Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Dr. Strg+X

Well, this has to be a record. I believe this is the shortest university decision process in the last 400 years or so. Last Tuesday evening the story broke, just over a week later the university commission for good scientific work at the University of Bayreuth reached a decision.

They are rescinding his doctorate.

They didn't go into details, and most important, didn't decide if he plagiarized on purpose. He says he didn't, the documentation found on the GuttenPlagWiki screams a different story. Since he has announced that he wanted to withdraw his doctorate anyway, he won't contest it, so they don't have to do the normal detailed analysis.

Spiegel notes that he has sacrificed that title for his career as minister. And that his popularity has risen through all this. Some are calling him the German Sarah Palin.

And I am a bit worried about the tide of anti-intellectualism washing over Germany at the moment. People who have been irritated for years at people with doctorates pulling rank and being high and mighty about having this special title. It's been demonstrated to be a sham, all this "summa cum laude" stuff, so just ignore them. The Green party was being very snide during the public grillings today, constantly calling him "Herr Dr." - since the doctorate had not yet been rescinded, they could not be rebuked by the president.

This whole affair has done a great disservice to the German scientific community. We have been tried in the court of the mass media and found lacking. We must get serious about the topic of plagiarism and scientific misconduct NOW. No more playing around, being gentle to colleagues caught red-handed. No more doctoral titles easily purchased. No more made-up data. The hard part will be convincing the ministers of education that funding universities on the basis of quantitative measures is nonsense.

I suppose I should thank Mr. von und zu Guttenberg for getting my topic of plagiarism into every newspaper and every Stammtisch. Can we get back to work now, please?


  1. Forgot to mention - he wrote his letter to the University of Bayreuth asking them to rescind his doctorate on letterhead from the Defense Minister, further destroying the legend that this doctorate business has "nothing" to do with his work in the ministry.

  2. That's the spirit!
    I'm not only worried about anti-intellectualism but mostly about the apparent lack of self confidence in the scientific community.
    Your post here is really the first that shows at least some kind of optimism.

    Elsewhere it's just : "Oh we poor scientists, nobody cares about us. What a shame that he gets through with his lies :( "

    If you do not want Palin like politicians in Germany (I don't) you will have to fight for it. Meaning :
    You have to assure, that the University of Bayreuth investigates whether he plagiarized on purpose or not (at the moment, they are not very clear about that).
    Should they actually dare not to investigate this essential matter it's up to you to do it anyway.
    The wiki showed that it's possible to divide such a task into multiple smaller ones. Then you would need many well known scientists who are willing to publicly defend their ideals against short term political considerations.

    Of course this is annoying and frustrating but the alternative would be far worse for the German scientific community.

    btw, today Lauterbach held one of the best speeches ever in parliament, that's the kind of passion we need to get our message out.

  3. As I student, the association of "toilet" with the word "paper" was burned deep into my mind when I was forced to remove results from my thesis, as they would contradict the contents of another thesis supervised by the same supervisor, thus making him look bad. No need to mention that I got quite a bad grade for my thesis, while the other student, who basically pulled his results straight from the random number generator (quite literally) got a very good grade.

    A good way of starting to save the good name of the scientific community would be making sure that academic success does actually depend on doing good work. Plagiarism is just the most extreme part of that problem.

    By the way, the association mentioned above is further supported by the fact that many people seem to grade students' papers based on two criteria: Total length, and length of the bibliography. This leads to papers "blown up" to meet the length requirements so getting the information from them takes much more time than needed. When looking for information, I avoid reading anything in the form of a paper wherever I can.

  4. I can't resist adding this picture, one of my favorite in the past days:

  5. On the facebook-page of "Causa Guttenberg
    Offener Brief von Doktoranden an die Bundeskanzlerin" people are asking for an english translation, as plagiarism is not solely a german problem. Can you maybe help?

    The original letter is to be found here:
    The Spiegel and dpa already mentioned it.

    I enjoyed reading your blog, by the way.

  6. The English speaking readers should know that "Strg" is what is written on the "CTRL" key of German keyboards. (Steuerung is the literal translation of Control.)