Disgraced pop-journalist Jonah Lehrer’s publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, has just announced that his second book, How We Decide, will be pulled from stores, and customers will be refunded. Michael Moynihan reports on the latest in the Lehrer fiasco.
Two weeks after disgraced journalist Jonah Lehrer publicly apologized for the “frailties” and “weaknesses” that led to his firing from The New Yorker and withdrawal of his bestselling book Imagine, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), publisher of all three of Lehrer’s books, has decided it will no longer offer for sale his second book, How We Decide. After an internal review uncovered significant problems with the book, the publisher is “taking How We Decide off-sale” and has “no plans to reissue it in the future,” HMH senior vice president Bruce Nichols said in an email.
HMH, who pulled Imagine from shelves in July and offered refunds to those who had purchased the book, will “shortly alert accounts about How We Decide and offer to refund returns” from customers, Nichols said. He also noted that the company’s review of Proust Was a Neuroscientist, Lehrer’s first book, did not uncover any problems and that it “will remain in print.”
Nichols didn’t reveal the specifics of HMH’s findings, but shortly after the company withdrew Imagine I privately provided them with a handful of problematic passages, gleaned from a cursory look at How We Decide. For instance, during the question-and-answer period following his recent mea culpa, Lehrer referenced the concept of Cockpit Resource Management (CRM), a collaborative system employed on commercial flights in instances of catastrophic mechanical failure. It was an example drawn from How We Decide, in which Lehrer interviews Capt. Al Haynes, who in 1989 crash-landed a United Airlines plane in Sioux City, Iowa, about his experiences with CRM:
"For most of my career, we kind of worked on the concept that the captain was the authority on the aircraft," says Al Haynes, the captain of Flight 232. "And we lost a few airplanes because of that. Sometimes the captain isn't as smart as we thought he was…We had 103 years of flying experience there in the cockpit [on Flight 232], trying to get that airplane on the ground. If I hadn't used CRM, if we had not had everybody's input, it's a cinch we wouldn't have made it."
And here is what Haynes said in a 1991 lecture to staffers at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Facility (and mentioned in the Wikipedia entry for CRM):
“Up until 1980, we kind of worked on the concept that the captain was THE authority on the aircraft. What he said, goes. And we lost a few airplanes because of that. Sometimes the captain isn't as smart as we thought he was … And we had 103 years of flying experience there in the cockpit, trying to get that airplane on the ground … So if I hadn't used CLR, if we had not let everybody put their input in, it's a cinch we wouldn't have made it.”
Even after the Dylan fiasco, after Imagine had been pulped, and after he publicly declared that the “lies were over now,” Lehrer told me via email that he had indeed interviewed Haynes—providing an email thread of their initial communication—and that the pilot had said the exact same thing, in the exact same language, to him 20 years later.
In his recent apology, Lehrer said that he “hadn’t thought about” providing a full accounting of the errors and plagiarism in his work. But now Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, thankfully, has finally done this for him. And, hopefully, here ends the whole squalid saga.