Icarus with a laptop

It’s not exactly a language peeve, but I do get a chuckle every time some freshly minted celebrity is described as enjoying a “meteoric career.” After all, a meteorite is a chunk of rock that falls to earth at an incredibly high speed, burning up as it descends, until it either explodes in midair or leaves a big crater in the ground. I think a meteoric career is the last thing anyone would want.

Disgraced New Yorker science writer Jonah Lehrer — now there’s a meteoric career for you. Elevated at an early age, destined for greatness, or at least lots of lucrative speaking engagements, book deals, and TED talks. First he was accused of recycling his own material. Then he was caught recycling other people’s material. Then he was caught making stuff up. Apparently he even fabricated a quote from Bob Dylan, whose detail-oriented fan base served as a pre-Google Google before the Internet was even a glimmer on the horizon. Cue Addison DeWitt’s line in All About Eve: “That was a stupid lie! Easily exposed!”

I’m not here to grind Jonah Lehrer into the dust, but I will be following this American Science series of posts about Lehrer’s career and what it tells us about Big Ideas journalism of the sort epitomized by Malcolm Gladwell — of whom Lehrer was once considered an intellectual heir.

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