Saturday, August 23, 2008

A Plagiarist for the White House?

I was dismayed this morning to see that Obama had chickened out and chosen Joe Biden as his running mate. My first associations were: old, Senator, something-nasty-but-what? A quick check with Google defined the nastiness: plagiarism.

In the 1988 presidential race, the senator from Delaware, Joe Biden, wanted to be president. In 1987 he gave a speech in Iowa as he was jockeying for the Democratic nomination with Michael Dukakis, amongst others. What he didn't realize was, that it was being filmed.

Dukakis' campaign recognized that this was a speech from the far-left British politician Neil Kinnock. They put together an ad with a few sound bites from Biden, then the same thing from Kinnock, and leaked it to the press. Biden had to withdraw his bid, as more and more reporters found the sources for other bits of his rhetoric, as reported on FamousPlagiarists. It was also found that he had been guilty of plagiarism in law school.

Barack Obama has also be nabbed for mimicking Deval Patrick, as shown on YouTube (1, 2, 3). Apparantly, the politicians (or their speechwriters) think that a good turn of phrase can be used by anyone.

I hope someone finds a copy of the Biden talk and has it digitized for YouTube soon. Video and searching rather changes the environment for plagiarists - maybe they need to learn how to attribute things better in the future.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Spiegel "borrows" from Atlantic Monthly

I was looking forward to the current issue of the German newsweekly Der Spiegel to see the article for which they had contacted me for a comment about plagiarism in schools. The plagiarism topic usually comes up in August when there is nothing else to report on, something I always find amusing.

Looking at the title page, however, I was not amused. I had so enjoyed Nicholas Carr's article in the July Atlantic Monthly called "Is Google making us stupid?", and Atlantic had had a great cover for this. Here Google was using the same cover for its August 11, 2008 issue - just translated into German!

Der Spiegel,
August 11, 2008

Atlantic Monthly,
July/August 2008

Ouch. Deep down in the article, Spiegel does refer to Carr's article in the Atlantic. But I can't find an explanation for why they lifted the design of the cover. I wrote a letter to the editor - we'll see if there is an answer next week.

Friday, August 8, 2008

The Mayor's Thesis

The mayor of Ruhmannsfelden, a small town of about 2000 souls in Bavaria, has a problem. The local newspaper went digging around for some dirt on this CSU politician, and found something fishy.

His Diploma-Thesis (approximately a Master's Thesis) in construction engineering, which was submitted to the Czech Technical University of Ostrava in 1999 seems to have a few problems. It is about renovating the city center of Ruhmannsfelden. They Bayerwald Wochenblatt reports that during the 90s the mayor payed an architects company (with tax money) to prepare some ideas on renovating the city center of - surprise - Ruhmannsfelden.

The thesis submitted carries his name, but it seems he was a little careless and didn't notice that every page carried a little logo on the top - the logo of the architect's company. Weeeeeel, the mayor said, but he was very involved in the project. Neeeeee, says the architects, he was not more involved than your average mayor.

The district attorney's office is now active in the case and trying to get the Czech university to initiate action, as is the engineering board. The university, however, does not really answer the letters requesting to know the admittance regulations, the course of study that the Lord Mayor followed, and the circumstances of the awarding of his degree. They don't really want to get into it.

Perhaps this is a case of someone submitting a plagiarism to a diploma mill? Germany has very little experience with diploma mills and is just now coming to terms with rampant plagiarism. The TU Ostrava seems to be above the board, except for their "Lifelong learning" program, which is unfortunately in Czech.

In Germany, foreign titles have to be officially accepted in order to be used, so the DA is accusing him of wrongfully using a title. It will be interesting to see where this goes. As one of the persons quoted said, they have never seen a case like this before.