Is Jonah Lehrer Still Fucken Plagiarizing?????

This columnist at Slate has seen Lehrer’s latest book proposal, and finds what could be evidence that Lehrer has plagiarized parts of it from published work by Adam Gopnik:

There are moments in the proposal where that scent of vomit lingers, places where Lehrer’s language seems caught in a cycle of reappropriation and re-use. A chapter on the secret to having a happy marriage, for example, comes close to copying a recent essay on the same subject by Adam Gopnik, Lehrer’s one-time colleague at The New Yorker. Gopnik wrote:

In 1838, when Darwin was first thinking of marriage, he made an irresistible series of notes on the subject—a scientific-seeming list of marriage pros and cons. … In favor of marriage, he included the acquisition of a “constant companion and friend in old age” and, memorably and conclusively, decided that a wife would be “better than a dog, anyhow.”

Here’s Lehrer’s version, from the proposal:

In July 1838, Charles Darwin considered the possibility of marriage in his scientific notebook. His thoughts quickly took the shape of a list, a balance sheet of reasons to “marry” and “not marry.” The pros of wedlock were straightforward: Darwin cited the possibility of children (“if it please God”), the health benefits of attachment and the pleasure of having a “constant companion (& friend in old age).” A wife, he wrote, was probably “better than a dog anyhow.”

Gopnik, again:

And the Darwins went on to have something close to an ideal marriage.

And Lehrer:

This might seem like an inauspicious start to a relationship, but the Darwins’ went on to have a nearly ideal marriage.


The Darwins had lust, certainly—10 children in 17 years suggests as much anyway—and they had laughter. Emma loved to tease Charles about his passion, already evident in youth, for obsessive theorising. … And loyalty? Well, despite Emma’s Christian faith, she stood by him through all the evolutionary wars.


There were ten children in seventeen years; volumes of affectionate letters, full of teasing and warmth; and, perhaps most importantly, a deep and abiding loyalty, which helped the couple cope with their grief over a dead child and their disagreements over God.


As he lay dying in 1882, the distinguished scientist, who had irrevocably altered the consciousness of the world, and knew it, said simply: “My love, my precious love.”


In 1882, as Darwin lay dying, he called out to Emma. Although the scientist had redefined the history of life, his last meaningful words stated the simplest of truths. “My love, my precious love,” Charles whispered to his wife.

I don’t know if Lehrer really plagiarized the Gopnik essay, or if he modified his words to stop just short of doing so; it might be that both drew inspiration from a common source.

Unfuckenbelievable that this motherfucker is still up to shit like this.


  1. David Marjanović says

    Oh, for fuck’s sake.

    At least it’s a good plagiate. I’m used to German and Austrian politicians copying & pasting paragraph after paragraph with token changes at the most. Lehrer has at least read enough Darwin to correct the quote “constant companion (& friend in old age)” that Gopnik inexcusably mangled.

  2. says

    I’m with Ernest. I’m not at all surprised that Lehrer is plagiarizing–after all, he’s a prolific plagiarst. It’s what they do. I guess I’m impressed, in a way, that he’s still peddling the same old bullcrap. All of his essays and appearances on the radio read and sounded like what any clever but essentially unaccomplished non-expert would do with his source material.

    I appreciated the side-by-side comparison with Gopnik’s essay, as it’s clear who the better writer is. Maybe Lehrer’s problem is that he’s not plagiarizing closely enough?

  3. machintelligence says

    IIRC it is the words that count, for copyright and plagiarism, both. Using quotations only clouds the issue, since they will of course be identical, if accurate.

    it might be that both drew inspiration from a common source.

    I am inclined to go with the charitable explanation here.

  4. Grumble says

    The real question is why anyone would read anything by Jonah Lehrer, now that he’s been exposed as a quack writer.

  5. says

    “The real question is why anyone would read anything by Jonah Lehrer, now that he’s been exposed as a quack writer.” That’s an interesting question, but I think it’s more fascinating to wonder how the hell he got another book contract, and why some dumbasse editor thought it was a good idea to give him one? Maybe the lesson is that in the age of the internets 2.0 and social media, there’s no such thing as bad publicity, ever. Just as politicians automatically can count on a certain number of votes if voters recognize their names, then maybe having a “famous” name associated with writing is the important thing. That Lehrer is more famous as a plagiarist than as anything else is secondary, so long as the suckers will buy his crummy books.

  6. Grumble says

    Ha, yes, maybe his next book will be a self-help manual: “The Incompetent Hack’s Guide to Making Money with Plagiarism”.

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