Author and speaker Jonah Lehrer
The day after journalist, Rhodes Scholar, and author of Imagine: How Creativity Works Jonah Lehrer opened the 2012 Meeting Professionals International World Education Congress July 29 in St. Louis, he resigned from his position as staff writer with The New Yorker magazine after admitting he featured in the book quotes by singer/songwriter Bob Dylan that “did not exist, were unintentional misquotations or represented improper combinations of existing quotes.” His presentation highlighted key findings explored in the book, focusing on how human connections foster creativity and innovation, one of WEC’s main themes.
Kevin Hinton, executive vice president of Associated Luxury Hotels International and chairman of MPI’s 2012–2013 international board of directors, began a town-hall–style session the day the news broke by filling in the crowd on Lehrer’s fall from grace. However, he added that he believed the message was still valuable. In a statement, MPI COO and interim CEO Cindy D'Aoust agreed, saying, “Jonah’s resignation from The New Yorker is a very unfortunate coincidence but his message presented to our WEC attendees is still very relevant.” WEC attendees who had purchased Lehrer’s book at the MPI bookstore were offered full refunds.
Several attendees echoed the official MPI sentiment when asked about how they felt about the situation. Complaints seemed to focus more on his presentation style than on the content he presented. In fact, some even seemed supportive: One person tweeted, a touch tongue-in-cheek, “Can anyone say they understand a word Bob Dylan says? I'd misquote him too...”
A month before his most recent fall from grace, Lehrer was caught reusing material he had previously written in a Wall Street Journal blog post last fall for a New Yorker post last month, in effect plagiarizing himself. He later was found to have recycled previously written material for other media outlets as well. He told The New York Times at that time, “It was a stupid thing to do and incredibly lazy and absolutely wrong.”
Discussion Point: What would you do if your keynote speaker was later found to have ethical, moral, or legal challenges? What can you do to lessen the risk of something like this happening at your event? Please leave a comment below or e-mail your thoughts to email@example.com.
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