Wednesday, November 6, 2013

University of Gießen sees no misconduct in plagiarism case

The University of Gießen in Germany announced on Tuesday that they see no scientific misconduct or plagiarism on the part of Frank-Walter Steinmeier (previous posts here 1 - 2). In just under six weeks they have announced a result, although there are older cases at the same university that are still not resolved. Apparently, they did not conduct an independent investigation, but only examined the accusation that was published by a marketing professor on the basis of his automatic plagiarism detection software.

The press release focuses on two aspects of the case:
  1. The issue of self-plagiarism. There was a good bit of text parallel with previously published works both of the author and the author with a co-author. The committee did not see any misconduct, as the co-author was named a few times in the thesis and thanked in the forward.
  2. The use of text verbatim without quotation marks. There are many fragments of text taken verbatim from other sources in the dissertation. The source is named in a footnote, but it is not made clear that the text is practically a textual copy, as can be seen in the current VroniPlag Wiki documentation. This is often referred to as a pawn sacrifice in the plagiarism literature. The university states that in the modern day this would be considered to be a problem, but that it is only misconduct when the author assumes intellectual property (Urheberschaft für fremde Ideen) with the intent to deceive. The problem, as always, is that a reader cannot know what the intent of the author is while reading the text.
Press reports can be found on Spiegel online, Zeit online, and a number of other venues. A long discussion in German about the procedures followed in Gießen can be found on the Erbloggtes blog.

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