Proust Wasn’t a Neuroscientist. Neither was Jonah Lehrer.

The disgraced journalist’s biggest sin had nothing to do with self-plagiarism. Or fabricating Bob Dylan quotes. All he did was what was asked.

  1. We are all bad apples,” wrote Jonah Lehrer, in probably the last back-cover endorsement of his career. “Dishonesty is everywhere It’s an uncomfortable message, but the implications are huge.”

    Lehrer’s blurb was for behavioral economist Dan Ariely’s The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone—Especially Ourselves. Among Ariely’s bite-size lessons: We all cheat by a “fudge factor” of roughly 15 percent, regardless of how likely we are to get caught; a few of us advance gradually to bigger and bigger fudges, often driven by social pressures; and it’s only when our backs are up against the wall that we resort to brazen lies.

    Lehrer, 31, had already established the kind of reputation that made his backing invaluable to a popular science writer. Thanks to three books, countless articles and blog posts, and many turns on the lecture circuit, Lehrer was perhaps the leading explainer of neuroscience this side of a Ph.D. He was kind enough to interview Ariely this past June for the Frontal Cortex, a blog Lehrer had started in 2006 and carried with him from one high-profile appointment to the next. The New Yorker had begun hosting it that month, after Lehrer was hired as a staff writer—another major career milestone. But didn’t run the Ariely story, because by the time he wrote it, Lehrer had already been banned from his own blog. Two weeks earlier, readers had discovered that he was rampantly “self-plagiarizing” his own blog posts among different media...

Originally published in New York, November 2012