Jonah Lehrer, a 31-year-old science journalist and three-time author, has conceded to fabricating several quotes in his latest book, Imagine: How Creativity Works.
Lehrer gave a talk at Occidental College a year ago, and some of us students were blown away by how smart and scrupulous he seemed. Later in “Popular Science Writing” class, we tried to emulate his techniques for making complex scientific ideas seem simple and engaging.
Despite Lehrer’s success and acclaim, his career is kaput, at least for now. And since we all love a good scandal, armchair pundits are pummeling the Blogosphere and Twitterverse with commentary, building up the story and its implications.
And the opinion-slinging continues. Lehrer hasn’t released another statement, nor taken to his Twitter account. Is more torment on his way, or is the worst over? One can only hope that Lehrer’s career will eventually recover. Instead of drowning in the details as if its a juicy celebrity scandal, perhaps we should take another perspective: What can the rest of us learn from all this, especially journalists?
It seems fitting to revisit Lehrer’s book How We Decide , where he ponders the nature of folly:
Mistakes aren’t things to be discouraged. On the contrary, they should be cultivated and carefully investigated.
Carol Dweck, a psychologist at Standford, has spent decades demonstrating that one of the crucial ingredients of successful education is the ability to learn from mistakes.
. . . Unfortunately, children are often taught the exact opposite. Instead of praising kids for trying hard, teachers typically praise them for their innate intelligence. . . . This type of encouragement actually backfires, since it leads students to see mistakes as signs of stupidity and not as the building blocks of knowledge.
Written as part of UCLA Extension’s “New Media Reporting” course.