Editor’s note: Following on his recent post about plagiarist Jonah Lehrer, guest blogger Stanton Peele continues his critical review of mis-spent ink on addiction science in distinguished publications by recalling additional examples. Stanton may be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/speele5.
Jonah Lehrer’s imaginative, stylized, baseless view of neuroscience and its relationship to creativity and other cognitive functions was welcomed in seminal science blogs for Wired and The New Yorker, but also at the world’s leading scientific journal, Nature, because it corresponds with their own facile but incorrect views. Given not only the highly speculative and inaccurate nature of much of Lehrer’s writing, his lying about sources, and his alleged personality defects, we might wonder what about his pedigree justified his appearance at perhaps the premier spokesperson in our era for the new brain science.
The answer: He provided lame justification for the au courant scientific meme that neuroscience accounts (not might account) for much of human behavior. That these publications are slavishly, uncritically devoted to this meme might seem remarkable, unless one considers science – certainly popular science, but actually much more – to be merely another culturally determined social institution (the constructivist viewpoint). Today this means they are agit-prop for the most untenable, reductive claims made for modern psychiatric science, particularly around addiction and drug use/alcoholism.
I. Lehrer’s Nature Blog
Lehrer actually wrote for the leading scientific publication in the world, Nature. I described in my previous post how his editors there seemed completely unperturbed by his fantastic, unbelievable assertions about the mnemonist Shereshevsky. The neuroscientist who pointed out his errors, Daniel Bor, further noted:
[O]n page 100 he writes, “This kind of thinking takes place in the prefrontal cortex, the outermost layer of the frontal lobes.” This is anatomical rubbish–the prefrontal cortex instead, as the name implies, is simply the front-most section of the frontal lobes. Layers have nothing to do with it. I expect such mistakes from less able undergraduate students, who are too lazy to read the first line of the relevant Wikipedia article, but never ever in a respected science book. Then on page 112-3, he writes “the first parts of the brain to evolve–the motor cortex and brain stem.” Where did this come from? The brain stem very probably evolved hundreds of millions of years before the much more recent cortex, which the motor cortex is obviously a part of. So this is completely wrong as well.
What Lehrer knew was that – if you assert it definitively – you can make any behavioral claims you want about the brain. His downfall was occasioned because the same can’t be said about Bob Dylan quotes. Of particular interest to me are similar claims made about addiction in prominent science publications.