Editor’s note: Guest blogger, Stanton Peele, takes aim at errant science writing and its outlets. Stanton may be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/speele5.
Jonah Lehrer, the best-selling author who specialized in reducing artistic endeavors to neurological events, was an important science writer for Wired and The New Yorker, as well as contributing to such leading publications as the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times Magazine.
This matters because these publications have played a critical role in the reductionism that pervades American thinking about mental illness and addiction. Our leading scientific journals in America have placed the imprimatur of official scientism on reductionism, a endeavor whose seediness is represented perhaps most clearly by Lehrer. But his published lies really reflect the entire enterprise of reductionism in American science.
As I have noted in the Huffington Post, Lehrer became a runaway best-selling author by making outlandish, unscientific, and obtuse assertions about the nature of the relationship between art and creativity, on the one hand, and neuroscience on the other. This writing amounted essentially to making metaphoric leaps from biographical information (which Lehrer often misstated or made up out of whole cloth) or superficial artistic observations to like-seeming memes in neuroscience (e.g., great novelists describe changes people undergo, we can generate new neurons = miracle association between art, biology, and science).
Lehrer’s personal fate is now of little interest, since, his fabrications and lying revealed, he was fired immediately from his staff position at The New Yorker and his publisher ceased shipment of his runaway best-seller, Imagine: How Creativity Works. But the implications of Lehrer’s intellectual dishonesty and pandering go far beyond his making up quotes, his systematic inaccuracies, and his lies in order to cover these up. Rather, they go to the heart of recent brain science and its massive incomprehension of what psychological science comprises.