The fall of Jonah Lehrer
Jonah Lehrer at 2008 panel discussion in New York City.
August 1st, 2012
01:07 PM ET

The fall of Jonah Lehrer

By Steve Kastenbaum, CNN

At 31, science writer Jonah Lehrer had reached literary stardom. The New York Times best-selling author was a staff writer at the esteemed New Yorker magazine.

People packed auditoriums to hear him talk about neuroscience and how the mind works when it comes to being creative. But that’s all crashing down now thanks to a few manufactured quotes and a die-hard Bob Dylan fan.

[2:33] “As to how he could think he would get away with this, I think it’s just a matter of being powerful or maybe having some sort of illusion of power that excepts you from scrutiny,” says New York Observer Senior Editor Foster Kamer.

Kamer says a freelance writer who happened to be a Bob Dylan fanatic scrutinized a few quotes in Lehrer’s latest book attributed to the legendary folk singer. The writer, Michael Moynihan, kept pressing Lehrer on the origin of the quotes until, finally, the expert on creativity admitted that he made them up.

[4:51] “You know, for a guy who talks so much about imagination you would think that he would have the imagination and creativity to simply write around it instead of the creativity to make up new Bob Dylan quotes,” Kamer says.

Lehrer resigned from his position at the New Yorker this week. While a former editor is coming to his defense, Lehrer's entire body of work is now being scrutinized.

You can hear CNN's interview with Jonah Lehrer here.

soundoff (52 Responses)
  1. skastenbaumcnn

    Steve Kastenbaum checking in here, the reporter who put together this report. Thanks for listening to it. I think the thing that kept resonating with me as I worked on this story was why would he do it? As someone who interviews people everyday I can't imagine ever making up a quote for someone in order to prove a point. Jonah Lehrer is arguably an extremely smart individual. Why would someone of that caliber do something like that. Obviously, he could have made his point without putting words in Bob Dylan's mouth.

    August 2, 2012 at 4:15 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Jennifer

    omg! i saw this guy speak at the Experian Cheetah Mail conference last week! This is crazy!

    August 2, 2012 at 3:54 pm | Report abuse |
  3. marinedad05

    If I ever become famous, the first thing I'm stating is that I've borrowed literary quotes, ideas, prose, and text, often shamelessly from others. If I remember, I'll give the original authors credit, if I don't, I just don't.

    August 2, 2012 at 3:49 pm | Report abuse |
  4. D Rock

    Just another example of the leftist lib media and Obama trying to oppress Jonah Lehrer and Bob Dylan.

    Trump/Palin 2012

    August 2, 2012 at 3:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • really?

      DRock, STFU!

      August 2, 2012 at 3:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • RES

      d rockis troll who needs to go back to faux news. anyone whos supports trump/palin is an american terrorist

      August 2, 2012 at 4:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • USA401

      What is wrong with you?

      August 2, 2012 at 4:11 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Brett

    "In the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes". – Abraham Lincoln

    August 2, 2012 at 3:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tracker

      You made me laugh. thanks

      August 2, 2012 at 3:47 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Tracker

    Wait until they find out about those made up Yogi Berra quotes.

    August 2, 2012 at 3:38 pm | Report abuse |
  7. winstonsmith

    People are either gods are villains. There's no in between in today's world. Nobody's just another human being. They're either so much better than the rest of us common folk, or so much worse.

    August 2, 2012 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Susan

    I blame the fact that media is corporate owned and that it requires the end-user to be dazzled, fascinated, and overwhelmed with sensational information. I don't make excuses; what he did was reprehensible. But I can almost bet that he was pushed to produce something riveting so that it sold like hotcakes. Like health care, journalism should have never been a business driven by corporations.

    August 2, 2012 at 3:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • drew

      And car insurance as well. Anything we are essentially mandated to use should not be driven by a corporation – period. While I fully embrace capitalism, mandating the use of something publicly traded ensures that the entity basically can never go out of business and would certainly lead to price fixing...

      August 2, 2012 at 4:03 pm | Report abuse |
  9. really?

    Does anyone really know what Dylan is saying anyways? Between his age & drug use he's harder to understand grad school math professors.

