I highly recommend Steve Myers’ article http://www.poynter.org/latest-news/mediawire/184802/are-jonah-lehrers-scientific-errors-worse-than-fabricating-quotes/
Why is it that when a scientist makes up scientific information, he or she is fired, but when a journalist or writer makes up scientific information, he or she is promoted and ends up making lots of money with a best-seller? And why is mis-quoting Bob Dylan so vastly worse than widely mis-representing and twisting facts, even making up facts, about science and putting some of them in a book?
That Jonah Lehrer put multiple mistakes and perhaps inventions into a book called “Imagine” is highly amusing. And remember his naive article in the New Yorker that was billed as “Is There Something Wrong With The Scientific Method?” Well, “Is there something wrong with my science journalism?” might have been the real question.
Malcolm Gladwell described Lehrer (on the “Imagine” jacket cover) as “knowing more science than a lot of scientists.” I am afraid this now in turn raises serious questions about Mr. Gladwell’s own knowledge and judgment. The New Yorker also has big questions to answer; I don’t think you should be too quick to get your science journalism there.
Meanwhile, what was Fareed Zakaria thinking? The famous writer believing that he could steal paragraphs from another living and famous writer and not be noticed?
Of course he believed it, he’d gotten away with it before in broad daylight, and most of us hadn’t heard about it. Suspension? No, promotion! Note Added 8/15: The last bit here has been called into question by a commenter, referring me to this link that claims that the accusations made against Zakaria in the above link were unfair. It doesn’t change the fact that Zakaria did pilfer from Jill Lapore, as he has admitted to doing, and that I’ve lost my trust in his work. And I remain dubious that it’s the first time he’s ever done this in his long career.
“You can fool all of the people some of the time, and you can fool some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.”
Regrettably, I myself had a post on this site that linked to one of Zakaria’s articles; I no longer have any reason to trust the man’s judgment and integrity, and so I have updated the post to mark it as suspect. And I would suggest you ignore everything he writes in future. Same with Lehrer, of course.
It seems highly unlikely that these deceptions were aberrations; apparently these people managed to make their way to the top partially by subterfuge. And people currently at the top are allowing young charlatans to rise to the top, or at least are unable to prevent their rise. That is extremely distressing.
In physics, fortunately, getting to the top by ruse and swagger and charm and exaggeration remains extremely difficult to do (though examples do occur; one of my friends caught this guy because his plots looked weird) — because your colleagues, knowing you are human and that you can make mistakes, don’t assume that you’re right when you make a claim about something. At some point along the way, before they rely on your work, they check it. (That’s why it is so important that TWO experiments at the Large Hadron Collider have such strong and largely independent evidence for the existence of a Higgs-like particle.) Such standards may need to be applied a bit more widely in the world; we should be a lot less gullible, and require a much higher standard of proof from news organizations, psychology and medical studies, and books mistakenly filed in the non-fiction section, than we do.