So last night, the Twitterverse discovered, seemingly by accident, that today at noon, Jonah Lehrer will make his first public appearance since his spectacular fall from grace after admitting not only to self-plagiarism but also to borrowing from other writers (including his friend Malcolm Gladwell) without attribution and fabricating interviews and sources. His appearance will come in the form of a keynote address at the Media Learning Seminar 2013, sponsored by the Knight Foundation. The organizers of the event report that Lehrer will give a typically Lehreresque talk on the neuroscience of decisionmaking, including the decisions that led him to defraud his readers. In case you aren't in Miami, it's your lucky day: the event, including Lehrer's talk, is being livestreamed here.
As some have pointed out (see the comments, too), this was a pretty soft launch for what organizers are only now saying, after Twitter and its many angry fellow science writers discovered Lehrer's scheduled appearance, will include a mea culpa from Lehrer. The fact that the conference bio of Lehrer makes no mention of his misdeeds, including the fact that the publisher of his most recent book, Imagine, took the unusual step of recalling all copies of the book, does not inspire confidence that either the Knight Foundation or Lehrer initially intended this to be a thoughtful, appropriately contrite reflection on what happened. Lehrer's former colleague, collaborator and friend, the science writer David Dobbs, for one, is pretty angry. He says that he and others he knows are owed, but have not received, apologies from Lehrer, and he has pressed the conference organizers to put a few questions to Lehrer today.
As for Lehrer's anticipated discussion of the neuroscience of plagiarism and fabrication, I confess that my expectations are low. I've always thought that by far Lehrer's biggest sin was not his self-plagiarism, his more traditional plagiarism of others' work, or even his fabrication of Dylan quotes. Reusing text from his blog in a New Yorker post is between Lehrer, his God, and the various people who paid him for unique content, but I can't get very worked up about it on behalf of his readers. And as for his "old fashioned" plagiarism, that is, of course, a serious misdeed, but Gladwell readily forgave his friend, and Dylan, not surprisingly, doesn't seem to care.
As a serious consumer of social science and one interested in how it is produced and communicated, for me, Lehrer's biggest sin will always be the poetic license he took with science in the name of crafting a sexy and sellable just-so story. (Lehrer's fellow science writers who were denied the opportunities Lehrer has been given, in part because they insisted on engaging in careful and responsible — but less sexy — science communication are also victims of this sin.) You can read more about that here. (Disclosure: Lehrer's interlocutor in this exchange, and in an earlier New York Times book review of Imagine, is my husband. I also watched with some irritation as Lehrer came close, as the scandal unfolded, to blocking publication of their interview. Discount accordingly.)
Update: The archived video of Lehrer's talk is here (the conference organizer begins moving in the direction of an introduction to Lehrer at around the 1:00:30 mark, and Lehrer himself starts at around the 1:03:30 mark). As others have remarked, the paralells to Lance Armstrong's mea-culpa-cum-comeback are hard to miss. Also of note: the giant screen behind Lehrer scrolling live tweets, most of them critical of him. No doubt the $20,000 Lehrer was paid for the talk helped ease the pain.
Update 2: Image above is an ironic screen shot from Poynter.org, which first reported Lehrer's fee, which Knight is referring to (also ironically) as an "honorarium."
Update 3: Aaannd...updated title to reflect that the speaker in question is in fact Jonah, not Johan, Lehrer.