Saturday, February 26, 2011

An Open Letter to the Chancellor

German scientists and doctoral students are signing an open letter to the German Chancellor by the droves. There are some 7000 signatures as of Feb. 26, 2011.
I've had a request for an English translation, how can I resist that, with so many people now reading this blog and commenting? Since I didn't go to the demonstration in Berlin this afternoon, I will offer this translation
Dear Chancellor Merkel,

as doctoral students we have been following the current discussion about the plagiarism accusations against the Minister of Defense, Mr. Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg. We are shocked and do not understand what is happening. We have the impression that you are trying everything in your power to keep a minister in your cabinet who still insists that he did not knowingly deceive in his doctoral thesis, despite massive evidence to the contrary.

With this course of action, the German government and the members of parliament from the coalition [of CDU, CSU and FDP] damage not only themselves, but much more.

Zu Guttenberg has had to distance himself a number of times from statements he has made about his dissertation. The Internet community has with an unparalleled effort managed to demonstrate numerous incidents of clear plagiarism in Mr. zu Guttenberg's dissertation. The evidence can be openly seen and checked by anyone. It should not surprise anyone that experts in plagiarism are united in the opinion that this is not just a few "embarassing errors". This is massive, systematic deception.

Zu Guttenberg copied large portions of his dissertation from various sources - apparently with great ambition - and did not name those sources in order to obtain a doctoral title that he used for, among other things, election advertising. The University of Bayreuth did not address this issue of deception [when revoking the doctorate].

In the face of the extent and amount of plagiarism found, it should be as clear to you as it is to us that at the end of an exact investigation by the university, only one result will be possible with respect to the intent to deceive on the part of the minister. This cannot be done unknowingly.

Calling the deception a deception has nothing to do with the minister belonging to a particular political party. We would also demand that politicians from opposing parties step down, if they had given their word of honor that the work was only their own, except for sources as noted, and had plagiarized in the same manner.

On February 23, 2011 Mr. zu Guttenberg stated that he only wants to be judged by his performance as Minister of Defense. He alluded to a phrase you had used when you said that you did not hire him as a research assistant.

This makes a mockery of all the research assistants and doctoral students who honestly endeavor to contribute to the advancement of science. This makes it sound as if obtaining a doctoral title by fraud is just a trivial offense and that the academic word of honor is meaningless in everyday life.

When following the rules of good scientific practice it is not just a question of footnotes, trivialities that can safely be neglected in the face of the larger political problems of the day. This is the foundation of our work and our trustworthiness. We strive in our own work, according to the best of our knowledge and conscience, to reach this high goal at all times. When we fail, we run the risk - and rightly so - of being expelled from the university.

Most of us teach younger students. It is often our job to teach them the basics of good scientific practice. We insist that the students be exact at all times, correctly quoting and clearly noting all help that was used. We don't do this because we are fanatics about footnotes or because we live in an ivory tower and know nothing about real life. It is our intention to pass on the understanding that scientific progress - and with it progress for society as a whole - is only possible when we can depend on the honesty of the scientific community.

When our students violate these precepts, we grade their efforts as unsatisfactory. On repeated violation, as a rule we try to expel them. Those who have been expelled are denied access to numerous career opportunities - and rightly so - even for jobs that are much less in need of personal integrity than the office of the Minister of Defense.

We may be old-fashioned and are spouting outdated conservative values when we are of the opinion that values such as veracity and a sense of responsibility should also be valid outside of the scientific community. Mr zu Guttenberg seemed to be of this same opinion until very recently.

Research contributes a valuable service to the development of society. Honest and innovative science is the foundation of the prosperity of our country. When it is no longer an important value to protect ideas in our society, then we have gambled away our future. We don't expect thankfulness for our scientific work, but we expect respect, we expect that our work be taken seriously. By handling the case of zu Guttenberg as a trifle, Germany's position in world science, its credibility as the "Land of Ideas", suffers.

Maybe you consider our contributions to society as being negligible. In that case, we kindly request that in the future you refrain from referring to Germany as the "Republic of Education and Culture", as you often proclaim.


The Undersigned [at the time of translation]

3242 doctoral students
persons with doctorates
other supporters

Around 300 persons gather downtown under the motto "summa cum fraude" and walked peacefully to the Ministry of Defense, where they put shoes on the top of the spikes on the railing - a symbolic gesture of disrespect used during recent protests in Northern African and Middle Eastern countries.

Update 1: Here are some pics from the demo from the Berlin newspaper Tagesspiegel.
Update 2:
Polished up a bit, thanks to missionmi!
Update 3:
If you want to sign the German version, please click here or on the link "open letter" above!
Update 4: Wow - the open letter made it to the evening news (Tagesschau)
Update 5: Now you can sign the letter in English as well! There is also a possibility for non-academics to sign. Today alone over 12.000 signatories were counted!


  1. First and foremost: Good job!

    May I suggest a few improvements?
    (Capital letters/words indicate my suggestions/rectified typos)

    [Section 8] word Of honor is meaningless in everyday life.


    [Paragraph 12] We MAY BE old-fashioned and OPINE outdated conservative values WHILE we are of the opinion that values such as VERACITY and a sense of ACCOUNTABILITY should also be valid outside of the scientific community.

    [Section 13] science, its CREDIBILITY as the "Land of Ideas", suffers.

    Kind regards,
    missionmi (twitter)

  2. Good suggestions! I've used some of them but not all, just because it reads similar to me in both languages they way it is. "Opine" is not a word in general use, "veracity" is borderline. I've used the latter, hope it's still okay for people who do not have English as a mother tongue, but read English much better than German-shoved-through-Google-Translate ;)

  3. Dear Debora Weber-Wulff,
    thank you very much for your translation!
    Missing: the button "Sign here"
    link to the German original
    I'd say to sign the English version would be easier.
    Thank you. nancy frey, stuttgart

  4. Thank you so much for your translation.

  5. copy, shake and paste - simply, clever and fun.

