Jonah Lehrer Apologizes, Surrounded by Tweets Still Calling Him a Plagiarist

J.K. Trotter

Jonah Lehrer is sorry for re-using old blog posts at The New Yorker; for inventing Bob Dylan quotes in his book Imagine; and for plagiarizing press releases at Wired. In the first public appearance since he resigned from The New Yorker in July 2012, the popular science author gave a meandering speech today at the Knight Foundation's annual Media Learning Seminar in Miami. Peppering his delivery with references to Charles Darwin and other thinkers, Lehrer compared his personal and professional failings with those of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and its botched arrest of Brandon Mayfield. (Jim Romenesko, who first reported on Lehrer's content duplication, has the text of his opening remarks.) Adding to the spectacle of his public apology, Lehrer was flanked by a live feed of tweets reacting to him:

RELATED: It's Hard Out There for a Plagiarist

Said tweets were critical:

It's weird. I don't need to put a list of rules in place in order to not plagiarize or make stuff up in my writing. #infoneeds

— Sara Morrison (@SaraMorrison) February 12, 2013

Jonah Lehrer equating his individual mistakes with FBI's institutional failings, but institutions don't have intention. #infoneeds

— Jeff Bercovici (@jeffbercovici) February 12, 2013

Ugh the Mayfield fingerprint FBI disaster is upsetting enough without hearing Lehrer justify his existence with it. #infoneeds

— Sarah Weinman (@sarahw) February 12, 2013

Jonah Lehrer boring people into forgiving him for his plagiarism.#infoneeds

— Joe Heim (@JoeHeim) February 12, 2013

Comparing yourself to Darwin is not a good way to start your humble appology. #infoneeds

— Matt Griffin (@mattgriffin) February 12, 2013

Don't understand why Lehrer needs a set of special rules. Just follow one simple rule of journalism: tell the truth. #infoneeds

— Brooke Borel (@brookeborel) February 12, 2013

Lehrer talks like ease of fabricating quotes is ever-present temptation for all journalists. Does he really think that? #infoneeds

— Jeff Bercovici (@jeffbercovici) February 12, 2013

That Jonah Lehrer speech was one of the more uncomfortable events in my recent memory. #infoneeds

— RobertaFKing (@RobertaFKing) February 12, 2013

Some were defensive:

Regardless, it takes courage to get up there @jonahlehrer at #infoneeds

— Kara Andrade (@newmaya) February 12, 2013

Regardless, it takes courage to get up there @jonahlehrer at #infoneeds

— Kara Andrade (@newmaya) February 12, 2013

Wow. Jonah Lehrer talk on decisionmaking dives directly into a listing of failures, errors and mea culpa. #infoneeds

— Kathryn Peters (@kathrynepeters) February 12, 2013

And some were meta:

I find the simultaneous Twiiter feed and the Jonah Lehrer speech at #infoneeds to be dizzying. #headexplosion

— RobertaFKing (@RobertaFKing) February 12, 2013

Ugh, Jonah Lehrer is apologizing next to a live Twitter feed of people mocking him. It's basically a 21st century town square flogging

— Derek Thompson (@DKThomp) February 12, 2013

@jonahlehrer's public display is definitely a good deterrent for plagiarism/fabrication #infoneeds

— Mario Christodoulou (@Mariocracy) February 12, 2013

The Q&A session that followed Lehrer's speech drew even more ire. The audience focused on Lehrer's suggestion that his higher-than-average IQ explained his propensity to lie:

Oh no, he didn't... just because I'm smart, I lied. Seriously??? #infoneeds

— Todd Reubold (@treubold) February 12, 2013

Shorter Lehrer: Lying is easier for smarter people. (Editor's note: Such absolute BS.) #infoneeds

— Rob Blackwell (@ABWashBureau) February 12, 2013

Staffer at Wired told me that mag wanted JL to write "the science of why I lied." Apparently this is that piece #infoneeds

— Michael C Moynihan (@mcmoynihan) February 12, 2013