Monday, February 21, 2011

Guttenberg folds

He's given up.

The crowd-sourced project at GuttenPlagWiki published a summary (in German) of the most interesting bits of plagiarism found during these intensive days. It's fascinating - and very well done. They have worked hard to remain scientific about this, slapped down the gleeful punks (they get rid of their excess energy in the chat: "Mein von mir verfasste Plagiat ist keine Dissertation", my plagiarism written in my own hand is not a dissertation), and brought it to a sharp point. I spoke briefly - and anonymously - on the phone with the main author today. He is said to be a doctoral student, and I think he did a smashing job getting this organized and sorted out and written. And very nicely sourced.

Guttenberg announced this evening, just in time to squeeze into the evening news that he reread his thesis over the weekend and has decided to ask the university to rescind his dissertation. He will hand back the certificate, and asks forgiveness from his mentor. Oh, and he's staying Minister of Defense.

The university still needs to continue the proceedings, I feel. And I very strongly suggest that the University of Bayreuth take a deep, hard look at how the mentor doctoral students and how they go about determining grades.

On a side note, it was fascinating to watch a grass-roots movement with some simple, sharp tools (a wiki, a chat, a forum, a scanner) deconstructing the text, determining the sources for most of the pages and even visualizing how the thesis was written: copy & paste, change a word here and there, move some stuff around, translate a bit mechanically. This is the stuff that can radically change science: working in the open as opposed to a closed lab; fending off opponents as you work; and collaborating instead of working alone.

Thanks, Wikia, for providing the storage space!


  1. "On a side note, it was fascinating to watch a grass-roots movement with some simple, sharp tools" - That is us:
    Support Dr. zu Guttenberg!

  2. Hold on!
    While academically I am starting to get more satisfied, there is a common pattern here that seems to be unfolding, and the public eye should be aware of that ...
    The plagiarizer confronted with the facts commonly shows one of two reactions (from my own experience):
    1. If the wrongdoing was relatively minor and occurred due to 'sloppiness', the student is perplexed, sometimes stunned and depressed, but then apologizes humbly, accepts that s/he learned something, and moves on (submits a new or 'fixed' paper); or
    2. the plagiarizer first denies wrongdoing, then only admits to what can quickly be proven (copy and paste ...).

    No surprise, #2 happens when the wrongdoing was usually not minor. Sound familiar?
    KTzG, claiming category 1 while responding as in category 2, tonight has only admitted to what we already know and still relies on his reputation and political support (which plagiarizing students do not have). In all likelihood, he will get away with that. However, (science hat) considering likelihood, IMHO (and seconding the Guttenplag wiki conclusions at he is simply lying when he says that he made "embarrassing mistakes". How then do you prove deliberateness of plagiarism?

    Alas, academically I must be satisfied if the University of Bayreuth strips him of his title in no uncertain terms. Personally, like with my students, I am unsatisfied giving them a second chance or an F on the assignment. I suspect that feeling cannot be dealt with.
    Do we need stronger consequences for bold-face plagiarism such as this one?