Jonah Lehrer, self plagiarist

Interesting… Jonah Lehrer, a science writer who writes a lot about the brain and whose work I have commented on in the past, has just been caught recycling his own writing. Apparently he was taking material from old columns he did for the Wall Street Journal and attempting to pass it off as new material in the New Yorker.

On one hand, you always read these stories and wonder how the guy didn’t think he would be caught. As a writer, you want to be read, and as a successful writer you presume people are reading your work which means there’s a strong likelihood someone will notice the similarity in material.

At the same time, I’ve always found it a little hard to get particularly upset about plagiarism. If I do some research and find a particular paragraph about some point, then rewrite it so that it is new material that contains the same gist (by doing things like swapping out a word like “traveling” with “journeying” etc.) have I really accomplished anything meaningful? Shouldn’t I just save myself some time and replicate the paragraph exactly?

Nonetheless, it does seem unfair for someone to be paid for plagiarism. Thus, I think we are right to condemn people who repeat material, even if it’s material they, themselves, authored.

Nonetheless, it does seem unfair for someone to be paid for plagiarism. Thus, I think we are right to condemn people who repeat material, even if it’s material they, themselves, authored.

2 Responses to “Jonah Lehrer, self plagiarist”


  1. John Saleeby

    I steal all my stuff from Rachel Maddow.

  2. Wil

    What! I write all her material!