Jonah Lehrer's discredited Imagine has vanished from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and his publisher's website. Why that's bad news for readers.
Two years ago, Kindle owners suffered the ultimate irony: Overnight, their (bought-and-paid-for) copies of George Orwell's 1984 and Animal Farm disappeared from their devices. Perhaps something had changed in the historical record that needed fixing, and when the books returned, Oceania would have always been at war with Eastasia, no questions asked? Perhaps Big Brother had decided that letting Kindle users read this parody of his rule wasn't quite as harmless as he'd previously hoped? Or maybe some Kindle books were just deemed more equal than others?
Amazon apologized. The specific copies of the books, a representative said, had been violating copyright laws and so had to be removed. Recalling the books without warning was not the best solution, Amazon admitted, and it wouldn't happen again.
This virtual disappearance was the first thing that came to my mind as I watched the publishing world's response to the scandal surrounding Jonah Lehrer's Imagine. At first, everything seemed fair enough: After it came out that several sections of Imagine were fabricated, publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt said it would recall all copies of the book, reimbursing booksellers and readers both for the returns, and e-book sales would likewise be halted. Sounds reasonable. There is no need to perpetuate incorrect, fabricated, or plagiarized material. The publisher needs time to go through the work, correct mistakes, check content, and so forth.