Sunday, December 11, 2011

Open cases of plagiarism in Germany

Note: this list has moved to the page Scorecard, and is linked from the homepage. It will no longer be updated here.

The VroniPlag platform has currently documented 22 23 cases of plagiarism in dissertations or habilitations since the zu Guttenberg case was documented on the GuttenPlagWiki. The first few cases - especially ones involving politicians in the wake of the zu Guttenberg case - were dealt with promptly:

Documentation publicCurrent
KTzG 2009
Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg
(University of Bayreuth)
2011-02-16 After 2 weeks: doctorate rescinded
VS 2009
Veronika Saß
(University of Constance)
2011-03-28 After 6 weeks: doctorate rescinded
MCP 2007
Matthias Pröfrock
(University of Tübingen)
2011-04-04 After 12 weeks: doctorate rescinded
SKM 2001
Silvana Koch-Mehrin
(University of Heidelberg)
2011-04-10 After 10 weeks: doctorate rescinded
GC 2000
Georgios Chatzimarkakis
(University of Bonn)
2011-05-15 After 10 weeks: doctorate rescinded
BDS 2008
Bijan Djir-Sarai
(University of Cologne)
2011-06-01 After 40 weeks doctorate rescinded
UB 2011
Uwe Brinkmann
(University of Hamburg)
2011-06-08 After 6 weeks: doctorate rescinded
MM 1987
Margarita Mathiopoulos
(University of Bonn)
2011-06-14 23 years after the first investigation on accused plagiarism  and 10 months after the publication on VroniPlag: doctorate rescinded 
SH 2003
Siegfried Haller
(University of Halle-Wittenberg)
2011-07-24 After 9 months: doctorate rescinded
JG 2009
Dr. Jürgen Goldschmidt
(Technical University of Berlin)
2011-07-30 Still open
CS 2008
Prof. Dr. Cornelia Eva Scott
(University of Krakau, Poland)
2011-08-08 University of Cracow annonces plagiarism found on Jan 12, 2012, refers case to a central authority
AH 1998
Dr. Arne Heller
(University of Hamburg)
2011-08-28 Still open
MW 2009
Dr. Martin Winkels
(University of Bonn)
2011-09-05 Still open
DV 2005
Dr. Daniel Volk
(University of Würzburg)
2011-09-19 Still open
UT 2003
PD Dr. Ulf Teichgräber
(Charité Berlin)
2011-10-12 Still open
PES 2004
Prof. Dr. Patrick Ernst Sensburg
(Fernuniversität Hagen)
2011-10-18 After 8 weeks the university determines this to be "no case".
DD 1999
Prof. Dr. Detlev Dähnert
(BTU Cottbus)
2011-11-01 Still open
NK 2006
Dr. Nalan Kayhan
(University of Heidelberg)
2011-11-17 Still open
AWB 1997
Prof. Dr. Andreas Wolfgang Bonz
(University of Heidelberg)
2011-12-21 Still open
MH 2007
Dr. Michael Heun
(Frankfurt School of Finance and Management)
2012-02-16 Still open
LM 1999
Prof. Dr. Loukas A. Mistelis
(University of Hanover)
2012-03-12 Still open
AOS 2008
Dr. Asso Omer Saiwani
(TU Berlin)
2012-03-26 Still open
AHG 2006
Dr. Arne Herting
(University of Bochum)
2012-04-10 Still open
NM 2007
Prof. Dr. Nasrullah Memon
(University of Aalborg, Denmark)
2012-04-18 Still open

But since June, the universities have fallen asleep, it seems. I have written letters asking about the status of the investigations. In general, they are not expecting results before Christmas.

Gerhard Fröhlich from the University of Linz put it so nicely:
Self control mechanisms are a myth in science to avoid any serious external control. I have studied all fraud affairs precisely and in almost every case anonymous allegations coupled with mass media outrage – in most recent years with an interim period of outrage on the internet – were necessary before the institutions themselves agreed to take action.
It seems that the moment the outrage dies down, the speed of investigation slows to a crawl.

