Friday, February 22, 2013

If at first you don't succeed....

VroniPlag Wiki case #42, is fascinating. It seems that this law thesis was submitted to the Humboldt University in Berlin in 2000.  There was so much plagiarism to be found that the submitter was strongly encouraged to withdraw the thesis, which he apparently did.

The next year, a new version of the thesis was submitted to the University of Innsbruck in Austria (after all, they do speak German there, too). There it was accepted without question. VroniPlag Wiki has currently documented plagiarism on over 20 % of the pages. One of the major sources is the standard textbook on English law. The other is a thesis on a very similar topic from 1969. Many of the argumentation chains used strangely do not address any of the law commentary or court decisions that took place since then, which is odd for a dissertation prepared at the turn of the century.

The author, as is usual, insists that he used footnotes. Of course he did, but it is not made clear that the entire argumentation was lifted with slight changes from the sources. The University of Innsbruck announced that it was looking into legal aspects regarding the Austrian blogger who called attention to the work published on VroniPlag Wiki, not the author of the dissertation, who is currently employed as a professor in Germany.

At least the Austrian press is jumping on this. It seems that cases are only promptly addressed when the glaring light of the press is shown into the dark cellars of academia. There is an interesting parallel to the year 1794 (!) in the Kaiserlicher Priviligierter Reichsanzeiger:
"Man macht oft sehr unwürdige Leute zu Doctoren und Licentiaten, besonders in den Rechten und in der Medicin. Die Facultisten, welche von dieser Schöpfung aus Nichts einige Einnahmen haben, entschuldigen sich damit, wenn man ihnen darüber Vorwürfe machen will; daß, wenn sie auch den unwissenden Candidaten hätten abweisen wollen, derselbe noch einige 30 andere Facultäten in Deutschland würde angetroffen haben, von welchen sich gewiß einige daraus würden eine Ehre und Freude gemacht haben, den Herrn Candidaten zu krönen"
(Often, quite dishonorable persons are made doctors and licentiates, especially in law and medicine. The faculties, that have income from this creation out of nothing, excuse themselves when faced with accusations with that statement that if they would send the candidates away, they would find another 30 faculties in Germany of which some would be pleased and honored to crown these candidates. [translation dww])
Kaiserlich privilegirter Reichs-Anzeiger, 2 Januar 1794, S. 8
Update: Translation, typos, link to source added

1 comment:

  1. How did he manage to find a new supervisor who either did not read the thesis or was not capable of detecting the plagiarism?
    According to the article of the Tiroler Tageszeitung he claimed that he had "insurmountable disagreements" with his supervisors.

    The fact that he plagiarized makes everybody else appear in a bad light who has real problems with supervision but an honest thesis.

    Sometimes I wonder how much the supervision influences plagiarism. My supervisor for example wants me to rewrite my thesis because I do not cover his favorite topic enough. I cannot really follow his advice because he has written about this topic for more than 20 years already and I think I cannot present any new insights. Although he does not evaluate my thesis (since Norway has different regulations) he has to suggest a committee and he will not do so if I do not rewrite certain parts. So I can either write what he wants and betray myself or keep to my principles which will result in no PhD. And it seems impossible to find anybody at other universities who accepts a completely finished cumulative thesis (with two peer-reviewed published papers).
    Of course this does not excuse plagiarism and it is the writer's obligation to submit scientifically correct dissertation but I wonder how much insufficient or bad supervision might influence plagiarism. Not everybody stands up to a supervisor including being shouted at and offended and risks a PhD for keeping to the principles of science.

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