Friday, July 20, 2012

The German Dissertation Factory

The daily newspaper Main Post reports on the current state of investigations into the German "dissertation factory" at the medical faculty of the University of Würzburg. The university is doing its best, the article says, to dig out under the investigation of 20 dissertations, of which four are found to be plagiarized.

In 2009 the prosecutor's office investigated claims that a Würzburg medical professor who had had over 200 students write their dissertations with him was selling titles. Or rather, he was accepting loans to fund his research. He was fined for taking bribes. In May 2011 an anonymous dossier turned up with many names and dates - but there was no way to prove that money had been exchanged here for titles, so the case was officially closed, the professor is now retired. The person who arranged for the prospective doctoral students to be accepted and took a 1000 € fee for this was, however, fined.

The university was somewhat skittish about the situation and started an investigation into the matter. 20 of the theses were of a very questionable nature - I have seen some of the theses, for example one by a dentist writing a short dissertation (27 pages) in the field of the history of medicine by transcribing fifteenth century texts about the pharmaceutical use of some flowers. Not analyzing anything, not translating, just transcribing. The university has determined that four of the theses are plagiarisms to boot, and has decided to rescind the doctorates. The persons in question are, as seems usual in Germany, taking the university to court in the hopes of keeping their titles because the university has made some procedural error.

When the newspaper tried to contact one of the dentists involved a lawyer answered forbidding any reporting that might point to his client - who is apparently a friend of a former governor of a German state.

I wish the university a strong case in court - and hope that they set up procedures for not accepting theses like this ever again.

Update: Just including a link to an in-depth article at Zeit online about this case from 2012.

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