Jonah Lehrer, author of a best-selling book about the mind and creativity, resigned from The New Yorker magazine on Monday for being too creative with his non-fiction writing.
In a statement that startled New York’s publishing industry, Lehrer confessed to fabricating quotes he attributed to legendary singer-songwriter Bob Dylan in Imagine: How Creativity Works.
“The quotes in question either did not exist, were unintentional misquotations, or represented improper combinations of previously existing quotes,” the 31-year-old science writer said.
“The lies are over now. I understand the gravity of my position. I want to apologize to everyone I have let down, especially my editors and readers... I have resigned my position as staff writer at The New Yorker.”
Lehrer’s publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt reacted swiftly, saying it would halt shipping copies of Imagine to bookstores, stop offering the e-book version online, and otherwise explore “all options available to us.”
The boyish, bespectacled and prolific Lehrer, who studied neuroscience at Columbia University in New York, contributed to several big-name newspapers and magazines before landing his coveted slot at The New Yorker.
Imagine – inspired, Lehrer once said, by his inability to decide what flavor of Cheerios cereal to buy at the supermarket – debuted at number one on the New York Times non-fiction best-seller list when it came in April.
“This is a terrifically sad situation,” said New Yorker editor David Remnick, whose high-brow weekly magazine is famous for the supposedly meticulous fact-checking of its content.
“But, in the end, what is most important is the integrity of what we publish and what we stand for,” he said in a statement.
Lehrer’s fake Dylan quotes – which deal with the songwriting process – were first called into question by writer Michael Moynihan in the Jewish-oriented current affairs magazine Tablet.
Moynihan recalled that, last month, Lehrer had committed “self-plagiarism” by lifting whole segments of Imagine and putting them onto The New Yorker’s website without telling readers where they came from.
“To some, it was a tenuous charge ... like ‘being accused of stealing food from your own refrigerator’,” wrote Moynihan. “Others highlighted the pressures brought to bear on young writers to produce more and more content.”