Friday, April 11, 2008

Icelandic professor fined for plagiarism

There is quite a drama playing out in Iceland at the Háskóli Íslands. A controversial professor for political science there, Hannes Hólmsteinn Gissurarson (link is to the English Wikipedia, the case is briefly mentionen there), published a book in 2003 about the Icelandic Literature Nobel prize winner Halldór Laxness that contained many paragraphs that are plagiarisms of the works of Laxness.

Laxness' widow Auður Sveinsdóttir and daughter, the Icelandic filmmaker Guðný Halldórsdóttir, sued him on the basis of a 200-page document prepared by Helga Kress demonstrating the plagiarism from Laxness and from Thor Vilhjálmsson, Stefan Zweig, Peter Hallber and herself. Hannes won in a lower court, but the supreme court decided in March 2008 that he was guilty of plagiarism and the widow is to be paid damages to the tune of 5 million Icelandic crowns (about $ 68000) and to pay all court costs.

Hannes (Icelanders only have first and second names, what looks like a last name is the patronymic) contends that he did nothing wrong, as he is a political scientist and not a literature professor.

The university is debating how to handle this, and quite a number of fellow professors have come out in his defense (!), publicly giving support to him via a blog and a half-page ad published in a local newspaper last weekend which also requested donations to help him pay the fines. Other teachers are very vocal (also recorded in the blog) in saying that it was a good thing that he was fined, as honest scientists of any field do not steal other people's words. A very hot debate is currently running as to whether he needs to be additionally punished by the university.

The sources are mostly in Icelandic. The word for "plagiarism" in Icelandic (which tries to be pure and not use words borrowed from other languages) is ritstöld, theft of writing.
  • A blog Hannes og Háskólinn I - II - III - IV . The blog is asking teachers at the university to answer five questions. This is a translation of the questions asked (if you want to try and decode the answers, use this online Icelandic dictionary):
    1. What do you think about the recent sentencing of Hannes Hólmsteinn Gissurarson, professor for political science at HÍ?
    2. Should the rector of the university get involved in this situation?
    3. If so, in what way?
    4. What do you think about the advertisement that Hannes' supporters published in the paper this weekend?
    5. Have you considered supporting this collective assistance for him?

  • Hannes own blog and university home page
  • A local newspaper, Morgunblaðið, has a page collecting their articles about this
  • The decree