Here is the opening of Jonah Lehrer’s speech at the Knight Foundation’s Media Learning Seminar:
“I’d like to begin by thanking the Knight Foundation for the invitation to speak. It’s a deep honor to be here before this organization dedicated to journalistic excellence. I’ve been asked to give a talk about decision-making. I’m going to focus today on bad decisions, on the causes and repercussions of failure. The failure I’ll be talking about is my own.
“For those who do not know who I am, let me give you a brief summary: I am the author of a book on creativity that contains several fabricated Bob Dylan quotes. I committed plagiaristm on my blog, taking without credit or citation an entire paragraph from the blog of Christian Jarrett. I plagiarized from myself. I lied to a journalist named Michael Moynihan to cover up the Dylan fabrications.
“My mistakes have caused deep pain to those I care about. I am constantly remembering all the people I have hurt and let down — friends, family, colleagues, my wife, my parents, my editors. I think about all the readers I’ve disappointed, people who paid good money for my book and don’t want it on their shelves. I’ve broken their trust; for that I am profoundly sorry. It is my hope that some day my transgressions might be forgiven.”
“I could stop here, but there’s a reason I want to talk today about my failures. I am convinced that unless I talk openly about what I’ve learned so far, unless I hold myself accountable in public, then the lessons will not last. I will lose the only consolation of my failure, which is the promise that I will not fail like this again, that I might one day find a way to fail better.”
“The lessons have arrived in phases. The first phase involved a literal reconstruction of my mistakes. I wanted to have an accounting in my head of how I fabricated those Dylan quotes. I wanted to understand the mechanics of every lapse, to relive all those errors that led to my disgrace. I wanted to understand so I could explain it to people, so I could explain it in a talk like this, so I could say I found the broken part and that part has a name. My arrogance; my desire for attention; my willingness to take shortcuts provided I don’t think anyone else will notice; my carelessness, matched with an ability to excuse my carelessness away; my tendency to believe my own excuses. But then, once I came up with this list of flaws, once I began to understand how these flaws led to each of my mistakes, I realized that all of my explanations changed nothing. They cannot undo what I’ve done, not even a little.”