Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Jonah Lehrer Strikes Again

Jonah Lehrer has done it again. I had thought that his invention of quotes and the like had been limited to his essays and books that dealt with people. I had thought that his science reporting had been more careful because, well, there would be scientists reading it and for that reason, he would be careful.

Turns out that was wrong. Turns out he was inventing stuff for his science articles, or maybe misinterpreting stuff… in any case, we now have to reassess what he wrote in his science articles, including his recent revelations about memory.

I found his original piece to be interesting… it seemed to fit in with what Elizabeth Loftus and Richard Ofshe had written in the past. It fit in with the idea that memory is not the big video camera that had been claimed, but was more random and sporadic than that. Memory might be untrustworthy and we would all be well advised to remember that as we interviewed those who had seen a UFO in years past.

The arguments can still be made. Those older sources are still reliable, and those sources that Lehrer used are still good. It means that if we find something interesting in what he wrote, we’d better see if we could find the primary source to ensure the accuracy of quote and the information interpreted correctly. He was no longer someone to be trusted.

As we move through the UFO field, we all make mistakes. I have been taken to task for believing the tales of Frank Kaufmann. He spun a good story and he did have some documentation that backed up what he said. He’d shown some to me but he wouldn’t let me have copies… that should have been a red flag. Those documents that could have been checked would have revealed the truth. He did provide copies of his Separation papers and I had no reason to doubt their authenticity. Who would alter those?

After reading Stolen Valor, it turned out that quite a few people would. I have wondered if anyone checks my military credentials with St. Louis now that such things are easier. I’m sure they have, and they found that I was who I said I was… Oh, there are some errors in them. But, if someone claims a military record, we would all be well advised to check it from the primary source.

The point, here however, is that Lehrer has let us all down… We should check out all that he has said about various topics in science to be sure he was right, and I suppose go to the primary sources and bypass him. I suppose I believed what he wrote about memory (which, BTW, still might be accurate) because of what I had read from Loftus, Ofshe and others. Now, I’ll just go one step further and look up the primary source to make sure it agrees with what he said but he won’t be used as a source.

(Blogger's Note: I have just learned that Wired magazine will continue to publish Jonah Lehrer's material. I don't know what vetting process or fact checking they plan to do. I am surprised at this, which just shows nothing around us is ever easy. As for my, if I am ever inclined to use his material as a source again, I will make sure that his information is accurate.)


Richard said...

Hi, Please don't take this the wrong way but I am not familiar with Jonah Lehrer so a little background info would have been helpful or a link to some additional info so I could have better understood your post. Thanks
Enjoy the site.

KRandle said...

Lehrer was (is) a science writer, among other things, who was caught making up quotes for his books. It had seemed that his inventions were limited to work other than science writing, but now seems to include that as well.

You can find out more by googling his name. One of the articles can be found here:

Terry the Censor said...

UPDATE: Wired fired Lehrer.