So I know that it’s wrong to lie and make stuff up and attempt to pass off fiction as fact and only bad people do these things and if good people do these things, they should expect to be openly humiliated, publicly punished, we’ll call for hara-kiri. I know that culturally, “truth” is paramount, that’s how things work, we appeal to it in order to keep people in line, it’s how we can have at the very least the semblance of accountability. I know these things should be true, but I can’t help wrinkling my nose whenever there is another Jayson Blair/Stephen Glass/James Frey occurrence.
Jonah Lehrer published Imagine: How Creativity Works in 2012. It was a work of nonfiction dealing with the science of creativity. It shot to the top of bestseller lists, Malcolm Gladwell was an enthusiastic fan and revered Lehrer’s mastery of language and scientific principles, Lehrer was destined to be a star. Forever. And then a few journalists pointed out discrepancies in his work and it turned out that he had doctored some Bob Dylan quotes, plagiarized some of his earlier work, misrepresented data, used false information, the list goes on. Lehrer resigned from his staff position at The New Yorker, publishers recalled all unsold copies of Imagine, and Lehrer will probably never write again. People now discuss him in hushed tones as though his crime were pedophilia.