Tuesday, June 30, 2009


Spiegel Online reports on the recent judgement brought against the anthropologist Professor Dr. Dr. Reiner Rudolf Robert Protsch von Zieten (FamousPlagiarists profile SCMD-2005-RPVZ). He has been convicted of stealing 278 chimpanzee skulls from the Johann-Wolfgang-Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, faking numerous certificates and documents, and selling the skulls for his own gain. He was sentenced to a remanded 18 month's prison term.

The 70-year-old anthropologist, who has been a professor since 1973, does not even seem to have completed high school, according to the FAZ, much less completed a doctorate, although he regularly used two in his title. He was awarded his professorship on the basis of a Ph.D. certificate, supposedly from an American university, UCLA. His second doctorate, from 1996, was awarded from the University of Vienna. He was fined for using this title before the examination had occured.

On his birth certificate there is only "Protsch" listed, the name of his father. He cannot prove why he calls himself "von Ziethen", the name change appears to have been around 1991, according to the Wikipedia entry on him.

He had often been the target of discussions in the past. People questioned his abilities at dating bones. He pretended to have developed methodologies that were actually due to other researcher. He presented bones as being from different places than where they were actually found. He plagiarized other's work, liberally. There were many accusations of plagiarism, but none stuck. The FAZ had complained in 2005 that nothing was happening, but even the complaint didn't help much, although he was finally forced to retire.

He had even "donated" items to a museum, pocketing a donation receipt. The items, however, belonged to the university, and were doctored by him to make them more interesting for the museum.

It was when he was finally caught with his hand in the proverbial cookie jar that he was brought before a judge. He stole a famous skull collection from the university and sold it for 70,000 $ for his own pocket, according to Spiegel. He also had student researchers scratch property notices off university bones so he could call them his own, and he had university stamps removed from books in which he then affixed his own.

(And even, Spiegel reports with relish, his car was parked during the court case on a handicapped lot, with a false handicapped certificate on the windshield. As the judgment was read, his car was towed. There was nothing true about this man, they write.)

The German Wikipedia has a long and detailed list of the different accusations. The Skeptic's Dictionary has a very detailed entry on him (in English). His former university web pages are available in the Internet Archives, however the University of Frankfurt/Main has no statement on its web presence about him.

So we have justice at last - he will not be enjoying a government pension. But the case does, indeed, demonstrate how easy it is to get away with academic dishonesty in Germany.

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