Sunday, October 21, 2007

Austrian plagiarist gets another chance

The Austrian newspaper Tiroler Tageszeitung reports on the case of a scientist at the University of Innsbrück who received a doctorate in building materials science for a thesis which included plagiarized portions.

A German scientist was shocked to find an article in BetonWerk International reporting on the results of his own doctoral thesis, which he defended in 2001. He was not the author of this article, however, it was from the Austrian researcher.

He complained to the university, and the university did start an investigation. The surprising results: Yes, indeed, this is plagiarism. But the researcher - who appears to be working in the laboratory of the dean at the University of Innsbrück - gets to keep his doctorate if he submits a thesis within the next four months in which he corrects the "incorrect citations". Just a bit of carelessness with footnotes, it seems. The plagiarism was not "enough" for the doctorate to be revoked.

One wonders, given the current state of citation (un)culture in Austria, just how much needs to be plagiarized in order to warrant revocation. An other case in Germany, which has not yet hit the presses, involves a doctorate that is largely a word-for-word plagiarism of diploma-theses written under the tutelage of the "doctor". After 2 years of investigation, it seems the university is finally "considering" a revocation - and of course, the person so threatened is taking his university to court.

What has to happen in order for this system to change? We need proper mentoring of theses - the adviser must know the work well enough to know if it is a plagiarism or not. It must be clear at all levels that it is not acceptable to publish work done by dependent persons - or by third parties - under one's own name. And there must be effective punishments for people caught doing so, not just lashes with a wet noodle.

Any ideas?

1 comment:

  1. I would expect that kind of behavior from a slew of other countries but not Austria. I guess I just didn't have that kind of issue in my perception of the country.

    That being said, what this is going to do is cheapen the value of Austrian degrees in the rest of the world and that will make it harder for other, legitimate, graduates to find the respect they deserve.

    As is usual with plagiarism, the losers are the ones who did their homework.