Archive

Tag Archives: Media Ethics

Jonah Lehrer is back on the speaking circuit, but this time he’s not taking a fee.

The disgraced science journalist, who was paid $20,000 to speak at a Knight Foundation conference 13 months ago, is on the University of Minnesota Duluth campus three days this week for a creativity conference.

“He’s not being paid anything,” William Payne, head of the UMD School of Fine Arts, tells me. “We’re covering the cost of him getting here and putting him up, but he wouldn’t accept an honorarium.”

Lehrer is one of two speakers invited to the Duluth campus — CSU Fresno psychology professor Martin Shapiro is the other — to speak in classrooms, deliver “TED-style presentations” and participate in a Wednesday public discussion.

WDSE public television producer Karen Sunderman, who will moderate the talk, says there are no restrictions on questions for Lehrer. “I’ve been told that no question is off the table for his entire visit,” she says in a phone interview.

Payne confirms that, and says Lehrer will discuss his serial plagiarism. “He’s going to talk about the mistakes he’s made.”

I ask the dean if Lehrer’s conference appearance has been criticized around Duluth.

“We’ve had some conversations on campus about the [plagiarism] incidences you’ve mentioned” in our phone conversation, he says.

Lehrer’s campus critics must not be very loud, though. I ask University of Minnesota-Duluth Statesman editor-in-chief Maeggie Licht about Lehrer’s visit and she says it’s news to her.

* Jonah Lehrer at the University of Minnesota-Duluth creativity conference (umn.edu)
* Lehrer is coming to UM Duluth with baggage (duluthnewstribune.com)
* After being criticized, Knight Foundation says it regrets paying $20K to Lehrer (knightfoundation.org)


Update: The State now says Ron Morris is allowed to write about USC football. Read the memo.

———-

In 2011, University of South Carolina football coach Steve Spurrier refused to talk to reporters while Ron Morris of The State — McClatchy’s paper in Columbia, SC — was in the room. The coach complained that the sports columnist was a “negative guy.”

Spurrier did the same thing a year later. “I don’t need any questions today,” he told reporters last Sept. 22, then left. The coach, according to one sports site, quickly exited because he feared Morris was planting questions with other reporters after being told by his own paper that he should keep quiet.

Spurrier (left) and Morris

Spurrier (left) and Morris

The 68-year-old football coach won’t have a repeat performance this year, though, because The State has told Morris he can no longer write about University of South Carolina Gamecocks football. (He’s been writing a lot about Clemson lately.)

“The publisher of the paper has removed Ron from any coverage of the football program, which down there is akin to the Washington Post not letting Dan Balz write about government,” one of Morris’s former colleagues told me. “Effectively, he’s being forced out at the behest of the football coach, with the publisher not standing up for him.”

Morris declined to talk to me, but others familiar with the situation — including former University of South Carolina and State staffers — described how The State’s publisher, Henry Haitz III, made his veteran columnist agree in writing that he would never again write about Gamecocks football or talk about the USC program on TV and radio shows.

“It was a journalism restraining order,” said one of Morris’s ex-colleagues.

A sports reporter from another newspaper – he suggested I write this piece – told me: “It’s pretty common knowledge around the area that this happened, and a lot of media types, myself included, are pretty upset at the kowtowing by the publisher there.”

Spurrier’s 2011 tirade
Spurrier announced on Oct. 13, 2011, that he wouldn’t conduct his weekly press conference as long as Morris was in the room. He was upset about something Morris wrote seven months earlier. “This has been weighing on my, on my chest, and I’m getting it off my chest right here today,” Spurrier said. (Morris wrote in March that Spurrier convinced a South Carolina basketball player to quit the team and join the football program.)

After that incident, Morris was told by his bosses not to ask questions at future press conferences.

Spurrier’s 2012 complaints about Morris
On Sept. 19, 2012, Morris wrote a column questioning Spurrier’s “poor decision” to play quarterback Connor Shaw against University of Alabama-Birmingham. That, of course, angered the coach again.

Around the same time, Morris was asked on an XM Radio sports show whether Spurrier would take questions at an upcoming press conference. The columnist replied: “I think it’s a real test of the [University of South Carolina] administration. This is how things like Penn State happen — when the administration won’t step up and confront the football coach, and he becomes all-powerful. When the football coach begins to dictate company policy, I think you’re asking for trouble.”/CONTINUES Read More

UPDATE: The New Yorker has put Editors’ Notes on five of Jonah Lehrer’s posts. They all close with this line: “We regret the duplication of material.”

Laura Hazard Owen writes on paidContent: “Lehrer shouldn’t be excused for cribbing from himself. But in some ways, it’s not that surprising that it happened.” Why? Because, she says, Big Ideas aren’t unlimited.

——

Last Tuesday, The New Yorker posted Jonah Lehrer’s “Why Smart People Are Stupid.” It begins this way:

Jonah Lehrer

Here’s a simple arithmetic question: A bat and ball cost a dollar and ten cents. The bat costs a dollar more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?

The vast majority of people respond quickly and confidently, insisting the ball costs ten cents. This answer is both obvious and wrong. (The correct answer is five cents for the ball and a dollar and five cents for the bat.)

For more than five decades, Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Laureate and professor of psychology at Princeton, has been asking questions like this and analyzing our answers. His disarmingly simple experiments have profoundly changed the way we think about thinking. While philosophers, economists, and social scientists had assumed for centuries that human beings are rational agents—reason was our Promethean gift—Kahneman, the late Amos Tversky, and others, including Shane Frederick (who developed the bat-and-ball question), demonstrated that we’re not nearly as rational as we like to believe.

Last October 15, the Wall Street Journal published a Jonah Lehrer piece headlined “The Science of Irrationality,” It began this way:

Here’s a simple arithmetic question: “A bat and ball cost $1.10. The bat costs $1 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?”

The vast majority of people respond quickly and confidently, insisting the ball costs 10 cents. This answer is both incredibly obvious and utterly wrong. (The correct answer is five cents for the ball and $1.05 for the bat.) What’s most impressive is that education doesn’t really help; more than 50% of students at Harvard, Princeton and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology routinely give the incorrect answer.

Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Laureate and professor of psychology at Princeton, has been asking questions like this for more than five decades. His disarmingly simple experiments have profoundly changed the way that we think about thinking. While philosophers, economists and social scientists had assumed for centuries that human beings are rational agents, Mr. Kahneman and his scientific partner, the late Amos Tversky, demonstrated that we’re not nearly as rational as we like to believe.

I called NewYorker.com editor Nicholas Thompson and asked if he was aware that Lehrer’s June 12 post was a rewrite of his Wall Street Journal piece. He said he wasn’t. He’s now trying to reach Lehrer, who is in California.

Thompson tells Romenesko readers: “It’s a mistake. We’re not happy. It won’t happen again.”

* “Why Smart People Are Stupid” (New Yorker)
* “The Science of Irrationality” (Wall Street Journal)
* June 5: Jonah Lehrer leaves Wired to join The New Yorker (Capital New York)

UPDATE: “A bit of digging by Daily Intel shows that it’s not the first time the prolific Lehrer, who’s contributed to the New York Times Magazine and “Radiolab,” has doubled up,” writes Joe Coscarelli in New York magazine.