Guest speaker: Prof. Jordan Ellenberg on Jonah Lehrer’s deceptions

For Monday, we’ll be welcoming Prof. Jordan Ellenberg, from the Department of Mathematics. We’re not going to be watching Cats, but broadway musicals figure into Prof. Jordan Ellenberg’s encounters with Jonah Lehrer.

Our focus will be how Lehrer engaged in a bunch of unethical practices—Professor Ellenberg started finding them, as did many other people. Later, when everything began to crumble for Lehrer, Charles Seife was brought in to investigate. He writes,

“My task was not to decide whether Lehrer got everything right—every journalist makes mistakes and misinterprets things—but to determine whether he recycled, fabricated, plagiarized, or otherwise breached journalistic ethics.

I soon came to the conclusion that he had.”

Jordan Ellenberg, “Six Degrees of Innovation: What Broadway musicals tell us about creativity,”, March 23, 2012.

Charles Seife, “Jonah Lehrer’s Journalistic Misdeeds at An investigation reveals evidence of plagiarism, dodgy quotes, and factual inaccuracies.”, August 31, 2012.

Jonah Lehrer in action:

[AUDIO] Radiolab, “Seeking Patterns,” June 15, 2009. (Lehrer comes in at about 2:20 and talks till 4:15).

[VIDEO] Jonah Lehrer Discusses Creativity, April 24, 2012.

Radiolab first defends Jonah Lehrer on June 22, 2012:

The notion that Jonah is a “plagiarist” is beyond ridiculous.  And the way in which some journalists are jumping up and down, claiming he’s no longer a “writer” but an “idea man” or an example of “male arrogance”…that’s just plain ugly.  There are some useful conversations that can come from this, namely, what does it mean to be a print journalist in the 21st century? What are the rules?  I’ll let the print journalists have that conversation.

What I personally hope doesn’t get lost in all the hand waving is Jonah Lehrer’s body of work. He’s one of the most stunningly original voices I’ve ever encountered. I knew it the moment I first read Proust Was A Neuroscientist. That’s why we’ve had Jonah on the show 17 times, by my count. And that’s why we will have him on again, and again, because he explores and explains with the best of them. And we like to work with the best.

Later, Radiolab is more circumspect, but they still defend him:

Over the last few weeks, we’ve carefully reviewed the many stories that Jonah helped us with, and we stand by the truth of all of these stories. And we stand by the work that Jonah has done for us.

That said, we did find a few minor errors. The mistakes have been corrected.

Some links:

Six Degrees of Innovation: What Broadway musicals tell us about creativity, by Jordan Ellenberg

Jordan’s blog: