Every newspaper in the country had an article on it, every news station reports hour by hour on new developments. Guttenberg, the conservative German defense minister from Bavaria, has left the country and gone to Afghanistan. They say this was planned, but right now, he's probably safer there than in the streets of Berlin. The opposition is gleefully taking potshots at him (metaphorically, you understand). His supporters accuse the scientist who discovered the plagiarism of being part of a commie plot to undermine the country, if I understand their tone of voice correctly.
No one believes that a professor might sit down one evening at the computer, in the midst of writing a review of a doctoral thesis that had been around for a while, but had a very prominent author, currently under fire for other things. The professor, Andreas Fischer-Lescano of the University of Bremen, poured himself a glass of Argentine red wine, looked over the thesis and put three words into Google: "säkularer laizistischer multireligiöser" (secular lay multireligious - the thesis includes a chapter on putting references to a god in a constitution).
And he got a hit. From an article in the Neue Züricher Zeitung by Klara Obermüller, written a few years before his thesis was published. Oops. He poured another glass and tried some other terms, and some more. Fischer-Lescano wrote a scathing review, and includes as an appendix 24 word-for-word passages that are not quoted and not referenced. The review will be published the end of the month in Kritische Justiz, 44(1), pp. 112-119.
A number of journalists have spoken with me today to question this way of working. How do I look for plagiarists? "Well," I said, "pretty much the same. Except that I prefer Austrian wine."
There is speculation about whether his doctorate will be rescinded. I remind journalists that this is for the University of Bayreuth to decide. They did the granting (top grades, by the way, they might want to rethink how they grade theses); they are the only ones who can take away. Apparently, KT, as he is affectionately known, has 2 weeks to prepare a statement explaining where the quotation marks disappeared to. Meanwhile, a crowdsourcing project is checking all 400+ pages for more sources.
I give top awards to the reporting of the case to the Financial Times Deutschland for their print edition from Feb. 17. Their lead story, "Freiherr zu Copy and Paste1" includes 9 proper footnotes, including the one in the heading and one in the subheading.
In between all of the interviews I also spent an hour on Bayern2 radio on the topic of what a title is worth in Germany (I also explained this in English to "The Local") and spent a good few hours with a camera team from Focus TV. They are going to have a show on Tuesday evening on Kabel 1. But it looks like they have sold some of the shots to other media already, I saw me reading the paper mentioned above (my rings are rather unique).
One does wonder if there is no other real news to report on, but it is nice that people are talking about plagiarism. And our hits are just tremendous:
Tomorrow I will turn off my phones and attend our doctoral students seminar. And I suppose I shall say a word or two about footnotes.