  • 2011-12-21: Another case from the medical faculty of the University Heidelberg added; the University of Bonn is said to be prepared to rescind the doctorate of Margarita Mathiopoulos 
  • 2011-12-22: The Fernuniversität Hagen determines the case of Patrick Sensburg to be too weak to do anything about. The dean of the faculty announces on radio that the documentation is "malicious". The reader is encouraged to read the documentation linked above for themselves. The expert opinions on which this decision was based remain under cover. 
  • 2012-01-27: The University of Cracow had determined that there is plagiarism in the Scott dissertation and has referred the case to a central authority.  The decision by the University of Bonn on Mathiopolous, expected for February 12, is delayed to April 18 by an extension appeal filed by her lawyers. 
  • 2012-02-16:  Case 19, from the private Frankfurt School of Finance and Management, is added to the home page.
  • 2012-03-05: University of Cologne rescinded the doctorate of German member of Parliament Bijan Dijr-Sarai
  • 2012-03-12: Case 20, a dissertation in law from the University of Hanover, is added to the home page. 
  • 2012-03-21: A decision is expected by the University of Halle on April 18. 
  • 2012-03-26: Case 21, a dissertation from the same doctoral advisor at the TU Berlin as Jürgen Goldschmidt, is posted on the home page. Many texts appear to have been copied and the names of the country under investigation, Iraq, exchanged for the country name in the original work. 
  • 2012-04-10: Case 22, a medical dissertation from the University of Bochum, is posted on the home page. 
  • 2012-04-18: The University of Bonn rescinded the doctorate of Margarita Mathiopoulos and the University of Halle-Wittenberg rescinded the doctorate of Siegfried Haller. Case 23, submitted in English to the University of Alborg, Denmark, by Nasrullah Memon, is added to the list.  

University of Heidelberg refuses Koch-Mehrin's protest

The University of Heidelberg has announced that they have rejected the protest that Silvana Koch-Mehrin lodged against the rescinding of her doctorate earlier this year. Articles can be found at Spiegel Online, Süddeutsche, n-tv, among others.

The documentation at VroniPlag has one third of the pages containing plagiarism.

Koch-Mehrin has stepped down from official duties except for her mandate in the European Parliament. In September 2011 news media in Germany complained that she was not even attending parliamentary meetings, although still a member .

Her lawyer notes that the next step would be to take the university to court, but she herself has not stated whether she will take that step or not.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

DFG: Good scientific practice

The DFG, the German federal research financing board, held a conference on good scientific practice on Nov. 29, 2011 in Berlin. I was not asked to talk, but was permitted to attend the closed conference.

The first session was about the current state of quality assurance at the large extra-university research institutions. Since universities are financed by the state governments in Germany, the federal government can't give them money directly. The solution has been to move the research out to research institutions, but that has the problem of them not being doctorate granting institutions. So they keep close ties with universities, often offering the universities money if they will award a professorship to a deserving department head so that he (rarely she) can be proposing doctoral candidates to the dissertation board. The professors are then usually then "loaned back" to the research institution.

One interesting link I noted was to a talk that Max Weber gave in 1922 on science as a profession (Wissenschaft als Beruf). But most of what they were talking about seemed to be great ideas that are not really anchored in reality. Each of the sessions had a long time for discussions, and the 200 people in attendance were not shy about asking questions or giving statement.

I found one statement to be very fitting - the woman asked why we were being so concerned with the "bad children", the plagiarizing or falsifying doctoral students. Shouldn't we be looking more closely at the "bad parents", the doctoral advisors? I fully agree with this! I was also pleased that persons other than myself called for a national board such as the ORI in the USA. It was a bit sobering to hear people such as the rector of a large southern university state that he regularly uses so-called plagiarism detection software even though he knows that it doesn't work, but as a deterrent, because the students think that it does find plagiarism. 

The second session was about the current situation in Germany for securing good scientific practice. A bit of history was explained, for example, how the Hermann/Brach case led the DFG to formulate their rules for good scientific practice. Wolfgang Löwer, the Ombud for good scientific practice at the DFG gave an interesting talk on hierarchies vs. independence of the researchers. He mentioned a case that was mentioned in the press a few days later about a curious case of a doctoral student being accused of plagiarism, because she reused texts that she herself had written under a pseudonym for her advisor.

