Eulogy for Jonah Lehrer’s career

There isn’t much left to be said about the unraveling of Jonah Lehrer‘s career (though I suspect he’ll be back).

For a long time, I’d advised family members to take the information from Lehrer’s writing and TV appearances with some serious salt, which would give you the impression that all new discoveries in neuroscience fit neatly into the way Lehrer had been telling you it all worked. Media personalities have the luxury of making the research fit the world view that has made them popular. Quality researchers with true expertise and experience do not.

Lehrer broke the rules of both journalism and science, but was only punished when he was caught breaking the rules of journalism.

I was never a Lehrer fan, but we can’t pretend this is an isolated action by a “bad apple”. Like many science fraudsters, fraudulent journalists are responding to the perverse incentives provided by their field. Good science reporting often takes time and a moderate tone. We reward speed and attention grabbing prose. It makes you wonder if the decision makers either don’t know or don’t care when the journalists break the rules of science.

Author: Josh Witten

http://www.thefinchandpea.com

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