    August 2, 2012 at 3:04 pm | Report abuse |
  10. mike3250

    Sounds like another Stephen Glass (The New Republic). Wonder if they will make a movie about him.

    August 2, 2012 at 2:57 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Really?

    So he misquoted Bob Dylan, and that is supposed to end his career? What's the big deal?

    August 2, 2012 at 2:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Josh

      "So he misquoted Bob Dylan, and that is supposed to end his career? What's the big deal?" The big deal is he lied on several occasions in order to make money. Maybe you're cool with people making things up for money, but I (and most sane adults) take issue with that sort of professional behavior.

      August 2, 2012 at 3:00 pm | Report abuse |
      • hmmwaitasec

        I consider myself a sane adult and applaud anyone who can make money by lying. The entertainment for me is watching the mindless eating it up. Example: The recent incident in which hundreds(???) of people walked across burning hot coals to only find themselves getting burned.

        August 2, 2012 at 3:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • MarylandBill

      There is a difference between a misquote and inventing a quote. The first can be an honest mistake. The second is essentially dishonest. If a journalist without honesty is a journalist who does not have the trust of his readers.

      August 2, 2012 at 3:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • phfyrebyrd

      No, it's not that he misquoted Dylan. He *made up* quotes. Fabricated them. Put words together and said Bob Dylan said them, when he didn't. That's called lying. And it doesn't even matter that it was Bob Dylan the writer lying about, it could be anyone. He fabricated information, and that's why it matters.

      August 2, 2012 at 3:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • frank

      He did not misquote Bob Dylan, he completely made up fake quotes. Its not an error on this part, its intentional.

      August 2, 2012 at 3:41 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Logic

    What was the quote he attributed to Dylan? And better yet, what was his point in (miss) using it? Those two facts are left out of the discussion. The only thing this story is pointing out is he fibbed and was caught. I'd rather know a little more than that.

    August 2, 2012 at 2:44 pm | Report abuse |
  13. NN

    Jonah Lehrer is nothing less than brilliant, and of course that makes others jealous and they just look for any excuse to attack his standing. The so-called 'made-up" quotes have been a common technique of fictional biography for at least half a millennium and do not represent any kind of deceit or misconduct on the part of the author. The detractors may think they're clever, but I for one will forever tune them out. Hopefully Jonah can recover quickly and start producing more fascinating work.

    August 2, 2012 at 2:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Patrick

      Are you for real! That is just a terrible attitude to have. "Oh, every one has been doing it for ages, so it's ok to do it". Well, news flash! A small minority of people have used it for centuries, but that just reflects poorly on them, it certainly doesn't mean it is ok! It's just plain stupidity!

      August 2, 2012 at 2:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • roflcopter

      lol.... on his nuts much? The kid lied and got caught.

      August 2, 2012 at 2:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Josh

      He also stole stories from his own work. That might not seem like a big deal but it's still considered unacceptable. It's as if people have no threshold for how professionals are supposed to act. Brilliance and ethical behavior is not mutually exclusive.

      August 2, 2012 at 3:02 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Norm

    If you sound like you know what you're talking about...90% of the time sheeple will just believe you and follow along blindly.

    August 2, 2012 at 1:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sorcha

      Did you just, in all seriousness, use the word "sheeple?" How's that job at Hot Topic working out for you?

      August 2, 2012 at 1:23 pm | Report abuse |
  15. jesse

    So he's a politician?

    August 2, 2012 at 1:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • eltroyo

      "So he's a politician?"
      If he were a politician he would likely continue to be promoted for this behavior

      August 2, 2012 at 1:31 pm | Report abuse |
  16. HC

    What's the difference? If he isn't I guess it would be easier to take. If he is, muss be 'typical' What an a&%sss

    August 2, 2012 at 1:04 pm | Report abuse |
  17. midwestmatt

    Who cares?

    August 2, 2012 at 12:57 pm | Report abuse |
  18. randoid1234


    August 2, 2012 at 12:57 pm | Report abuse |
  19. Tim

    We have too many science 'writers' and too many science 'media personalities', and not enough scientists. Too many Neil DeGrasse Tysons and Bill Nyes, and not enough Clyde Tombaughs and John Stewart Bells. This reminds me of Siguorney Weaver's line in Ghost Busters – 'You're not a scientist, you're a game show host.'

