Friday, February 14, 2014

The Little Doctors

[Even if the case has pretty much blown its course (as I have not been blogging recently), I want to report on the situation.]

The story broke in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, in an article by Albert Schäffer on January 17, 2014, Die große Geschichte vom kleinen Doktor (The big story about the little doctor) with Spiegel online soon following. Andreas Scheuer (Wikipedia article in German), the general secretary of the CSU political party, was discovered to be using a doctorate quite liberally that he didn't really have. Or rather, that he was not allowed to use everywhere.

In the Czech Republic and Slovakia the universities can grant a postgraduate degree called "PhDr" that is known as the "little doctorate." It is not recognized in Germany as permitting the bearer to be called "Dr.", except inside the state of Bavaria and Berlin. Both have enacted special rules in order to permit people (politicians?) to use the PhDr as a doctorate, but the rules are only valid within the boarders. This would mean that on a train trip from Munich to Berlin Mr. Scheuer would be Dr. Scheuer until he passed out of Bavaria, then just Mr. Scheuer until he passes over the Berlin border, whereupon the Dr. would again be restored.

It was shown that Mr. Scheuer's little thesis had a few text parallels with a document published by the Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung, the Federal Agency for Civic Education. A press frenzy ensued, as plagiarizing politicians are interesting for journalists, the many, many cases of non-celebrity plagiarism elicit only yawns.

The Comenius University of Prague, where Scheuer obtained his degree, quickly announced that they would be looking into the issue. Where German universities have needed upwards of 2 years to investigate a case of plagiarism, the investigation in Prague was finished within a day. Press queries discovered that they had run the thesis through the Swedish software Urkund and compared it with the theses stored in the Czech database Theses. Scheuer wrote his thesis in German about communication within the CSU, so as would be expected, there were no matches in the Czech-language repository. After this was reported in the press, the University of Prague announced that they are of course continuing the investigation.

Scheuer managed to withdraw from the public scrutiny by quickly declaring that he will no longer be using the doctorate because it is so difficult to restrict its use to only Bavaria and Berlin.

The problem of the "little doctors" still remains. It is unclear, who proposed the legislation to permit the use of the PhDr as a doctorate in Berlin and Bavaria. There are an unknown number of people in Germany using such degrees as regular doctorates, and it is difficult to determine whether a particular person has a little doctorate or a regular one if they obtained it in another country.

This also demonstrates a problem in Europe with its plethora of academic degrees. In order to investigate the exact meaning of a degree one must wade through a very large database (Anabin). Perhaps those wanting to use a doctorate in Germany should have to deposit a copy of their dissertation with the German National Library. Or maybe it can at some point just be completely removed from the ID cards. That might keep non-scientists from looking for an easy road to obtaining those precious two letters, although getting people to quit addressing each other as Herr Dr. X or Frau Dr. Y will be very hard to do.

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