Friday, July 15, 2011

Medical doctorate rescinded

The German University of Münster announced on July 14, 2011 that they have rescinded a doctorate from the medical faculty.

A Wikipedia editor reports on a strange occurrence while researching an article about growth factors in prostate cancer in the Wikipedia Kurier from May 28, 2011. The editor was using a dissertation from 2006 as the basis for the Wikipedia article. Dissertations - the non-plagiarized ones - are very useful for this task, as they offer a succinct overview of the literature on the topic.

The editor stumbled over the term Xxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxxxx xxxxxx something s/he had not heard before. It was references from a book from 1996. Instead of running to the library to get the book, the editor first asked the "all-knowing garbage heap" if there was anything on this term around.

The editor was amazed to find a dissertation from 2009 on the same topic from the same university. The university puts all of its dissertations online, so only a click was necessary to download it. A short read was, as Yogi Berri would have put it, "déjà vu all over again". The editor thought this might just be a typo on the downloads page and that s/he now had two copies of the same dissertation. But no, each was by a different author.

Since zu Guttenberg had just recently resigned and VroniPlag was under full steam investigating other dissertations, the editor began a side-by-side comparison. Except for minor (and sometime error-inducing) changes, the general introduction to the topic was identical, down to the the line breaks. Then it got worse: there were even identical results, discussions, and the dedication - except the names were changed. The CVs were, however, different.

The editor was not sure what to do, consulted with some scientists. The unanimous opinion was: this must be reported to the authorities. So it happened, and the doctorate has been rightly rescinded from a practicing medical doctor in Westphalia.

I have often stated, as here in the Deutsche Ärzteblatt, that we need two kinds of doctorates for medicine: M.D. for the practicing doctors and Dr. med. for the researchers.

I'm glad the University of Münster was so quick in reacting.

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