On the downfall of a science journalist
Francis Sedgemore, Tuesday 31 July 2012 at 11:51 UTC
…or the ephemerality of contemporary literary fame.
Celebrity science writer Jonah Lehrer‘s next interview will likely be with a Hollywood Hills jobcentre advisor, having been forced to resign his position as a staff writer with the prestigious New Yorker magazine following revelations that he invented quotes attributed to Bob Dylan.
What is it with these dashing young celebrity writers? They get praised to the rafters, it goes to their heads, they get lazy, and finally the entire edifice constructed by and for them comes tumbling down. And this before they have reached their mid-thirties.
On this side of the Pond it happened to Johann Hari, unmasked by bloggers on whom he first relied, and then shat upon. And now we have Lehrer, whose undoing is down to some investigative journalism by Michael Moynihan, writing in the Jewish culture magazine Tablet.
I refer to an edifice constructed in part for celebrity writers. In Lehrer’s case we have reviews such as that by Helen Brown, who wrote of Lehrer’s “Proust was a neuroscientist”…
“Lehrer is a dazzlingly clever young man whose writing bears witness to both the clarity of his scientific training and the humanity of his literary studies. The Whitmanesque electricity of all the thought and heart he has put into this book fizzes from each sentence.”
With such gushing hyperbole and pre-mortem beatification, the poor boy must have thought he was invincible. Not quite. Unsold copies of Lehrer’s bestselling books are being pulped as I type.