Diethelm Klippel from the University of Bayreuth summed up the conference that was held there a few days ago (I hope to report on that soon as well), and then Christopher Baum from the medical university in Hanover gave a good overview of the problems associated with whistleblowing.

The third session was entitled "Promotion - Quo vadis?" and was more or less a round of back-patting.

The symposium closed with a very interesting podium discussion, and a number of politicians showed up for this. The DFG filmed the discussion and has it available online. I feel that it is a consequence of the work invested in GuttenPlag and VroniPlag that this podium - with the vice president of the Hochschulrektorenkonferenz (Klaus Dicke), the president of the DFG (Matthias Kleiner), and the chair of the Wissenschaftsrat (Wolfgang Marquardt), the journalist who broke the zu Guttenberg story (Tanjev Schultz) and the doctoral student (Tobias Bunde) who initiated the signatory list - actually took place.

There were lots of good discussions during the breaks - I hope that something comes of this and not that people feel that they've done enough now. There is plenty more to do. I insist that we need Beratung, Transparenz and Kontrolle, (advice, transparency, and control) and that that needs to be in a federal, independent entity. We'll see how it goes in the new year.

Friday, December 2, 2011


There are now two cases of people accused of plagiarism who have been permitted to keep their doctorates, as determined by the respective universities.
  • Johannes Hahn, University of Vienna
    The former Austrian Minister of Education and current Member of the European Parliamenthad been accused previously of having plagiarized his dissertation (a number of articles can be found at the blog Plagiatsgutachten). The University of Vienna reopened the case, hemmed and hawed, asked for expertises, and then decided that the thesis would have been unacceptable today, but they could not determine what "rules for quotations" were valid 25 years ago. Many people found this shocking, as pretty much the same rules for quotations have been in place for more than 25 years.
    Reports can be found at Die Presse - Spiegel Online - Official university statement
  • Bernd Althusmann, University of Potsdam
    The current Minister of Education in Lower Saxony and chairman of the German national board of Ministers of Education (in Germany, education is the responsibility of the states, not the federal government) was accused of plagiarism in the newspaper Die Zeit in July. The University of Potsdam took the issue up and looked into the thesis. Everyone agrees that the thesis is pretty bad. Some even say that it should never have been accepted. But the problem is, the doctorate was granted, and the rules say that in order to rescind the doctorate, you have to prove that he knowingly cheated. Much of the plagiarism is of the sloppy kind that you normally throw in the face of a bachelor student and demand a rewrite. It appears that he was actually asked to rewrite one or two times, and then they gave up and gave him a rite on it, a grade meaning "go away and stay away from university, but you can put the letters in front of your name". The commission felt that they could not prove intention, just sloppiness, and so did not rescind his doctorate. There is a good discussion on the blog de plagio explaining the reasoning.
My problem, today, is that I caught a student plagiarizing three times. Okay,  I hadn't graded the lecture summaries for 2 weeks, so there were four half page reports for each student to grade. One student stole from the Wikipedia twice, and a tutorial once. The first Wikipedia one was easy, he forgot to remove the links to other Wikipedia articles. The second one he even had the word "Wikipedia" on the page, but didn't use quotation marks. The third one was stolen from a tutorial site, and easy to note, as in the middle of the second paragraph it said "In this tutorial....".

Now, if I apply the reasoning above or the reasoning zu Guttenberg uses, if the plagiarist is busy or does not know the rules, then it's not plagiarism.  Which pretty much means that we can pack in as teachers. How can we enforce tough plagiarism policies, when education leaders get let off the hook for sloppiness?

Common Craft explains plagiarism

I've got an enormous backlog of things I've been meaning to post. Commoncraft, the folks with the wonderful cut-out, stop-motion videos, decided to explain "plagiarism". It's a shame the licensing fee is so steep, this should be a standard part of an introductory course on writing in college. I'm just including the link here.