I've had a request for an English translation, how can I resist that, with so many people now reading this blog and commenting? Since I didn't go to the demonstration in Berlin this afternoon, I will offer this translation
Dear Chancellor Merkel,
as doctoral students we have been following the current discussion about the plagiarism accusations against the Minister of Defense, Mr. Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg. We are shocked and do not understand what is happening. We have the impression that you are trying everything in your power to keep a minister in your cabinet who still insists that he did not knowingly deceive in his doctoral thesis, despite massive evidence to the contrary.
With this course of action, the German government and the members of parliament from the coalition [of CDU, CSU and FDP] damage not only themselves, but much more.
Zu Guttenberg has had to distance himself a number of times from statements he has made about his dissertation. The Internet community has with an unparalleled effort managed to demonstrate numerous incidents of clear plagiarism in Mr. zu Guttenberg's dissertation. The evidence can be openly seen and checked by anyone. It should not surprise anyone that experts in plagiarism are united in the opinion that this is not just a few "embarassing errors". This is massive, systematic deception.
Zu Guttenberg copied large portions of his dissertation from various sources - apparently with great ambition - and did not name those sources in order to obtain a doctoral title that he used for, among other things, election advertising. The University of Bayreuth did not address this issue of deception [when revoking the doctorate].
In the face of the extent and amount of plagiarism found, it should be as clear to you as it is to us that at the end of an exact investigation by the university, only one result will be possible with respect to the intent to deceive on the part of the minister. This cannot be done unknowingly.
Calling the deception a deception has nothing to do with the minister belonging to a particular political party. We would also demand that politicians from opposing parties step down, if they had given their word of honor that the work was only their own, except for sources as noted, and had plagiarized in the same manner.
On February 23, 2011 Mr. zu Guttenberg stated that he only wants to be judged by his performance as Minister of Defense. He alluded to a phrase you had used when you said that you did not hire him as a research assistant.
This makes a mockery of all the research assistants and doctoral students who honestly endeavor to contribute to the advancement of science. This makes it sound as if obtaining a doctoral title by fraud is just a trivial offense and that the academic word of honor is meaningless in everyday life.When following the rules of good scientific practice it is not just a question of footnotes, trivialities that can safely be neglected in the face of the larger political problems of the day. This is the foundation of our work and our trustworthiness. We strive in our own work, according to the best of our knowledge and conscience, to reach this high goal at all times. When we fail, we run the risk - and rightly so - of being expelled from the university.
Most of us teach younger students. It is often our job to teach them the basics of good scientific practice. We insist that the students be exact at all times, correctly quoting and clearly noting all help that was used. We don't do this because we are fanatics about footnotes or because we live in an ivory tower and know nothing about real life. It is our intention to pass on the understanding that scientific progress - and with it progress for society as a whole - is only possible when we can depend on the honesty of the scientific community.
When our students violate these precepts, we grade their efforts as unsatisfactory. On repeated violation, as a rule we try to expel them. Those who have been expelled are denied access to numerous career opportunities - and rightly so - even for jobs that are much less in need of personal integrity than the office of the Minister of Defense.
We may be old-fashioned and are spouting outdated conservative values when we are of the opinion that values such as veracity and a sense of responsibility should also be valid outside of the scientific community. Mr zu Guttenberg seemed to be of this same opinion until very recently.
Research contributes a valuable service to the development of society. Honest and innovative science is the foundation of the prosperity of our country. When it is no longer an important value to protect ideas in our society, then we have gambled away our future. We don't expect thankfulness for our scientific work, but we expect respect, we expect that our work be taken seriously. By handling the case of zu Guttenberg as a trifle, Germany's position in world science, its credibility as the "Land of Ideas", suffers.
Maybe you consider our contributions to society as being negligible. In that case, we kindly request that in the future you refrain from referring to Germany as the "Republic of Education and Culture", as you often proclaim.
The Undersigned [at the time of translation]
Around 300 persons gather downtown under the motto "summa cum fraude" and walked peacefully to the Ministry of Defense, where they put shoes on the top of the spikes on the railing - a symbolic gesture of disrespect used during recent protests in Northern African and Middle Eastern countries.
Update 1: Here are some pics from the demo from the Berlin newspaper Tagesspiegel.
Update 2: Polished up a bit, thanks to missionmi!
Update 3: If you want to sign the German version, please click here or on the link "open letter" above!
Update 4: Wow - the open letter made it to the evening news (Tagesschau)
Update 5: Now you can sign the letter in English as well! There is also a possibility for non-academics to sign. Today alone over 12.000 signatories were counted!