What’s wrong with ‘plagiarizing’ your own work?

Jonah Lehrer is a science writer who at age 30 is at the top of his game. He has written three books, two of them bestsellers, his articles and columns run in the country’s best newspapers and magazines, and he has parlayed his publishing success into online celebrity and star billing on the speaking circuit.

But two weeks ago, just after he moved from Wired magazine to the New Yorker, the most desirable billet in literary journalism, Lehrer got a sour dose of notoriety: He was drawn into a fierce dispute over, for lack of a better word, the originality of his work.

The originality of his ideas wasn’t the problem. After all, he’s a science writer, not a scientist. Like his New Yorker colleague, the fabulously successful Malcolm Gladwell, Lehrer’s shtick consists of breaking down and spelling out provocative insights from theoreticians and lab wizards. The ideas aren’t supposed to be his.

Nor was he accused of helping himself to other people’s words. Instead, what put the crosshairs on Lehrer was evidence that his current writings make excessive use of his own previous work.

The flap started when an anonymous tipster told Jim Romenesko, whose blog is closely followed by journalists, that Lehrer’s June 12 New Yorker Continue reading “What’s wrong with ‘plagiarizing’ your own work?”