As you may—ahem—imagine, today’s news that Jonah Lehrer fabricated quotes for his book on the science of creative genius has caught my attention. The last time I wrote about Lehrer’s work, I said it “makes me want to puke.” (In case Lehrer has damaged your faith in quotation marks, the source for that quote is here.) So it doesn’t take a neuroscientist to recognize that my amygdala, or whatever, is releasing little chemical bursts of schadenfreude today.
But I have no right to be smug because it wasn’t Lehrer’s work as a journalist that I took issue with. That kind of thing is beyond my expertise. Rather, I take issue with the assumption—and Lehrer isn’t the only writer who makes it—that human behavior can be popularly understood in terms of neuroscience. I say “popularly” because I’m sure that real neuroscience, as done by a community of experts, is a valuable undertaking. But writers who oversimplify it for a popular audience are steering us into a hot ghetto mess of improper claims and easy solutions. You don’t have to be an expert to see that. You just have to read carefully.
As Lehrer gets rebuked for these particular journalistic deceits, let’s not forget that this brand of non-fiction is always a deception.
– Brian Hurley