Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Story Continues...

It's really great to see that the discussion is continuing although zu Guttenberg has said that he will give up his doctorate and has written a letter to this effect to the University of Bayreuth. Some of the major points:
  • How can the two army universities currently deal with plagiarism, if their commander-in-chief is a plagiarist?
  • Why do people in business need doctorates on their doors?
  • What is the state of science in Germany if simple plagiarisms like this are not found? Does that mean that many more are floating around?
  • People who worked hard for their doctorates are madder than hornets at this, as people keep asking them if they really did their own work or only plagiarized.
  • People who like zu Guttenberg still insist that this is still just a commie plot to discredit Mr. Clean, even when faced with a mountain of evidence to the contrary.
  • Why don't the universities mentor their doctoral students better?
  • Why can't a software be written to sort of solve all our problems?
  • Mr. Gadaffi, Jr.s doctorate from the London School of Economics seems to smell a bit like a plagarism
Oh, and I think since the nation has been so obsessed with this for the past week that a new stamp needs to be issued:
From the fine collection of Guttenberg Artwork at the GuttenPlag Wiki, by Freecopy
I just listened to him explain himself to the German parliament in a grilling. He's sorry, he had a lot to do, he didn't do it on purpose, it has nothing to do with his job as commander-in-chief, and he's setting a fine example, encouraging people to work hard and be even more careful than normal when doing research.

Now, what do I do with the two plagiarists I caught this week reading through papers?


  1. Two points:

    1. Ethics
    I grew up under Chancellor Kohl and had a hard time believing in 1998 that he was suddenly not chancellor any more. It seemed that there was no one else but him ruling. Scandals occurred, but Kohl would "sit them out". Whatever ethics prevailed at that time we were going to get an insight in after he was not chancellor any more (how convenient). During the years afterward, what could be considered minor as compared to scandals under Kohl, always let to quick step-down's, and you might say it was crippling to the new government. In retrospect, I feel that conservatives have a general lack of ethics compared to the man on the street. Conservative politicians in the US are a shocking reminder of this DAILY. In comparison, we Germans have surprisingly high moral and ethical standards ... nevertheless, my notion is that if Guttenberg were a social democrat or green politician, he would have resigned already, with or without pressure. I am sure the social sciences have an explanation for this comparative lack of ethics in conservative circles ...

    2. Probability and facts versus Ideology
    It actually comes as no surprise to me that the general public supports Guttenberg. He not only portrays himself (now) perfectly as the underdog (victim, not offender), he also has the human brain on his side: Our brain fits new information into existing, well established structures, also called 'confirmation bias'. Guttenberg is popular, so the public accepts only information that will fit into their notion that he cannot be guilty. Example comment: "Everyone has copied at some point in their life, no big deal". Grab a textbook on this and you will see that the current story unfolding is not new at all. Ideology is driving it. It took me a while to figure this out when I saw what seemed a completely surreal reaction of conservative politicians to the facts and threats of climate change: It does not fit into their ideology, so they simply deny the facts. Similarly, the public is prone to simply deny the facts of wrongdoing as it does not fit into people's preset mental state. If Guttenberg has good advisors, they will have counseled him to make use of that ... as he seemingly does. Despite massive public outreach and an outcry of the scientific world, the obstructing and now ruling conservatives (and their voters) in the US are completely unfazed by the facts about climate change; and similarly I venture to predict that no outreach of academics in Germany explaining the wrongdoing of plagiarism will succeed in swaying the public. On the contrary, pointing out that Guttenberg, based on the evidence, is most probably lying when he says he did not do it on purpose, is likely to back-fire.