07 March 2013

#IWSG: Lies and Lying Liars

This post is late. It should have been posted on Wednesday. I almost skipped this month's Insecure Writer's Support Group post because -- get this -- I felt insecure about it.

The irony. It's killing me.

I was going to try to write about the Jonah Lehrer scandal. For those of you who aren't science writers, let me just say the Jonah Lehrer scandal is a Big Flippin' Deal in the world of science journalism right now. (Well, journalism in general, but particularly science journalism.) And this has been an ongoing saga for over six months. In a nutshell: he lied. He made up quotes. He plagiarized  He failed to be properly apologetic. He broke the honor code of journalism. And recently, a big science journalism foundation paid him to give a speech about plagiarism (I suppose he's the expert?) -- paid him a sum of money that would cover my rent for the past two years.

It's quite depressing. And I'd firmly resolved to write about it, to explain the whole thing, all the details (insofar as they are known) so that at least people would know what I was talking about when I'd exclaim "If I hear one more thing about Jonah Lehrer! It's all Jonah Lehrer or alligator penises!"* On the whole, I prefer the alligator penises.**

*My religious stalking of science writer's blogs  has led me to the conclusion
 that most science writers love any excuse to write about animal sex. 
This is partly because it's apparently fun to write about penises 
and partly because it's just so freaking weird.
**Link is probably NSFW due to Mr. Ed Yong embedding a video.

But I didn't do that because I couldn't work myself up to go through the whole litany of crimes. I just couldn't do it. I feel so depressed about the whole thing, as a young science writer and as a reader.

I bought one of Lehrer's books last summer -- How Creativity Works -- and had read about half a chapter before it came out that he'd fabricated quotes in the first chapter: the very section where I happened to set the book down. I could have returned the book to the publisher for a refund, but I didn't.

About once a week, I'd look at that book on my bookcase and think about it and wonder if I could read the rest of it or if it was all a lying lie-book of lies.

I'd think about how angry and betrayed I felt when, after reading Farley Mowat's Never Cry Wolf, I learned that Mowat had made up practically the entire story...which would be fine if it was fiction. It would be fine, if it wasn't still being sold as nonfiction, nearly thirty years later. And still getting rave reviews on Amazon, I might add.

I was angry. Mowat had taken my trust and had betrayed it. He lied to me. And he's not the slightest bit apologetic about it. To my knowledge, Mowat has never apologized. I'm not sure if he ever acknowledged that he enhanced the facts.

Never Cry Wolf was the first book that I have ever thrown away. I couldn't bring myself to resell it or donate it, to allow that lying book of lies to pass on to some other unsuspecting reader with that bold "THE INCREDIBLE TRUE STORY" emblazoned across the cover.

But Lehrer's book haunts me. On the one hand, I'm glad that I hadn't read the whole thing before the fabrications came to light. On the other hand, he lied to me.

You could say I'm taking it personally.

But still, when I was packing my books today (our lease ends this month) I ended up putting How Creativity Works in one of the boxes instead of in the "get-rid-of" pile.

Apparently I'm keeping it. For now. I'm not exactly sure why, but I think it has something to do with lying.

I couldn't write the post I meant to write because I was too angry, too angry and bitter. Angry and bitter isn't very professional, is it? I felt very insecure about that. I still feel very insecure about publishing this post. Like it's not okay to have feelings like this, or at least it's not okay to talk about it publicly. As though it's somehow dirty to show that I am outraged at something that is outrageous. Because I don't write about things that I am angry about. I don't write about things that I am depressed about -- if you think I did, I was making a joke about it, minimizing it and ridiculing it.

This is a lot of insecurity to drop on you. But really, the irony of not writing a post for the Insecure Writer's Support Group because I was insecure about writing it was just too much damn irony for me.


This post is in participation with hundreds of insecure writers who dedicate the first Wednesday of every month to post about insecurities: doubts and fears that we have or have conquered. Check out the Insecure Writer's Support Group for more information and a list of the other participating writers.