    August 2, 2012 at 12:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • ...Yes I am a scientist.

      We need MORE TV science types not LESS – and we need them on PRIME TIME. Enrollment in forensics got a big boost by having CSI shows. When our culture supports and celebrates science young people will give that line of work more consideration. What is currently "celebrated" on TV? Lots of sports, medicine, lawyers, cops, sex, drinking, etc.

      August 2, 2012 at 1:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lowdown

      Neil Degrasse Tysons is not a scientist? I would think having more mainstream personalities with stellar backgrounds in hard sciences would be a good thing. Maybe more kids would want to grow up pursuing that side then trying to be the next Kim Kardashian.

      August 2, 2012 at 3:09 pm | Report abuse |
  20. Brad

    You are an anti-Semit, and your ability to even leave comments on websites should be severely restricted.
    A Jew

    August 2, 2012 at 12:46 pm | Report abuse |
  21. malhomme

    So Bob Dylan can plagiarize and it's okay, but Jonah Lehrer can plagiarize some Bob Dylan quotes and it's not okay? Ironically, it's creative to plagiarize a plagiarist. And loop...

    August 2, 2012 at 12:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Huh

      Did you read the article? He didn't plagiarize, he made up the quotes and attributed them to Dylan, two completely different things. If you did read the article, you might want to pick up a dictionary.

      August 2, 2012 at 12:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Les Too

      plagiarize : to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one's own : use (another's production) without crediting the source

      Lehrer did not "plagerize". He "fabricated". He did not claim the fake quotes as his own, He made up quotes and claimed someone else was their source.

      August 2, 2012 at 12:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • John in WNY

      Please get a dictionary, look up any big words you wish to use and then try again.

      August 2, 2012 at 12:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • YoureAnIdiot

      Did you read the article? He didn't plagiarize...he made up quotes. There is a big difference.

      August 2, 2012 at 12:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • NN

      There was no plagiarism in his latest book, and it is that book which is at the center of the controversy. Previous to that there were idiotic accusations of "self-plagiarism" in his science blogs, which is as absurd as it sounds.

      August 2, 2012 at 2:19 pm | Report abuse |
  22. Rob

    Well, you can't say he's not creative ...

    August 2, 2012 at 12:12 pm | Report abuse |
  23. knucklecheese

    That's unfortunate. Hey, at least he was man enough to fess up to what he did. That shows he has SOME integrity left.

    August 2, 2012 at 11:47 am | Report abuse |
    • Trevor

      He did not fess up he was caught. Some one tried t ofind the qoutes called him for his sources and after he could not produce them addmitted it. he had no other option at that time.

      August 2, 2012 at 12:21 pm | Report abuse |
  24. NYKnows

    There is no defense for this. It's really sad when people claim to be reporters, but have no idea of the integrity and HONESTY required for the job, like Journalism 101 teaches. There's a disgusting grasping for money and fame, and those without scruples and a solid grounding in journalism try lies like these to get ahead. There is also a stunning sense of entitlement out there right now, as if everything and anything should be forgiven and forgotten. Nope. Once you've shown you cannot be trusted to do the critical, central and very basic task as a reporter, namely telling the truth, then you are toast forever. So enough CNN with the "few manufactured quotes" line – even ONE made-up, invented, fictional quote is too much if you are trying to sell nonfiction. The Lehrer "Imagine" book is poorlly written to start, making ridiculous leaps in trying to connect disparate things, so disappointing to start and now we learn that we wasted our time reading madeup junk? Unforgiveable. Deception and manipulation are OK in the movies and the carnival funhouse, because we pay for and expect deception there, but it's not OK in reporting news, science or quotes from anyone. And hey CNN, has anyone asked Bob Dylan how he feels about being used as a fictional character, with invented words so some self-absorbed person pretending to be a journalist can make money off his reputation? Unbelieveable.

    August 2, 2012 at 11:42 am | Report abuse |
    • MJT

      integrity – honesty – best look those up, they might still be in the dictionary, maybe.

      August 2, 2012 at 1:57 pm | Report abuse |