and misquoted singer Bob Dylan in his book, Imagine: How Creativity Works, which was released in March.

Monday afternoon, Tablet magazine published the results of an investigation by staff writer Michael C. Moynihan, a self-described “Dylan obsessive” who found three fabricated quotes as well as four examples of misquotation in the first chapter of Imagine. When Moynihan asked Lehrer about the sources of the quotes, Lehrer said that they’d come from exclusive material provided Dylan’s manager, but eventually admitted to Moynihan that he’d been lying.

No sooner had Moynihan’s article appeared online than Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, which published Imagine, released the following statement from Lehrer:

Three weeks ago, I received an email from journalist Michael Moynihan asking about Bob Dylan quotes in my book IMAGINE. 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.

The lies are over now. I understand the gravity of my position. I want to apologize to everyone I have let down, especially my editors and readers. I also owe a sincere apology to Mr. Moynihan. I will do my best to correct the record and ensure that my misquotations and mistakes are fixed.

How creativity works? Not like that.

The author of a recent book about how creativity works is finding out the hard way that the answer is more elusive than he imagined.

Jonah Lehrer, one of science journalism’s brightest young stars, was accused of self-plagiarism on Tuesday after critics revealed that he had reused parts of old stories he wrote for other publications in blog posts for The New Yorker. So far, the magazine has appended an editors’ note to the top of six of Lehrer’s eight posts for its website, noting where else the copy had appeared and expressing “regret [for] the duplication of material.”

Lehrer, 31, didn’t respond to emails seeking comment, but “he understands he made a mistake, he’s apologetic, and it won’t happen again,” said The New Yorker’s Nicholas Thompson, who made a splash when he left features editing in March to manage and expand the magazine’s website.

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