Jonah Lehrer: ‘My mistakes have caused deep pain to those I care about’

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.

Jonah Lehrer at today's event.

Jonah Lehrer at today’s event.

“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.”

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