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Another Jonah Lehrer book pulled from shelves by his publisher

Jonah Lehrer

Nina Subin

The Daily Beast reports that Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, the publisher of author Jonah Lehrer's books, has decided to pull his second effort, How We Decide, off store shelves.

"After an internal review uncovered significant problems with the book," Michael Moynihan writes, "the publisher is 'taking How We Decide off-sale' and has 'no plans to reissue it in the future,' HMH senior vice-president Bruce Nichols said in an e-mail."

Moynihan also reports that, as the publisher did with Lehrer's third book Imagine: How Creativity Works, Nichols said HMH will "shortly alert accounts about How We Decide and offer to refund returns" from customers.

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However, the executive told Moynihan that the publisher found no problem with Lehrer's first book, Proust Was a Neuroscientist, and that volume will remain in print.

Last June, Lehrer copped to "self-plagiarism," for the offense of journalistic recycling. Five blog posts he wrote for The New Yorker, where he was a staff writer, featured reworked anecdotes he'd already used in pieces written for The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, the Boston Globe, and Wired.

Though The New Yorker forgave him his trespasses, he resigned from the magazine at the end of July after admitting he'd also made up quotes he'd attributed to Bob Dylan in his bestseller Imagine: How Creativity Works.

"The quotes in question either did not exist, were unintentional misquotations, or represented improper combinations of previously existing quotes," the 31-year-old science writer said.

"The lies are over now. I understand the gravity of my position. I want to apologize to everyone I have let down, especially my editors and readers... I have resigned my position as staff writer at The New Yorker."

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt reacted swiftly then, saying it would halt shipping copies of Imagine to bookstores, stop offering the e-book version online, and otherwise explore "all options available to us."

The boyish, bespectacled and prolific Lehrer, who studied neuroscience at Columbia University in New York, contributed to several big-name newspapers and magazines before landing his coveted slot at The New Yorker.

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Imagine – inspired, Lehrer once said, by his inability to decide which flavour of Cheerios cereal to buy at the supermarket – debuted at No. 1 on the New York Times non-fiction best-seller list when it came out last April.

Lehrer's fake Dylan quotes – which deal with the songwriting process – were first called into question by Moynihan in the Jewish-oriented current affairs magazine Tablet.

Moynihan recalled that Lehrer had previously committed "self-plagiarism" by lifting whole segments of Imagine and putting them onto The New Yorker's website without telling readers where they came from.

"To some, it was a tenuous charge ... like 'being accused of stealing food from your own refrigerator'," wrote Moynihan at the time. "Others highlighted the pressures brought to bear on young writers to produce more and more content."

With reports from staff and the Associated Press

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