Sunday, March 13, 2011

German Public Misunderstands Plagiarism

The blog Nebelhorn picked this letter to the editor out of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung from March 13, 2011. I do think it needs to be translated so that the world can understand what the German general public thinks of the Causa Guttenberg:
I find it appalling and intolerable that a person is so defamed just because he has some plagiarized parts in his dissertation, as long as other dissertations have not been so closely examined for similar plagiarism and their authors put in the pillory, just like in the Middle Ages! I desire a government for German that would introduce a media law like the one in Hungary for print media, so that in the future such biased and polemic newspaper articles that break journalistic ethics can be punished.  
They really don't get it. So many people think of this as just a little bit of cheating just like everyone does on their taxes and stuff. They do not understand that plagiarism pulls the carpet out from under science.

I do agree on needing a pillory, though, and the list of applicants for the next spot up on the pillory is growing by the day over at the PlagiPedi. I assume that there will eventually be need for a group pillory, as illustrated by John Brand in 1842.


  1. I find that "list of applicants" a bit weird. Are all these public figures suspected, on the basis of firm evidence, of plagiarism, or is it merely a list of well-known people whom it'd be fun to see being humiliated? If the latter, then there would appear to be a witch-hunt underway and things would indeed seem to be getting medieval.

  2. It's a bit of both. There has long been suspicion that many of the politicians and business executives sporting doctorates on their business cards and bronze door plates either purchased them or used a ghostwriter or handed in a hack job while the universities in question looked the other way because it was someone from a particular party. Many of these names are on the list.

    Some have been accused of plagiarism before, such as former Austrian minister of education, Johannes Hahn. At the investigation into his thesis it was determined that it was standard scientific practice, in Austria at least, to not use quotation marks when copying verbatim, and just putting the name of a source used somewhere in the thesis in the bibliography was considered okay. This enraged many scientists in Austria, who want to rekindle the debate.

    The rest is witch hunt, which will explain the Pope being on the list, as well as many people involved in dragging the zu Guttenberg case out into the light of day.

    The witch hunt is being conducted in a relatively scientific manner. The thesis topics are researched, there is a schema for deciding if this is relevant, i.e. only doctoral dissertations are being searched and discussion about the content is deleted. It is only about plagiarism, full stop. They are focusing on people with business, sociology and law degrees, with a bit of theology thrown in for good measure.

    There are lists of library call numbers for the theses so that people living in that general area can check a copy out of the university library. If the thesis is available at Google books, there is a link.

    And they will be alternating sides of the political spectrum. So next up will be an SPD politician, the question in now how they will decide who's up next.

    Stay tuned.


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