Sunday, October 13, 2013

Week 7 Research Report "Proust Wasn't a Neuroscientist. Neither was Jonah Lehrer"

       In his article “Proust Wasn’t a Neuroscientist. Neither was Jonah Lehrer”, Boris Kachka features the life and career, but more specifically the fall, of neuroscience expert, writer and speaker Jonah Lehrer. Within months, this man’s promising reputation was shattered by acts of plagiarism. Lehrer succumb to the pressure of providing his audiences with a compelling story, often cutting corners in his journalistic practices and neglecting the importance of thorough editing. Does Kachka’s wordy account in the lifestyle magazine New York paint a clear picture of Lehrer’s misfortunes? I am not so sure, and I’d recommend readers to proceed with caution.
       In his current position as a culture journalist, Boris Kachka writes profiles, features and unauthorized histories for New York magazine. Starting his career as a fact-checker and event-lister for the magazine, Kachka soon became a contributing editor and beat writer for its reinvented culture section. In his time with this role, he’s interviewed and profiled hundreds of characters and subjects associated with the city of New York. Also contributing to The New York Times, GQ and Elle on topics like foreign drinking etiquette and Central Park, Boris has carved out a clear niche as a writer of culture. (  His style of writing concerns me, however, as it seems sensationalistic at times, making it quite confusing to follow. One has to wonder whether Kachka was motivated to provide a correct recollection of the story or to roll out a piece that was as compelling and intricate as possible.
      The nature of the publisher will ultimately effect the credibility of this feature as well. New York magazine has long been a trusted and very successful outlet, most recently winning 2013 Magazine of the Year at the National Magazine Awards. However, the birth of the magazine falls was aided by the growth of New Journalism, a style of news writing arising during the 1960s and 70s. In contrast to conventional journalism that strives for objectivity, new journalism allows for the ideas and opinions of the writer to permeate throughout the story. Some even labeled the writing as activism. Although it is now accepted that New Journalism is dead, the early roots of subjective writing at New York magazine still stand as its foundation.           There were many digital responses to this article on, but one stood out from the rest as a mark for concern and reason to read with caution. Tom Rielly, a member of TED, which is a global set of speaking circuits, weighs in on the article. Kachka mentions in his feature that Lehrer attended and was associated with these speaker events as an expert in neuroscience. Yet according to Mr. Rielly, “Jonah Lehrer has never spoken at TED. Period” ( In a well-written and thorough response, Rielly disputes multiple points that Kachka made in his feature while creating more reason to approach the article with caution.  
  In conclusion, although Boris Kachka's piece was an interesting read, there are certain elements of subjectivity and possible factual errors involved that lower the confidence I have in the details it describes. 

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