Two weeks after disgraced journalist Jonah Lehrer publicly apologized for the “frailties” and “weaknesses” that lead to his firing from The New Yorker and withdrawal of his bestselling book Imagine, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), publisher of all three of Lehrer’s books, has decided it will no longer offer for sale his second book, How We Decide. After an internal review uncovered significant problems with the book, the publisher is “taking How We Decide off-sale” and has “no plans to reissue it in the future,” HMH senior vice president Bruce Nichols said in an email.
HMH, who pulled Imagine from shelves in July and offered refunds to those who had purchased the book, will “shortly alert accounts about How We Decide and offer to refund returns” from customers, Nichols said. He also noted that the company’s review of Proust Was a Neuroscientist, Lehrer’s first book, did not uncover any problems and that it “will remain in print.”
Nichols didn’t reveal the specifics of HMH’s findings, but shortly after the company withdrew Imagine I privately provided them with a handful of problematic passages, gleaned from a cursory look at How We Decide.
HA-hahahahahaha! The author of this article, Michael Moynihan, goes on to reveal that his “cursory look” at How We Decide probably involved no more than a simple Google search of Lehrer’s prose and a look at Wikipedia. That’s right: the world’s most obvious undergraduate-style plagiarist was getting paid to write for The New Yorker and publishing books with HMH. Most of you professor types probably would have found him out a lot sooner if he were trying to pass his stuff off on you than his editors or readers did.
Of course this makes sense, because how else could someone who is only 31 have written three books based on original research and write for so many different prestigious publications, too? I’ve never written about him before because 1) I never thought he or his work was all that interesting to begin with, and 2) I couldn’t believe the credulousness of major editors and publishers in believing that he was actually producing all of that original journalism without plagiarizing and/or recycling a lot of his own work.
Anyone who has any actual expertise in anything knows that honest reporting and original writing takes a hell of a lot more time than Lehrer has ever put in, with perhaps the exception of plagiarism and auto-recycling. Maybe this means that big-time editors and publishers in fact have no expertise, and so have no hard-won internal bull$hit detector? Maybe this means that they were selling the wunderkind fantasy as much as his (not-very-interesting “Gee Whiz”) books and articles, as well as fooling themselves? Maybe the fact that most of them are white, male, and middle-aged made many of them believe that Lehrer reminded them of themselves back when they were his age?
It might be all of the above. As far as I’m concerned, Jonah Lehrer is the perfect “journalist” of the internet age, with a con so great that he could actually get intelligent people to click on those unbelievably stupid internet ads promising to “melt stubborn belly fat with one weird old trick” or share the secrets of the “54-year old (Your Town Here) mom [who] looks 27!”
Maybe it’s true. Yeah, it could be true! Why not believe that the fountain of youth is just a click away on an internet ad? I’d sooner believe that than believe that Jonah Lehrer had 3 books’ worth of anything original or interesting to say.