I read with a mixture of despair and cynicism the story of Jonah Lehrer’s stumble from public grace – despair because this was another in a line of confirmations that something has a hard time becoming noteworthy in the media today until it is sexed up, cynicism because some part of me sneered that Lehrer’s kind of meteoric success is often too good to be true.
As I continue to think and write about it, my cynicism starts to dissolve, but the despair remains. I first came to know of Lehrer a couple of months ago through my sister who recommended that I read his book, How We Decide, which she had liked a lot. Michael Moynihan, who brought to light the fact that Lehrer fabricated some quotes and attributed them to Bob Dylan, thinks that this may not be an isolated case. Having made a cursory examination of How We Decide, he reports that there may be more fake interviews and fabricated quotations there. My sister will be sad when she finds this out. I do hope to read the book someday, though it will certainly be through a different lens given this week’s events.
It is easy to see how we become conditioned by such experiences. Lehrer’s problem now is that whatever he writes in the future – even if it is the most honest and thoroughly researched piece imaginable – he has planted in our mind permanent seeds of doubt that he is powerless to stop from germinating. Sam Harris wrote a blog post about this affair, and pointed readers to a pertinent essay – in the form of a very short book – called Lying that he (Harris) wrote recently. Like his Letter to a Christian Nation, it gets straight to the point, is insightful and very much worth reading and thinking about.