“People seldom do what they believe in. They do what is convenient, then repent.” ― Bob Dylan*

Today Jonah Lehrer, staff writer at the New Yorker and author of Imagine: How Creativity Works admitted that he had fabricated quotes from Bob Dylan for the book. Apparently, the only authentic quote from Bob Dylan was the following:

“Mahama… un gonna get me the ah-choo; forever lovo–fo a too, free…dom, not gonna work on Maggies farm no mo.”  – 100% Authentic Bob Dylan Quote, I Swear I Heard Him Say This Once (1)

Apparently it’s possible to misquote an incomprehensible person. Duly noted.

“History is a set of lies agreed upon.” – Bob Dylan (2)

This has got me thinking about research. Some are quoted as saying “stealing from one source is plagiarism, but stealing from many sources is research.” (The great irony is this quote is very common, almost cliche, yet nobody every sources the quote). This is a wild misnomer, as someone who does a fair amount of research for another author.

“Life is more or less a lie, but then again, that’s exactly the way we want it to be.” – Bob Dylan*

Here’s the thing… those of us who actually do research painstakingly source what we use. If it’s going to be published, I work very hard at the endnotes, even though only nerds like me read them. Jonah Lehrer gives a black eye to himself, to authors everywhere, to his publisher (and the editors who didn’t push on these quotes) and to the New Yorker (which is very well written, and I subscribe to it–even though it is amazingly biased… I have to watch a good hour of Fox News to offset reading the New Yorker for an hour, to cleanse the palette.) To be honest, the more Lehrer moment we have, the less my books are trusted–more and more print books will be treated like the Internet, where everything is quoted so often without attribution, and with suspect verity.

In all this, as you consider your own communication, and the way way you source your material, I’ll leave you with Dylan’s own words which sum it up well for writers and researchers and fact-checkers and communicators alike:

[quote_simple]“If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.” – Bob Dylan (3)



(1) I think, according to my notes, that this was from archival footage, perhaps, I wrote this in a panic, so who knows. Upon second thought, he might have said: “Heard ten thousand whisperin’ and nobody listenin'” instead of “not gonna work on maggies farm no mo.” But who knows with this guy.

(2) Napoleon actually said this, not Dylan

(3) Mark Twain actually said this

*Quotes marked with an asterisk in this article are actually from Bob Dylan, as translated by the Google translate’s “Dylan to English” widget. You might want to cross-check me with the actual Dylan to English dictionary. Or check with Colin Moynihan who is actually the one who first questioned the quotes in Lehrer’s book, and who caught him in a lie. Nice job, Colin Fact-Checker Moynihan!


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