  6. Dear Debora,

    please do replace the word 'then' with 'than' in the final line of paragraph eleven ("...much less in need of personal integrity then the office of the Minister of Defense").


  7. ... apart from such schoolboy howlers, your translation sounds terribly awkward and 'pedestrian' to me - couldn't you get any help from native speakers?

    If you feel embarassed by Baron zu Guttenberg's behavior -- and quite rightfully so -- how embarrassing for the academic community do you think is THIS?

  8. I am a native speaker - but have lived in Germany for many years. I am not embarrassed by anything I do - I am grateful for corrections, but not for childish taunts. If you need to feed your ego, please do that elsewhere.


  9. Deborah,

    thank you very much. One suggestion would be that you should consider using words that are not in general use. Academics are fond of latin roots, so veracity would be a great choice to help lift this from the sidewalk, up to the ivory towers ;-). Opine, in my opinion, is really a bit much, and better reserved for haughty legal opinions by actual English barristers. Thanks again.

  10. As far as I know, the first word in a letter - after the addressing line - is spelt with a capital first letter (As doctoral students ...).
    I find "This makes a mockery of all the ..." a bit odd.

  11. Dear Debora,
    Your message is clear and helpful, that is what matters, not fussing about the text. I sincerely hope the 1000s of German PhD students and many others who are protesting will make it clear to the politicians that plagiarism and lying need to be addresseed and punished. The power of the voice of the people is not only evident in Egypt,Tunisia, and other places.... we hope nearer home too!
    Dr. Alan Rogerson (Poland)

  12. My feeling is that people are focusing more on one individual than on a complete system. The German university and the BMBF do not want to take seriously corruption from well organized groups and this according to disciplines. The case of Henrick Schön, the case of the medicine professor (Friburg) the case of the law professor in Hannover who was making money selling PhDs. I have been witnessing how scientists are forced to add people as co-authors on their publications. Those who refused for obvious ethical reasons to play the game, had and have no chance in getting support for their research. The notion of intellectual property is strange in many research Institutes.
    Heads of Institutes are expecting to be authors on publications or Patents automatically. You better add their names if you want to keep doing research and getting support.
    This well accepted and cultivated by the directors of the institutes.There is a kind of tyranny inside these institutes where mediocrity is cultivated every day.

  13. Great post and an effective translation. And, yes, I translate German-English for a living.

  14. Thank you so much, Debora, for this translation.
    I was tipped to the story by a friend in Munich and have followed it with fascination.
    You and your readers may be interested in a major plagiarism case in South Africa a couple of years ago: 'The most serious case of plagiarism and literary fraud in south African literary history' - as very editor of the book I exposed described it, after reading my critique.
    'Lying and Thieving: The fraudulent scholarship of Ronald Suresh Roberts' is free online at:
    Having regard to the parallels with the Dershowitz/Finkelstein affair, I wrote a caustic open letter to Dershowitz about it:
    Noam Chomsky and Norman Finkelstein both liked it:
    Chomsky: 'Fine letter, and very appropriate.' Finkelstein: 'A thumbs up from Chomsky is the best way to start the day.'
    All the best
    Adv. Anthony Brink
    South Africa

  15. Are you writing to Americans or British talking peoples?

    From Wikipedia -

    In writing, "mister" is almost always contracted "Mr." or "Mr" when used with the person's name. Similarly to many contractions of titles, in the United States, Canada and South Africa, a period (full stop or full point) follows the abbreviated form, while in most Commonwealth countries the period is not used.

  16. Why are my comments taking Anthony Brink to task for his repetition of Norman "we are all Hezbollah now" Finkelstein's dscredited lies being deleted?

  17. I will keep this very simple and hope this stays up. One post only.

    Finkelstein's charges, that Anthony Brink echoes, (Finkelstein originally claimed Dershowitz didn't even author his own book!) were easily refuted by Dershowitz and a Harvard review, Brink's gross evasiveness in his Dershowitz letter to the contrary.

    See the online chapter "A Case Study in Hate and Intimidation" at
    from A Dershowitz's book 'The Case for Peace'. Finkelstein is completely demolished and his intimidatory charges re plagiarism and fraud are exposed for the nonsense that they are.

    Then again Finkelstein is, besides being a Hezbollah fan, (Finkelstein travels to Lebanon after the Hezbollah-Israel war of 2006 to personally embrace and give his support to Hezbollah leaders also a Holocaust Revisionist.

    In an interview with the German paper, Die Welt, Finkelstein said: “Not only does the 'Six Million' figure become more untenable but the numbers of the Holocaust industry are rapidly approaching those of Holocaust deniers. . . . Indeed, the field of Holocaust studies is replete with nonsense if not sheer fraud.”

    This interview of Finkelstein's is praised on neo-Nazi forums such as stormfront and neo-Nazi websites as well as on Muslim extremist Holocaust denying websites. Finkelstein's Holocaust Revisionism has been acknowledged by the ADL and Avocats Sans Frontieres.

  18. Anonymous 4:12, your ranting comments were too long for the comments box, that gets deleted. Can we all be civil here, or do I have to turn the moderation back on?

  19. There is a similar problem in the United States, with serious plagiarism allegations being hushed up for years. This has recently led to an assault against free speech and free debate, culminating in the malicious prosecution of an individual who provocatively blew the whistle against a scholar who allegedly plagiarized his father. See:

    along with this article by the father: